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Rising number of pedestrian deaths brings more urgency to Austin's Vision Zero Task Force

Several City of Austin agencies are working to put an end to the number of deaths of the road. That includes its Vision Zero Task Force.

A memorial remains at the intersection of County Road 117 and Bluffstone Drive in Round Rock.

"She got side swiped on the passenger side, and for what we understand Lexi pretty much passed immediately," said Matthew Scordelis.

It's there Scordelis says his 17-year-old daughter Alexia was killed in a car crash at the end of February. "It was shocking, and we never paid attention to any of the statistics," he said.

One of the agencies working to combat the issue is Vision Zero. Since the City of Austin adopted a Vision Zero action plan in 2015, traffic fatalities have slightly dropped.

But in just the first quarter of 2019 those numbers are on the rise again.

The Austin Police Department reported earlier this month that traffic fatalities are up 30-percent since last year.

Members of the Vision Zero Alliance working with the city says they're hoping to do more. "We were in the past more compliant driven, and that took time too much time. Now, we're more action oriented in many ways," explained Scott Johnson, who is a member of the alliance.

That includes a push for faster action when it comes road safety projects. "As soon as those funds are ready to be spent let's spend them as quick as possible. That process has improved greatly," he said.

Scordelis says he hopes action will prevent anyone losing a loved one too soon. "It would have saved my daughter’s life it should take multiple accidents," he said.

Video shot by one of the employees at Austin Auto Traders on I-35 just north of 51st Street shows two men trying to cross the interstate. One of the men darts across as cars traveling at highway speeds zip by.

"I've lost count, somewhere around 30 (times,)" said dealership owner Mark Strauss when asked how often he witnesses people trying to cross I-35.

"Our heart drops and our stomach sinks, we're about to witness someone who's about to lose their life," he said.

The City of Austin's Pedestrian Safety Action Plan from 2018 conducted a study with state and federal officials to determine why people are crossing the interstate on foot and what plan they have to try and stop people from doing it.

The study says pedestrians cross I-35 for reason like long distances between overpasses, heavy foot traffic on both sides of the interstate and poor lighting in certain areas.

Between 2007 and 2016, the study showed 10 pedestrians died on I-35 between 51st Street and St. John's Ave.

At some parts of the interstate between the dense area of St. John's and 51st Street, medians are painted with reminders for pedestrians not to cross. Strauss feels the signs put up by the state give pedestrians the idea to cross on foot rather than deter them.

"I feel like 70mph traffic and concrete barrier isn't going to stop someone from crossing a freeway, a spray-painted sign isn't going to affect anything," he said.

Since the action plan was published, the city's transportation department got $4 million from a 2018 bond to install and develop crossing islands, flashing beacons high visibility crosswalks and "other treatments to improve the safety and comfort of pedestrian crossings throughout the city." However, the money allocated to pedestrian safety improvements are for city streets - not I-35.

The transportation department was also able to leverage the funding as a local match for $1.6 million grant from CAMPO last year to install 10 pedestrian hybrid beacons at high crash and high demand locations. However, the money The project is under development and expected to be done by 2021.

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