Vision Zero task force pushes for safer Austin roads

AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s a number the Austin Police Department hasn’t seen in decades — 92 people killed on Austin roadways just in the last 11 months. Tuesday at City Hall, a plan was proposed to change that and make it a priority to eliminate all deadly crashes.

VisionZeroATX is a grassroots group formed to advocate the position that death and injury on Austin streets is not acceptable and is preventable. The Vision Zero Task Force is made up of representatives from the Austin Police Department, the transportation department and the planning department.

After an increase in traffic and pedestrian deaths on Austin roadways, the group will now be presenting its action plan to city councilors in hopes of seeing a change.Vision Zero identifies three components in order to collaborate for change: Education, enforcement and engineering.

Austin police say the department can’t do it alone.

“Enforcement alone won’t do it. So educating — who are the folks who are getting in these wrecks? Who are the people who are getting killed as pedestrians? Is there an outreach we have to make to them? And then the same thing with the engineering. Are there flaws in the roadways? Is there a way to design things pedestrian friendly? Are speed limits to high?,” said Commander Art Fortune with APD Highway Enforcement.

To encourage people to get home safely, Austin Police will be extending the DWI no refusal campaign next year to 68 days versus the 24 days this year.

The task force will also propose its Safety Improvement Plan, identifying the top 25 crash locations for immediate improvements. 5 dangerous intersections are already funded for the 2016 budget to add safety  improvements including:

  • West Slaughter Lane and Manchaca Road (South Austin)
  • Lamar Boulevard and Rundberg Lane (North Austin)
  • Lamar Boulevard and Parmer Lane (North Austin)
  • U.S. 183 Service Road and Cameron Road (Northeast Austin)
  • I-35 Southbound Service Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard (near Downtown)

When it comes to pedestrians, 92 percent of the deaths were in prohibited areas like frontage roads and crossing high speed roadways.  Now, police will talk to city councilors about the possibility of making changes to the city ordinance regarding where people can stand or walk on the road.

“Those people are making bad choices and again we find some of those same things that those folks have had history – whether that be a history of homelessness, mental illness, criminal activity, or a combination of all of the above. So how do you get that message out? We do a lot of media stories and express concern, gone out and talked to the homeless, different outreach groups as well,” Fortune said.

Fortune said the department is faced with some challenges.

“APD is 138 officers short right now and the city’s growing. Infrastructure, obviously – people know we’re trying to rebuild a lot of the roadway. But when there is more people, you’ve got more of a downtown bar scene. You’ve extended also several areas of entertainment district. They’re not just limited to downtown,” Fortune said.

The full Vision Zero Action Plan is here.

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