AUSTIN (KXAN) — If you’ve visited Zilker Park lately, you may notice a few changes along Lou Neff Road.
The city has recently installed new speed bumps on the road, as well as cross walks, speed limit signs and “dog crossing” signs. These changes were spurred by one Austin family who lost their beloved pet in the same area.
In July 2018, Enzo the Yorkshire Terrier was bounding across the grassy field at Zilker Park, as he loved to do when he started to chase a crow flying over head.
His owner, Derek Hsu, tried to chase him down and called “Enzo, no!”
But Enzo had started running away toward Lou Neff Road where a large, black Toyota was driving down.
“Enzo, stop!” Derek recalled yelling, waving his arms and trying to get the car to slow down.
Enzo was hit by the car and had fallen over.
A nurse who was at the park helped get Enzo to a nearby animal hospital, but it was too late. Enzo had already passed.
“I could only think we were literally seconds away from getting back to the car and how a few seconds changed everything,” Derek said.
The loss hit his family very hard, they described Enzo as a “brother.”
Derek is now 22-years-old. He and his sister Sofia Hsu, now 19, were both interns with Austin City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan’s office the summer Enzo was hit.
“And we were thinking about: how can we make Enzo’s legacy a lasting impact?” Sofia explained. “So that was one way we started reaching out was asking members of [Flannigan’s] office and people we were working with in the internship how we could make a difference for Enzo.”
So the siblings began reaching out to Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department (PARD), the Austin Transportation Department and Austin animal Center to learn more.
Armed with research they’d gathered, Sofia and Derek began meeting with city departments, another intern Matthew Kim, Council Member Jimmy Flannigan and Council Member Paige Ellis to talk about what would be possible.
After the siblings had worked on this project for more than a year, PARD was able to start rolling out some of the changes they had suggested in the fall of 2019.
But people at the park barely got to see those changes before they had to be removed for Austin City Limits Music Festival and the Trail of Lights. With the end-of-the year events at Zilker in the rear view mirror, in the past two weeks PARD has been able to re-install the sets of speed bumps and signs where people will likely notice them for the first time.
Charles Vaclavik, the Division Manager for Operations and Maintenance at PARD was one of the city employees who the Hsu siblings met with.
“This was a tragic event,” Vaclavik said. “So it kind of raised the bar a little bit because we don’t want those thing happening in our parks. It was a need to implement some safety measures, and [the safety measures] were needed, this just kind of pushed it forward a little bit faster.”
The changes at Zilker
“Everything is to slow people down and to be more aware of their surroundings,” Vaclavik explained.
PARD has installed speedbumps in five areas along Lou Neff Road. The department is aware that some people still don’t follow the 15 miles per hour speedlimit and come barrelling down the road after turning off from Barton Springs Road, which has a much faster speed limit.
“We’ve never had speed bumps in Zilker Park,” Vaclavik said. “But as we met with Sofia and Derek, we looked at everything as far as how we can improve safety so, this was one aspect we figured we could do and it would have an impact right away.”
PARD also placed lots of additional signage around the area, including signs that alert drivers and pedestrians that the entire great lawn is an off leash area, signs that show dogs may be crossing the street, and signs that remind drivers of the speed limit.
The city added crosswalks as well including three near the parking lot on Lou Neff Road that is closesly to Barton Springs Road.
But Vaclavik acknowledges that with a packed park like Zilker, a few dogs are still likely to go bounding across the street in pursit of a squirrel or a bird. Which is why PARD is hoping their newly-placed reminders will help cars to slow down.
Vaclavik said the number of people and dogs frequenting Zilker has only increased as Austin’s population has grown.
“We have seen an incease in park patrons in our parks, it it just makes us work harder and try to be smarter about how we manage our parks,” he said.
Vaclavik said of the Hsu siblings, “when they came forward witht his idea, I guess it was just soemthing we needed to look at, and they just brought it forward at the right time and everything clicked and we made it happen.”
Council Member Jimmy Flannigan found this project sparked by a group of interns “inspiring.”
“It also renews faith in democracy in a weird way that people can use their voice and make a case and actually see a project to completion,” Flannigan said.
The District 6 Council Member said that these changes happened because “two young people worked hard to make it happen.”
He added that you don’t have to be an intern in city hall to make changes like this possible. In fact, he has worked on several projects with other consituents who have sought out change in the city.
“This is actually how it works at the city,” Flannigan said. “If you see something in your community and you think it should be improved, this is why we have district council members.”
As for the Hsu sibilings, Sofia said they are “super excited” to see this project become a reality.
To the Zilker visitors who notice the changes, she says, “I think just I would love for them to enjoy Zilker Park and all of its new, more improved safety.”
Her family still misses Enzo and she hopes that these changes at Zilker Park will allow other people more time with their pets.
“Just hug your little furry friends,” she advised.