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Using design, Austin advisory council looking to lower city speeds to 35 mph

City leaders are looking to lower speeds throughout Austin with an eventual maximum speed limit of 35 miles per hour. (CBS Austin)

A 35 miles per hour top speed limit is the goal as the pedestrian advisory council is looking to improve safety by lowering speeds.

The Pedestrian Advisory Council is debating a resolution that would start a interim improvement pilot program. The goal is to make quick changes to roads through a concept called tactical urbanism to slow speeds.

The goal is to design all city streets in Austin to have a maximum speed limit of 35 miles per hour.

“We’re really looking to this interim improvement method to make quick changes now to save lives before someone else is killed,” PAC member Adam Greenfield said.

Greenfield said he sees the fatality rates in Austin as an emergency, and they want to do something immediately.

So by looking at streets and finding cheaper ways to constrict street widths through separated bike lanes, bus lanes, delineator sticks or concrete islands, they can lower speeds quickly.

“We can go in with relatively inexpensive materials, make changes, adjust them move them around until they work just right and then once they are proving themselves to work eventually we can go in with long-term materials,” Greenfield said.

Greenfield said they want to go down to 35 miles per hour because data shows 40 miles per hour is when fatality rates go up when a person gets hit. At 45 miles per hour, there is a more than 90 percent chance a person will die if they get hit by a vehicle. That drops significantly under 40.

However, he said other streets should be designed to be lower than 35.

“The upper limit we should tolerate for speed in Austin,” Greenfield said.

Greenfield said they’d start slowly and add improvements to smaller streets. At some point, they’d work their way up to arterial roads like Slaughter Lane, Burnet Road, Lamar and Parmer.

Veterinarian Everett Simmons has his practice off North Burnet Road. He said he’s seen a few crashes over the years partly because of the higher speeds. His building is in area where it’s a 45 mile per hour speed limit.

“One thing that’ll add to the safety to all of us is reducing the speed limit. I like that idea, a lot,” Simmons said.

He thinks the city should lower the speed limit on Burnet to 35 and 30 where the limits are currently 45 and 40. However, he wants the city to keep the left-turn lanes.

“I think one of the smartest thing we could do to ensure safety, ensure access to businesses and still move traffic,” Simmons said.

Greenfield said one solution for Burnet Road would be to make it a two lane roadway with separated bike lanes and dedicated bus lanes. He knows that could be a tough sell for drivers, but he said this shouldn't be political.

“The length of a commute is very important but number one is safety. People have to survive," Greenfield said.

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