I think that Sarah Goodyear writing for The Atlantic Cities said it perfectly -- the title of her article this morning is "We're Shamefully Bad at Protecting Pedestrians at Events like SXSW" (full article HERE.)
By all reports, this is the first such incident in the 28 year history of the South By Southwest Festival. But the previous 27 years have nothing to do with the events last night. The Festival will never be quite as carefree again. Families of the dead and injured will never be quite the same. Lives have been changed. Now, lawyers and lawsuits and settlements will do their work. Millions will be paid out in claims. Austin will make new safety and security plans. It didn't have to be this way.
10 year ago the events at the Santa Monica Farmer's Market showed everyone that even well run and recurring events were vulnerable to wayward drivers. 10 people were killed and over 60 injured in that incident. The NTSB spelled out a solution clearly for everyone in the country to see in their report on the incident:
"Had Santa Monica installed a temporary rigid barrier system, such as bollards, at the closure limits of the Santa Monica Certified Farmers’ Market, the barrier system might have arrested or reduced the forward motion of the accident vehicle, thereby preventing it from continuing into the farmers’ market and eliminating or greatly reducing the number of casualties." (see the full report HERE)
Just 7 months months ago, a rampaging vehicle killed a tourist on her honeymoon on the Ocean Front Walk along Venice Beach, just a few miles from Santa Monica. This serene beach bike and pedestrian path was also relatively unprotected despite the lessons of ten years before in Santa Monica. (see ongoing news coverage HERE)
Early this morning, Austin Chief of Police Art Acevedo held a news conference at the scene of the carnage, in which he showed clearly his concern, his anger, and his determination to bring the driver to justice. At the end of his remarks he made this statement:
"We do these events very well, but you cannot stop a person who rather than face drunk driving charges decides to speed at a high rate of speed, go around a uniformed officer forcing him to run out of the way, then at a high rate of speed show total disregard for the sanctity of human life," Acevedo said. (see the five minute video HERE)
With all respect, the Chief is not correct. The fact is, you CAN stop a vehicle from entering into a closed pedestrian area. It is done all the time. And it can be done without huge expense and without building a fortress at every intersection. Some time in the last 27 years, city officials needed to take a look around and say, "How can we do this better so that a tragedy like Santa Monica or Venice Beach cannot happen in Austin."
I guess they will now. But it didn't have to be this way.