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Austin’s Vision Zero plan begins final march to Council

Tuesday, May 3, 2016 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

The city of Austin’s Vision Zero plan continued its final parade through boards and commissions Monday with a visit to the Public Safety Commission. And while some commissioners were dissatisfied with the 94-page document, others had little to say.

“About the only thing I can say is the pictures are pretty,” said Commissioner Mike Levy to open the discussion. “It was as if this plan basically has nothing to do with what the task force did.”

Levy was part of the Vision Zero Task Force realized by a City Council resolution in November 2014. From there, the city and its 60-member task force began building its extensive take on a traffic safety plan (at final count, there are 66 recommended actions), while the city experienced a record-breaking year of traffic deaths – 102 people in 2015.

But while the plan has come before the commission at least twice, Levy felt as if city staff had not listened to the group’s recommendations. He highlighted Austin Police Department data suggesting that 34 percent of deaths last year involved an unlicensed driver or a driver with a suspended license.

“One of the things that our commission asked for in terms of immediate action was to impound the cars of suspended or unlicensed drivers,” Levy said. “It’s not mentioned here.”

Other recommendations that made it into this final version of the plan made little sense to Commissioner Kim Rossmo. He pointed to the recommendation that driver’s license renewal periods be shortened from six to four years.

“I’m about as wild as having to go to the DMV office more often than as I would be sleeping on a bed of cacti,” said Rossmo. Levy noted that the ability to change this requirement lies with the state, not the city.

“I’m not sure who put that in,” admitted APD Commander Art Fortune.

At the close of what was barely a 20-minute discussion, Rossmo pointed out that the APD has mentioned that many drivers who are stopped and found to have an invalid license (or none at all) are repeat offenders. He urged city staff to find a way – such as impounding, per Levy’s suggestion – to send a message to those who violate the law again and again.

“It would seem to me very prudent to try to find out what other people have been doing in regards to the chronic problem of people who drive while suspended,” Rossmo said.

Commissioners passed a vote recommending city staff to research how other jurisdictions have handled repeat offenders – concerning both license violations and DWIs. The city’s Vision Zero plan heads to the Council Mobility Committee on May 9.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

Update: Audio from McGlinchy’s radio piece is embedded below.

Photo by Chris Yarzab made available through a Creative Commons license.

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