One evening in October 2016, Whitney Sattler and his wife, Jessica, walked back to their car after having dinner downtown. They waited at a crosswalk near Travis Park before crossing Navarro Street to get to a parking garage.
“We got the go-ahead – a little white ‘walk’ signal, so we crossed the street,” he said.
Suddenly, a truck came barreling toward them, striking Jessica Sattler.
“We tried in that split second to head back when we realized [the driver] wasn’t stopping, but it was too late for that,” she said. The truck’s bumper grazed her husband.
The Sattlers and 776 other pedestrians were involved in collisions with motor vehicles in San Antonio that year, according to data provided by the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s analysis of the Crash Records Information System (CRIS) data published by the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDoT).
The San Antonio-New Braunfels metropolitan area ranks as the 28th most dangerous city for pedestrians, out of 104 metro areas surveyed in a 2016 study released by Smart Growth America, a national research coalition based in Washington, D.C. The study reported 421 local pedestrian deaths between 2005 and 2014.
The number of local pedestrian deaths is down 25 percent since 2016, according to the CRIS data, but 51 pedestrians lost their lives in 2017, a number that local leaders say is unacceptable.
Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) in 2015 led City efforts to adopt a local version of the national Vision Zero Initiative aimed at eliminating pedestrian injuries or deaths on roadways.
An analysis by the Rivard Report shows hot spots for pedestrian fatalities and streets with the highest numbers of fatalities in 2016 and 2017. They include San Pedro Avenue (nine deaths), Culebra Road (eight deaths), Austin Highway (six deaths), and Zarzamora Street (six deaths).
The map below shows the location of pedestrian fatalities in 2016 and 2017, using the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Authority’s analysis of the CRIS data.
Gonzales said those roads are hot spots for pedestrian fatalities because residents in adjacent neighborhoods continue to treat major arterial roads as the smaller neighborhood streets they once were.
“That’s why we have so many fatalities on those roads – because they’re still neighborhoods,” she said. “People try to cross to go to school, church, and our public libraries.”
After being struck by the truck, Jessica Sattler sustained injuries to her back and swelling and bruising in her legs. “It was a miracle we weren’t hurt worse,” she said.
The City hopes to reduce pedestrian fatalities on San Antonio’s roadways by improving street infrastructure such as crosswalks and sidewalks while also educating the public on how to cross streets safely and lawfully.
“Mobility is important, but safety is the No. 1 priority of the City,” said Mike Frisbie, director of the City’s Transportation and Capital Improvements Department (TCI).
In 2017, voters approved a $850 million municipal bond that included $445 million in improvements to streets, bridges, and sidewalks. The funds will be split across 180 projects, Frisbie said, 65 percent of which are within designated regional centers outlined by SA Tomorrow, the City’s comprehensive plan.
Street improvements made using the bond money will be for “complete streets,” Frisbie said, a term that refers to street sections containing multimodal transportation options, such as dedicated bike lanes, sidewalks, and room for public transit in addition to single-occupancy vehicles.
These infrastructure elements also are thought to reduce pedestrian collisions and fatalities because they include median islands, accessible pedestrian signals, and curb extensions, according to the Smart Growth America study.
Designing for multiple modes of transportation on a street also gives people other transportation options beyond single-occupancy vehicles, which benefits low-income communities, Gonzales said.
“We know that it costs about $8,300 a year to maintain an automobile. And in our city, where the average income is around $45,000, that’s around 30 percent of some people’s income – more than they spend on housing,” she said.
According to SA2020, there are 2,370 miles of complete streets in San Antonio. SA2020 has a goal of reaching more than 6,000 miles of complete streets by 2020.
The driver who hit Sattler sped off after stopping briefly to allow her husband to pull her out from under the truck.
Sattler said she now uses extraordinary caution when crossing streets. “I almost get paralyzed every time I cross the street thinking, ‘Is this car going to stop?’”