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Monday, December 5, 2016 by Audrey McGlinchy

Six months in, Vision Zero focuses on pedestrian safety

Holding back tears, Kathy Sokolic told roughly 30 people seated outside City Hall the story of a bruised heart.

“On the evening of Sept. 12, our 9-year-old,” began Sokolic, before pausing to gather herself. “Our 9-year-old nephew, Ben, was hit by a truck on the residential street just feet from his home.”

Ben survived – barely. As Sokolic told it, Ben was in a coma for several weeks. He broke his neck, bones in both legs, bones in his hand and his pelvis. His lungs and heart were bruised.

Last year, the city of Austin recorded its highest number of traffic fatalities – 102 people died on city streets. Thirty of those were pedestrians. Five months after the city hit this record, City Council members approved a Vision Zero Action Plan, aimed at improving traffic safety with the goal of zero deaths on roads. (KUT and the Austin Monitor chronicled the parts of this plan in a series called “The Road to Zero.”)

In the six months since Council adopted the plan, the city has begun to focus on pedestrian safety by making new hires, continuing ongoing projects and drafting a pedestrian safety plan.

“The Pedestrian Safety Action Plan is going to look at a data-driven approach to identifying top contributing factors to pedestrian serious injuries and fatalities,” said Joel Meyer, pedestrian coordinator with the Austin Transportation Department and one of the new hires to come out of the adoption of the Vision Zero Action Plan. “And then (it will) come up with a holistic set of solutions looking at education, enforcement, engineering, policy changes that can lead to a safer pedestrian environment.”

A draft of the Pedestrian Safety Action Plan is expected in summer 2017. In addition, ongoing projects aimed at improving pedestrian safety were grandfathered into the Vision Zero Action Plan, such as the work the city has been doing at so-called “high priority” -- or deadly --intersections. Work recently got underway at Rundberg Lane and North Lamar Boulevard, and is expected to be finished in February.

But for the most part, the focus has been on planning. The Vision Zero Action Plan contains more than 60 recommendations for education, enforcement, engineering and evaluation.

“There have been, I believe, a couple meetings that the task force has met to review exactly where each piece is at and what next steps need to be taken to address each of the 60-plus items that are within (the plan),” said Nic Moe, who sits on the city’s Vision Zero Task Force and chairs Vision Zero ATX, an advocacy group focused on traffic safety. “And that’s a huge process. That’s something that over the next year, I suspect, will really start showing some effects on the ground.”

Since voters approved a $720 million transportation bond in November, the Vision Zero Action Plan now has a dedicated $15 million with which to work. Moe said that amount should be able to fund a good number of infrastructure projects in the plan.

Another priority item in the plan is lowering speed limits in the city. Transportation Department staff will meet with members of the Mobility Committee on Wednesday, when they will present them with strategies to lower speed limits. One recommendation is to potentially have the city of Austin join the city of Houston in backing legislation that would allow cities to post speed limits as low as 20 miles per hour.

Photo by Gabriel Cristóver Pérez/KUT News. This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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