Vision Zero: City of Austin releases two-year report

City officials recently released a two-year report on Austin's Vision Zero initiative, which aims to eliminate deadly crashes across the city, in large part, by making busy intersections safer. 

While there have been improvements in those targeted areas, the number of fatalities citywide remains stubbornly high.

Read the full report here

In this FOX 7 Focus, Lewis Leff, city transportation safety officer, sits down with FOX 7 Austin's John Krinjak to talk about Vision Zero, its accomplishments so far, and what more needs to be done. 

JOHN KRINJAK: Tell us a little bit about Vision Zero. What is it? And if you could speak to the milestone that we're at right now.

LEWIS LEFF: Vision Zero is our community's goal to reach zero motor vehicle related crashes that result in serious injury or fatalities. Council adopted that goal back in 2015, and we've been working towards building up a program that's now kind of in full gear, working towards safer streets across the community.

READ MORE: Vision Zero attempting to lower number of Austinites killed in crashes

JOHN KRINJAK: And what sorts of accomplishments are you looking back at?

LEWIS LEFF: Yeah, as the program first got launched and started, it was really focused on intersections. That's where we see a lot of the crashes that result in serious injuries and fatalities on city owned roadways. And so we've focused on improving those intersections, looking into the data to understand what kind of questions were happening. Understanding what kind of treatments might make the most sense to do there. What we've seen over time is that the investments we're making are having a positive difference at those locations where we've made those investments. We're seeing 30% reduction of crashes overall, but also a 30% reduction in those severe crashes that result in a serious injury or death. So we know the investments we've been making at intersections have made a difference.

READ MORE: Major Austin intersections see 31% drop in serious crashes after safety improvements

JOHN KRINJAK: Despite some of those improvements, we have seen kind of an overall increase, I understand, in fatality crashes and serious injury crashes citywide. What do you think is behind that and what more needs to be done?

LEWIS LEFF: We've definitely seen an increase in the past few years, and there's a lot of theories behind that. That's a national trend. That's a statewide trend, and it's happening here locally as well. With over 600 people being seriously injured or killed on our streets each year. And so what we've been trying to focus on are there's cool reasons behind that. Part of that is a lack of dedicated, consistent, narrowly defined traffic enforcement for those behaviors that are really causing these crashes, which is primarily speeding, distracted driving, an impairment, and then being able to redesign the street, which is really the core of what we need to do for the long term to be able to achieve our goals. We need to be able to have people getting around both driving and outside of vehicles safely to get to their destination. So we're focused on what those redesigns can look like, both at intersections and beyond.

JOHN KRINJAK: We know Austin has a lot of really busy, really hectic intersections. What are some of the ones that you've targeted so far, and what are some of the ones in the future that you're planning projects for?

LEWIS LEFF: We've got dozens of locations that are in kind of early phases of scoping or design work, and we've got a number of locations that are in construction. If you go down to Barton Springs and South First, it has a protected intersection look, which means that people walking and biking can easily get through that intersection and be visible for people that are driving. And we'll upgrade the signals there as well to make sure that the drivers can get through that intersection without major conflicts. So that's one example. But we've got a number of locations that are under construction or starting construction this year and we hope to have even more next year as we continue to build and scale up.

READ MORE: Vision Zero showing positive results in reducing crashes, fatalities

JOHN KRINJAK: It says in the name Vision Zero. The object is to eliminate traffic fatalities. That sounds like an ambitious goal, but why is it important to at least shoot for that? 

LEWIS LEFF: I think the reality is nobody wants one of their family members or friends to be killed on the roadway and a preventable crash. And for a long time we've been convinced that people dying on the roadways is just a natural part of things here in Austin, every three or four days on average, we're seeing somebody killed in a car crash. So the reality is there is no right number beyond zero for anybody to be willing to have one of their family members or their friends or themselves be killed on the roadways.