Texas DOT Aims for More People to Get Killed in Traffic

Texas expects traffic deaths to increase substantially by 2022. Graph: Texas Strategic Highway Safety Plan
Texas expects traffic deaths to increase substantially by 2022. Graph: Texas Strategic Highway Safety Plan

It’s no longer acceptable for American transportation agencies to ignore their responsibility to reduce traffic fatalities. Even a titan of the transportation establishment like the Federal Highway Administration has released a document called Toward Zero Deaths, with the cooperation of state DOTS.

But while agencies may feel compelled to pay lip service to traffic death prevention, they don’t feel compelled to act on it. Case in point: Texas DOT.

TxDOT has set a long-term goal, in writing, of achieving zero deaths. But the agency’s basic philosophy hasn’t changed. It’s still planning for more traffic and more asphalt, and as a result, its forecasts still expect a growing number of people to lose their lives in traffic crashes.

In its Strategic Highway Plan, TxDOT says it “envisions a future with zero traffic fatalities and serious injuries,” and goes on to list what it calls “countermeasures” to improve safety. These include speeding reduction, safer intersection design, and pedestrian safety — ideas that largely came from meetings between TxDOT officials and advocates.

But in its actual forecasts, TxDOT is still planning for steady growth in traffic mileage, and it doesn’t expect the countermeasures to offset that. TxDOT’s target for 2022 is 4,241 traffic fatalities statewide — an increase of about 460 deaths compared to 2016.

The agency considers that to be progress because it’s 2 percent below the projected number of traffic fatalities in a scenario with no “countermeasures.” Why not attack the problem more aggressively, so traffic deaths actually fall over time? That’s too ambitious for TxDOT, which says it will “avoid countermeasures not feasible due to the inability to enact specific laws and policies, resource requirements, lack of expertise or sponsors, and unlikely public acceptance.”

Jay Crossley, executive director of the nonprofit Farm&City, says TxDOT isn’t as helpless as it makes itself out to be. The agency could demonstrate some leadership and change the public conversation about how to make the transportation system safer.

“If you had a full-on cell phone ban, we know you could save lives,” he said. “But they’re not talking about it because they don’t think it’s possible politically in Texas.”

In the TxDOT forecast, the agency depicts itself as a passive bystander, watching as low gas prices and a humming economy propel traffic mileage higher, and with it, traffic deaths. Crossley says TxDOT has abdicated its responsibility by refusing to consider how it can reduce vehicle miles traveled, or VMT.

“The big one is VMT, this idea that VMT and economic growth are linked,” he said. “They think it’s important to increase VMT.”

“If that’s basically state policy, it’s hard to reduce deaths.”

There’s a long list of policy tools TxDOT could deploy to shift trips away from driving, like implementing variable tolling on Interstates or investing more in transit service and biking and walking infrastructure. That’s not on the agency’s agenda, however.

TxDOT sets the tone for the rest of the state. The regional agencies that guide transportation policy in Texas’s major metro areas are following suit. On Monday, Austin’s Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) is preparing to affirm the same weak safety goal as TxDOT, over the protests of advocates.

Crossley thinks the agencies are setting a low bar for themselves because, in their way of thinking, it guarantees success. It’s up to advocates to point out why that’s the wrong approach.

“People are not willing to risk the consequences of not meeting the goals,” he said. “To flip that on its head, that’s the whole point.”

  • Sean

    Wow Angie,
    You’re really batting 1.000 on these strawman headlines.
    First you said the Koch brothers “want” people in Nashville mired in traffic. Baselessly I might add.
    Now you’re saying that Texas is “aiming” for more deaths?

    Stop being a garbage journalist, and be a journalist. It’s okay to seriously approach this and say that an unintended consequence of their policies might be more deaths. That’s fine.
    You don’t have to leapfrog BuzzFeed and invent motivations (like wanting people dead) our of whole cloth.
    Do better.

  • Tooscrapps

    Considering they actually used the word “target” in their plan, I would say using the word “aims” is quite appropriate.

  • Sean

    There’s a difference between projecting a reality and intentionally ‘aiming’ for more deaths.
    In Angie’s feverish version of reality apparently anyone who doesn’t issue an executive order to close all roads and highways now is *hoping* for highway deaths.
    Present an argument. Make a case. Don’t pretend that your opponents are evil. (unless of course they are).
    It’s hard to want to be on the same side as someone who fights dirty like this.

  • Tooscrapps

    They could change their target by making meaningful changes to speeds, sprawl, design, etc. The reality is that they would rather not.

    While they aren’t saying “heres X deaths, lets get to that number”, by sticking with the status quo, they are in fact endorsing the collateral damage.

  • Jonathan Krall

    If I read the article correctly, TxDOT is aiming for more VMT and therefore, more deaths. The deaths are not the goal (charitably, Angie suggests that economic growth is the goal; I think the goal is increased lobbying $$$ into the statehouse from big oil). But the deaths are the clearly expected and explicitly projected result.

    She correctly reminds us that TxDOT had other options for moving more people without more deaths. Mass transit is the most obvious option. We are up against a culture full of people who consider increased auto traffic to be inevitable, despite clear evidence to the contrary (such as flat national VMT for several years beginning in 2005). She is correct that taking steps to increase VMT must be recognized as being the same as as taking steps to increase traffic fatalities.

  • Sean

    No. They’re not endorsing it.
    They’re being realistic.

    Take a look at DC’s Vision Zero. They’ve set their sights on zero traffic fatalities, right? Bully for them!
    But they’ve also relinquished control of the streets and roads to automobiles. No traffic enforcement of any kind occurs. Traffic fatalities are *up* in fact since they committed to Vision Zero.

    Which is better; to project zero and then make no effort to get there, or to face the facts and be straightforward so stakeholders can actually see what’s up and hold the right parties accountable?

  • I didn’t say they “want people dead” just that they don’t care enough about preventing people from dying to actually try to do anything to stop it. Which is 100% accurate.

  • Sean

    You said they “aim for more people to get killed”.
    That’s at the very least disingenuous if not straight up dishonest.
    Your Koch Brothers headline also creates a strawman out of their intentions as a shortcut instead of pushing for a real exchange of ideas.

    I agree with your policy positions, but this isn’t a great way to influence people. Kind of like my cyclist friends who call drivers “cagers” and assume combative positions. It’s just not productive.

  • Calm down, the headline is accurate.

  • Guest

    For me headlines like this are both fair and welcome. They get your attention and show the yawning gap between rhetoric and intentions, which the MSM usually does not acknowledge. Agencies need to wake up. It couldn’t be clearer that this one is aiming for more deaths–it’s in their own chart!

  • Sean

    When the economy is doing well people drive more and there are more deaths.
    No one in their right mind would say “Janet Yellen aiming for more deaths with newest rate adjustments”.

    This is just disingenuous.
    Also; it’s not very professional to tell people to calm down. I’m not uncalm. I’m merely disagreeing with you. Those are pretty different things

  • D G Spencer Ludgate

    I Beg to differ. An accurate headline would read, “Texas DOT forecasts a 12% increase in traffic fatalities.” The Texas DOT is aiming to reduce traffic fatalities by 2% from trend. Unfortunately, the trend exceeds the 2% reduction.

    Media style guides recommend use of Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. Per Merriam-Webster, the second transitive definition of aim: to direct toward a specified object or goal. The goal of the TxDOT is not to have more traffic fatalities, but rather to slow the upward trend by 2%. Upon stating an objective reporting of the policy; then Ms Schmitt is free to attack the policy and promote Streetsblog’s view. This is what good journalists do.

  • Right, because the Fed is responsible for traffic safety, and Streetsblog is the one being disingenuous here.

  • HamTech87

    It is like the cigarette companies trying to sell more cartons. Of course they know deaths will increase. The difference here is that there are development patterns that could reduce deaths.

  • Sean

    You’re not actually listening. I’m on your side, and I think TXDOT needs to do better….

    But a really good way to shoot yourself in the foot and start a flamewar rather than a real dialogue is to *start* your conversation with wild accusations. A good example is saying that the Koch brothers “want Nashville mired in traffic”. That’s obviously not their motivation.

    I’m just giving you some constructive criticism. Transit/urbanism/all that good stuff requires a little diplomacy. Going into everything guns blazing is – if anything – going to result in your opponents digging their heels in. And hey, there go our bike lanes and BRTs.

  • Vooch

    Your headline is spot on. DOTs need to be held accountable for the traffic violence they foster.

    Please keep this approach, eventually the narrative will change

    streets are for people

  • baklazhan

    “In Angie’s feverish version of reality apparently anyone who doesn’t issue an executive order to close all roads and highways now is *hoping* for highway deaths.”

    …and you think *she’s* the one making strawman arguments!?

  • zucho drig

    “making meaningful changes to speeds, sprawl, design, ” are probably impossible/unlikely –

    “…avoid countermeasures not feasible due to the inability to enact specific laws and policies,…”

  • kev4321

    The main goal of TxDOT is to preserve and extend the motor vehicle transportation monopoly. Traffic fatalities are simply collateral damage. Transportation provides a guaranteed market for fossil fuels, a rich source of loan payments, and economic anxiety for the lower class. That is the point. The problem with bicycles and public transportation is these modes do not add profits to the ruling class and might actually compete with motor vehicles. The freedom to choose a bicycle or bus over a car is something that cannot be allowed in Texas.

  • Frank Kotter

    If we are on this site we are either trolling or ‘on the same side’. No one in the general population cames here for information. Being cambatative and confrontational is exactly what we need. It is exactly this confronation which has given the few and far between gains in alt-trans over the past twenty years.

    Have you made your donation this year?

  • Sean

    Here’s the thing; there are a *fuck*load more drivers our there than transit advocates and cyclists. That’s exactly why we in particular need to be diplomatic. When you’re 1 vs 50, or more realistically 20 million vs. 350 million you don’t start things off by throwing firebombs. Because you will lose. And we have been losing.

    Convincing people that transit makes sense, and cycling makes sense so that they then *become us* makes sense. Telling them that they’re murderers and just hateful in general is a great way to keep losing for another generation.

    So no, absolutely not. I have not and won’t make a donation. I’ll continue to give to positive, (and honest) organizations.

  • Tooscrapps

    Yah, sure, I’ll take TxDOT’s word for it.

    “making meaningful changes to speeds, sprawl, design” – That literally is their job.

  • Stephen Simac

    VMT is not an exact correlation with traffic fatalities. In the 1960’s the U.S. had the “safest” drivers per VMT (with 50,000 deaths a year). Ffity years later, with significantly more VMT, deaths are around 34,000 (creeping back up from a few years ago). Most European countries doubled down on vehicle safety, driver training, road designs and now are traffic safety per VMT ranking is comparable to our health outcome rankings with EU countries. Down around the bottom. So Texas DOT does have options that have little to do with transit, bicycles and or pedestrian improvements.

  • Stephen Simac

    There are very few journalists, mostly stenographers reporting on the official line. No need to make your story too boring to read, headlines rarely match content of articles. One person’s garbage is another’s treasure, but comments on the blog are lively and interesting. This is a niche “paper”, so perfectly ok to make radical statements, because the velorution is a radical solution.

  • Sean

    Ridership on my local metro was down 18% last year. And they’re anticipating a further decline this year.
    Pretty soon it’s going to be as niche as you all seem to want it to be. The few remaining riders can sit together on the smoking train and read inflammatory articles about how the failures of transit are everyone’s but the people who actually operate it.

  • Brandon

    while planners talk about traffic calming and other proven solutions to traffic crashes, engineers still propose and get approved “safety” projects that widen roads, remove trees and otherwise make the roads have less obstacles but actually lead to faster driving and more crashes. The Sate DOTS, especially when it comes to the technical reports are still dominated by the outdated engineering thinking.

  • Jonathan Krall

    Studies show that 50% of US adults want to live where they can walk to shops, restaurants, etc., but only 10% of the housing is built like that. The rest is mostly suburbs. That means 40% of US adults are stuck in their cars, wishing for a better way.

    Streetsblog is not only serving the 10% who live in our few walkable neighborhoods, they are serving the many unhappy car-owners looking a for a way out (even though many of those car-owners do not yet realize that they are not alone). Not only that, but an increasing number of car lovers, those in cities, are catching on to the fact that the only way they will be able to drive around is for more people to be doing something _other_ than driving around. Streetsblog is serving those folks too.

    At the risk of making sense, I’ll say that people looking for hope on this topic are probably listening to Angie. She is helping us identify the cracks in the edifice car-centrism so the rest of us can apply pressure.

  • Sean

    I understand that, I’m on your side and I consider blogs like this to be critically important to making things happen. That’s the only reason I’m spending time playing devil’s advocate here. I’d like to be able to open up a blog and find some factually-based, non-clickbait, non bomb-throwing, inflammatory articles.

  • Frank Kotter

    Agitation by the minority has proven to be the ONLY thing which has guaranteed their rights. You know what polite opinion-swaying gets you? Segregation, anti-homosexuality laws and six lane roads running through neighborhoods.

    I’d love to hear an example of where your approach has proven successful. I would also be fascinated to learn where you are making your donations to leverage public policy changes to transportation systems.

  • Sean

    That’s a pretty offensive simile. A *preference* for transit or cycling is not the same as being an abused and hated minority. We’re not demanding human rights. We’re trying to *convince* millions of people to change their behaviour because we believe it’s better long-term. Big damn difference.

    As for my donations, I give to and volunteer for my local cycling and rails to trails advocacy groups.

  • Michael

    So much of the transit conversation is unadjusted for the price of oil. There was a lot of traction on the transit side when oil went from 9 bucks to 150+ between 1999 and 2009. Then the recession hit, and whole bunch of cheap capital was thrown at drilling, and prices fell to 20 bucks a barrel about 18 months ago – during which time people drove a bit more, took cheap rideshare, etc. We’re back up to the 60s and rising, so we’ll see renewed interest in transit out of necessity. None of these TxDOT numbers reflect the reality of $60+ per barrel prices.

  • Frank Kotter

    Ugh, offended? I really hope you are just using this as a rhetorical tool.

    Homosexuals had a choice before they began demanding (through very confrontational actions which the larger population HATED) their rights: to live closeted and receive no denigration or sanction or to come out and be damned. Citizens have a choice to drive in a car or ride a bike. Presently, riding a bike is punished while taking a car is sanctioned. I find that we are fighting for human rights ‘equal protection under the law’ for the lifestyle we live. The comparison is valid and there are quite a few better things to find offensive.

    It’s great you support rails to trails. It’s a win win and an easy lift. It also fills a small part of the transition to supporting long bike commutes, especially in cities like MSP. However, it does nothing for street level changes, what I consider the most important part of the puzzle. To accomplish this, there is nothing about ‘compromise’ or winning people over. The only way to achieve this change is to force projects through, by being loud and proud – to steal the slogan.

  • Sean

    I’m going to ignore the first paragraph. Try to remember the last time someone was lynched for riding a bike, or what states it was illegal to ride a bike in until recently. Anyway…

    Yes rails to trails is small. That’s why I also support WABA in DC, which is broader and pushes for bike lanes, MUPs, sharrows, etc etc.

    I’m very quickly falling off the transit bandwagon. Thanks in part to the mentality shown here where the matter has to be FORCED. It’s not longer a lifestyle choice like you say. It’s the only option a lot of transit pushers want for people. And guess what? Baltimore just announced theirs is shutting down *for a month*. Good thing it’s not the only option right?
    Oh and hey, the two closest metro stations to me are closing for *forty five* freaking days.
    It’s almost like a centralized, bureaucracy-run transit agency should be an option, and not the primary mode people rely on.

  • Frank Kotter

    Your point was activism achieves less than careful tea parties with your enemies. Historical evidence indicates otherwise.

    I still can’t follow your logic about how the breakdown in transportation systems supports your approach. If you are pissed that the metro in many cities is falling apart, your approach is a letter to the editor politely requesting change? Good luck.

  • Sean

    I think I see your problem. You see people who have different ideas on how to setup transportation as “enemies”. That’s ridiculous.
    Do you know how bad it looks for someone to approach the 15 million people who live in DC/MD/VA and say “Hey fuckfaces you’re the enemy, you make bad choices by driving a car and also please give us billions of dollars to fund the WMATA service that a tiny percentage of us use.”?

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