City 'Right-Sizes' 40 Streets in Hopes of Fewer Collisions

About 40 Austin streets should feel a bit cozier than they used to. The city's spent the last 15 years redesigning streets in a way that encourages drivers to slow down. As our Jeff Stensland reports, the proof is in fewer crashes.

On one stretch of 51st Street, the speed limit is 35 miles an hour, but the city says some drivers like to go 55.

Timothy Boston lives nearby and tries to ride his bike most places.

"I can tell you I feel unsafe on 51st Street as a cyclist. There is not even sidewalks in both directions," says Austin resident Timothy Boston. 

The city has this road and four others at the top of its list to redesign this year.

It's called "right-sizing." Essentially, four car lanes are cut to two.

The city's Laura Dierenfield says the issue is not congestion—rather, safety.

"These projects are shown to reduce crashes by upwards 40 percent. We have seen that on our roads, as well. Also, the high-risk speeding is almost eliminated with these projects,"  says Dierenfield.

That was the case on Cameron Road south of Highway 290. Bike lanes and a two-way left turn lane replaced two former lanes.

Crashes are down by a third, while travel time is actually faster.

Not every right-sizing of streets has come from traffic studies or crash reports. The section along Balcones Drive between Hancock and 2222 was initiated by neighbors.

"It really depends on speed, on volume, on geometry, on the context of what's around the street," says Dierenfield.

Along with the road near Boston's home, the city is looking at changes to two roads in North Austin, one in South Austin and one on the north side of UT.

"With all the new people—myself included—the roads are being used in a different way," says Boston.

That's why Boston welcomes any changes to make roads work better for everyone, even if they feel cramped.

The city combines right-sizing projects with road resurfacing. That makes the changes cost only a tenth what they would on their own.

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