In 2017, FHWA conducted a Road Safety Audit (RSA) at the request of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and City of Austin to address pedestrian safety. Through the RSA, one segment of I-35 from 51st Street to Rundberg Blvd. was identified as experiencing disproportionate numbers of pedestrian crashes and fatalities. Three target demographics were identified as high-risk pedestrians: children under the age of 17, mature adults between the ages of 50-65, and people experiencing homelessness. Data also revealed that over 90 percent of pedestrian fatalities occurred after dark.
Due to this high incidence of pedestrian fatalities and forthcoming construction activities, the TxDOT Austin District with the help of the TxDOT Traffic Safety Division innovated an infrastructure improvement as a pedestrian safety countermeasure and developed an educational pedestrian safety initiative called “Be Safe Be Seen.” Activities included providing reflective bags to at-risk populations to enhance nighttime visibility. Additionally, the Mobility35 Initiative to Address Homelessness created a coalition of local and state officials and non-profit and faith-based organizations that engaged in outreach and communicated information regarding upcoming construction projects, safe pedestrian routes in the area, and other resources. The goal of the coalition was also to humanely relocate individuals to safe, dignified housing or shelter.
Along with educational and outreach efforts, TxDOT engineered a pedestrian crossing deterrent as an infrastructure solution for the interstate. In December 2020, TxDOT added two-foot panels to the top of the center median concrete barrier along a 3.5-mile stretch of I-35 between 51st Street and Rundberg Blvd.
As of June 2023, the pedestrian safety efforts have resulted in an overall reduction of 64 percent in pedestrian fatalities and an 89 percent reduction in pedestrian fatalities involving people experiencing homelessness. Given this success, TxDOT had completed installation of 21 additional miles of barrier by April 2023, with similarly positive results.
Mike Arellano, PE, Deputy District Engineer with TxDOT's Austin District accepted the Award at a Capitol Hill ceremony on November 29th.