AUSTIN, TEXAS– On Sunday, November 17, 2019, families, citizens, elected officials, and advocates gathered across the nation for the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. In Austin, Farm&City, Central Texas Families for Safe Streets (CTFSS), Bike Austin, Walk Austin, ReHUMANize Mobility, and a team of advocates co-hosted a vigil ceremony in Wooldridge Square, a block from the Capitol building.
Event organizers painted and arranged “ghost” items around the steps of the stage, symbolic remembrances of those lost to traffic violence. The rest of the program took place amidst this solemn backdrop.
To commence, Katie Deolloz, founder of ReHUMANize Mobility, led attendees on a memorial walk, passing by the Capitol and the governor’s mansion. Conducted in silence, some remembered on foot, others on wheels. After the walk, speakers from all modes took to the stage.
Shana Merlin, surviving daughter of a road traffic victim and a leader of CTFSS, shared her mother’s story and called for meaningful action at every level of Texas government to prevent these tragedies.
Mia Brown’s 15-year-old son, Billy, was killed in a traffic crash in Austin on September 28, 2019. Her family and neighbors have been calling upon the city to install sidewalks and give a top priority to safety improvements on East Yager Lane where her son died, as reported by CBS Austin. Mia spoke at the vigil shared her story with the vigil, asking all to be more considerate of vulnerable users on the road and for our city leaders to increase attention to installing safe sidewalks in all neighborhoods.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza reaffirmed their commitment to transportation safety in Austin, promising support to other cities and counties on their journey to Vision Zero.
Underlining transit’s role in the shift to a new safety paradigm, Randy Clarke, CEO of Capital Metro, shared CapMetro’s efforts to enhance their safety department with more staff. Clarke also mentioned CapMetro’s ambitious Project Connect, an initiative to implement new mass transit in Central Texas, in anticipation of the population forecasts for the Austin region.
In his remarks, Clarke echoed Mayor Adler and Mayor Pro Tem Garza, emphasizing the vital role local advocacy has played in spotlighting these issues for government and demanding change where it’s needed most.
Jay Blazek-Crossley, Executive Director of Farm&City, took to the stage and outlined the path forward to ending traffic deaths in Texas, starting with the launch of a new Farm&City project – Every City, Every County, Every Life. The initiative seeks the viral adoption of Vision Zero across all of Texas. At its core, the campaign is predicated on citizen action and calls for three volunteers to target their city, their county, or their MPO, or all three. The campaign has an interim goal of securing Vision Zero for all the cities within the Austin region by 2020.
Speaking for a coalition of local advocates and their demands, Crossley also issued a call for the Texas House and Senate to take legislative action on a comprehensive safety agenda. “We need our state leadership to adopt a consistent, statewide hands free law, to adopt the Stop for Pedestrians bill, to legalize and support Safe Neighborhood Streets, to actually support Safe Routes to School for every kid across this state, and to ensure that we put our money where our mouth is.”
Referring to the 2019 Senate interim charges and their new emphasis on safety, Crossley pointed out, “The TXDOT budget is over ten billion a year. We want at least a billion of that to be dedicated to safety, if we are to going to say it is our top priority.”
Crossley’s final remarks concluded with a national call for action, reminding the audience that the need and demand for transportation safety is not isolated to Austin, or Central Texas. Rather, traffic violence is of a scale and urgency that leadership at the highest levels must join the effort to end the tide of deaths: “We demand that every U.S. presidential candidate take a pledge to End the Silence on Traffic Violence and put forth a comprehensive national plan to end the epidemic.”
End the Silence on Traffic Violence is the newest campaign set forth by the leading Families for Safe Streets chapter in New York City. The campaign explicitly addresses the current President of the United States and the 2020 presidential candidates, demanding a plan of action to end traffic deaths and serious injuries across the nation.
Other cities in Texas, like San Antonio, chose to make their own statements on World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. As part of the city’s ongoing Vision Zero efforts, San Antonio commissioned a mural to be located on one of the deadliest intersections in the city. Painted by Crystal Tamez, the new mural features San Antonians engaged in all modes of travel, inhabiting a vibrant, safe, and walkable city. Tamez voiced her hope that this mural will raise awareness on traffic violence and victims.
Adam Greenfield, Chair of the Pedestrian Advisory Council (PAC), read out the names and age of each road traffic victim killed in Austin this year. As he recited the litany of names, the crowd of observers stood in silence.
Kathy Sokolic, Chair of Central Texas Families for Safe Streets, closed the event with a passionate call for more action at all levels of government. Kathy shared her family’s story of traffic violence. Her nephew, Ben, was hit by a pickup truck driver on the little neighborhood street where he lives, and three years later Ben is “still confined to a bed and requires around-the-clock care for a body and brain that are broken.”
Kathy told attendees that she is the chair of a terrible club, explaining that she reaches out to families in their darkest hour. Kathy implored everyone to play their role in ending traffic deaths across Texas, from all of us not driving drunk or distracted, to our elected officials leading change at their governments, to nonprofits and community groups getting more engaged in the Vision Zero movement.