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FHWA Home / Safety / Speed Management / Speed Management – Case Study 1: Noteworthy Speed Management Practices

Case Study 1: Noteworthy Speed Management Practices

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Strategic Speed Management Program


  • Speeding is the top contributing factor in fatal crashes
  • Vulnerable road users are overrepresented in severe crashes
  • Austin is experiencing significant population growth
  • Adopted a citywide vision zero goal
  • Identified leading causes of fatal and serious injuries
  • Defined High Injury Network
  • Engaged community
  • Established speed management program
  • Comprehensive speed management activities
  • Developed key indicators and targeted achievement metrics
  • Integrated effort including enforcement


The City of Austin became a Vision Zero city in 2015 with the goal of zero traffic-related fatalities for this rapidly growing, diverse, and active community. Identifying a High Injury Network (HIN) exposed that the majority of fatal and serious injury crashes were occurring on collector and arterial streets. This perspective helped focus their program beyond neighborhoods and onto the more complex roadways which made up their HIN1.

Addressing speed limits on the HIN required consideration of the Texas Transportation Code which mandates an 85th percentile method be used for setting speed limits with allowances made where crashes are above average. The city determined that any roadway on the HIN meets the state's definition of roadways with above average crash rates and therefore will be using USLIMITS2 extensively to support setting new speed limits on collector and arterial roadways. This moment represents a paradigm shift in how the city approaches transportation planning, codifying in city policy the preservation of human life as the paramount priority for Austin's transportation network. Citizens are asking for their transportation network to be safe, accessible, and inclusive for all members of the community. The city is determined to achieve this by promoting a culture of safety education, focusing on behaviors that cause traffic injuries and fatalities, and through integrating safe design principles across their multimodal infrastructure1.

Stylized stock art photo of the interior of a speeding vehicle.
Interior of speeding vehicle. Source: Getty Images

In addition, the Austin Police Department is using a data-driven approach towards enforcement strategies. This includes participating in a Fatality Review Board, which meets monthly to review all fatal crashes, and then meets quarterly to review overall crash statistics and serious injury crashes2.

Photo of Austin's busy multimodal roadways depicting an intersection with a crosswalk sign and another sign that reads Turning traffic must yield to bikes and peds.
Austin's busy multimodal roadways. Image Source: Neal Hawkins

The Challenges

Speeding – In Austin, speeding was recorded as the primary contributing factor in 24 percent of traffic crashes resulting in death from 2013 to 2017. Speeding is the leading contributor to fatal crashes with the top four being speeding, failure to yield, distraction, and driving while intoxicated. On average, more than 70 people lose their lives on Austin area streets each year, another 450 suffer life-altering injuries, and countless other crashes and near-misses are unreported.

Vulnerable Road Users – The city found that vulnerable road users make up a disproportionate share of severe crashes. The proportion of all serious injury and fatal crashes by mode are 61 percent motor vehicle, 17 percent pedestrian, 16 percent motorcycle, and 6 percent bicycle. Austin's African-American population is also overrepresented given that their 7 percent share of the population makes up 16 percent of the serious injury and fatal crashes1.

Significant Growth – Since the last transportation plan was adopted in 1995, Austin has added more than 450,000 people and the region's population is slated to double in the next 30 years.

Developing a Speed Management Program

The objective of the Austin Transportation Department (ATD) speed management program is to improve safety and enhance the livability of Austin streets through context-appropriate speed reduction strategies2. ATD developed a framework for their new Speed Management Program through several actions including a workshop with ITE and the Vision Zero Network in February 2019 and in researching best practices from national studies and other leading cities. This framework relies on objective criteria, informed by community and policy objectives, to prioritize streets with the most serious speeding problems for targeted speed mitigation strategies3. The seven key Speed Management Program elements are as follows:

  1. Data and information
  2. A toolkit of engineering countermeasures
  3. Methods for setting speed limits
  4. Holistic approach with education and enforcement
  5. Coordination with other programs
  6. Equity
  7. Evaluation

This approach provides different tools and strategies by roadway contextual factors applied to street levels including the following:

Images of several physical engineering countermeasures used are shown above: Rain Garden Bulb Out (top left), Median and Speed Cushions (top right), and Mountable Traffic Circles (bottom).
Images of several physical engineering countermeasures used are shown above: Rain Garden Bulb Out (top left), Median and Speed Cushions (top right), and Mountable Traffic Circles (bottom). Source: City of Austin

Key Takeaways and Lessons Learned

  1. Austin Strategic Mobility Plan. [Report]. Retrieved December 28, 2019 from http://app.box.com/s/7aiksxmwwgymalsty0lm21wingk0slug
  2. Miesse, Eric (July 21, 2019). Speed Management: Law Enforcement Perspective [Presentation]. Noteworthy Speed Management Practices, ITE Annual Meeting, Austin, TX.
  3. Spillar, Robert (June 24, 2019). Speed Management Program – Draft Framework [Memorandum]. City of Austin, TX. http://www.austintexas.gov/edims/pio/document.cfm?id=322565

Case Study 1: Noteworthy Speed Management Practices – FHWA-SA-20-077

Page last modified on December 16, 2020
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