The City of Austin has released its draft Vision Zero plan, making it the latest among several cities aiming to eliminate traffic-related deaths through policy and infrastructure changes.
In part Vision Zero is a response to the alarmingly high traffic fatalities in 2015, when Austin had more than 100 road deaths. 2016 is shaping up to be a dangerous year as well, for drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians alike.
With that in mind, many people have been eager to get a glimpse of the draft action plan – but does it do what it needs to?
So far the consensus seems to be that the plan, in its current form, is moving in the right direction; but could use more specific actions and commitment to outcomes.
“Bike Austin is thrilled that the City of Austin is taking Vision Zero seriously,” said Miller Nuttle, advocacy director of Bike Austin. “Bike Austin and our partners at Vision Zero ATX have been pushing the City to add additional metrics, implementation timelines, and funding sources to the plan. At this month’s Mobility Committee meeting, City Council members echoed this call, and it seems that City Staff are taking the input seriously. We’ll continue monitoring their progress through the Vision Zero Task force to make sure we produce a plan that will successfully traffic fatalities to zero by 2025.”
One area of pedestrian and cyclist safety that we hope the City takes a look at during its Vision Zero process is communications around road construction.
Let’s start with the positive reinforcements: the City of Austin has been doing a great job in recent years of fixing everything (sub-street and surface items) at the same time, and has also gotten better about trying to minimize the impacts of road work. The City has gotten much better in providing safe places to walk and bike, and even some Great Streets where people actually want to spend time. StreetFilms does a great job of highlighting many of these improvements, as you can see in this video.
So Movability went for a walk to sample what is actually happening on the streets of downtown and one thing is clear – construction often brings misconstruction.
Here are a few examples of how communication around construction is awful where pedestrian and cyclist safety is concerned.
This pedestrian sign at Colorado & 7th makes no sense given the positioning of the barrier and an arrow that points down the street towards the construction closures. And when signs are unclear, people will try to interpret their meaning. We watched pedestrians walk behind the sign and down the sidewalk (following the arrow). Then they would either have to walk back or cross mid-block as construction half a block ahead blocks the sidewalk and extends into the street. Guess which they did?
At the 3rd & Nueces intersection, the “Road Closed” sign is just plain confusing, given that only an east bound lane and cycle track are left open for traffic with no guidance for how people should use the travel surfaces remaining. East bound travelers can easily stay on the course they would take if the construction wasn’t there; it was everyone heading west who was completely confused, and there are a lot of them, since the construction is just east of the heavily used pedestrian and bike bridge to get west of Shoal Creek.
This pair of cyclists (below) took probably the most amazing of the paths, turning on to Nueces, crossing entering the sidewalk, riding on the sidewalk passed the construction, then back onto the street to the bridge.
In this photo on the left, the bicyclist is trying to use the cycle track (though traveling the wrong direction), a delivery truck is backing in, and a car (behind the truck) is exiting the garage trying to get out. All are following instructions as given and the U-Haul almost crashes into the car, who moves into the cycle track to miss getting hit and the bicyclist swerves out of the way from both car and U-Haul.
We hope that the Vision Zero Task Force takes pedestrian and cyclist feedback into consideration. (If you want to get a glimpse of what cyclists in Austin are saying, check out this cool graphic from the New York Times that collects riders’ comments about biking around Austin.)
Want to make your voice heard in the Vision Zero process? To submit comments, email email@example.com or contact the following City of Austin staff:
Francis Reilly, Planner
Planning and Zoning Department
Mike Schofield, P.E.
Austin Transportation Department