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Cesar Chavez, bike lanes, Riverside among conflict areas

Tuesday, May 21, 2002 by

City boards and commissions continue to come forward with recommendations on the Downtown Austin Mobility Plan (DAMP), slowing the process of bringing the plan before the City Council. Although the plan had been scheduled for Council consideration this week, it has been postponed to June 27, according to Austan Librach, director of the Transportation, Planning and Sustainability Department.

Last week, members of the Planning Commission and the ZAP Commission held a combined meeting to hear proposals for short-term changes to downtown traffic. Librach and his staff have been making the presentation on downtown traffic to a variety of boards, commissions and community groups.

The plan includes switching some downtown streets such as 7th and 8th from one-way to two-way traffic. ZAP and Planning C0ommissioners had questions about the impact of the proposals on near-downtown neighborhoods. Melissa Gonzales, president of the West End Austin Alliance, told commissioners her organization objected to one of the plan’s proposals, restricting left turns on Lamar at 5th and 6th streets, because it would hurt businesses in that area. WEAA has suggested allowing left turns from Lamar at both the beginning and the end of light cycles during peak traffic periods. Ultimately, Gonzales told In Fact Daily, her group would like to see double left-turn lanes for each of the streets.

The Parks and Recreation Board listened to recommendations from the Urban Transportation Commission (UTC) and then crafted their own recommendations with respect to the area around the Seaholm Power Plant and Town Lake Park. Bicyclist Tommy Eden told the board that the UTC, which is dominated by alternative transportation advocates, had three consensus recommendations:

• Make the addition of bicycle lanes to Guadalupe and Lavaca the highest priority of the plan.

• Convert 6th Street from one-way to two-way before any other streets, but leave 8th and 9th Streets as they are.

• Do a trial closure of Riverside Drive to see whether permanent closing is feasible; alternatively, try closing one lane in each direction to see what the traffic impact would be.

The parks advisors finally decided the best recommendation for Riverside would be for Librach’s group to study all options available for the street and report back to the board on their findings. Those options include allowing parking along the two outside lanes of the street; creating a meandering two-lane street with pedestrian crossings, bike lanes and traffic calming features; and lowering Riverside Drive.

Changes to Riverside won't come soon

Librach told In Fact Daily that there is the possibility of “more modeling working to look at issues on Riverside Drive.” He said it would be possible to allow parking and still add a bike lane. Whatever happens to Riverside Drive, it won’t be soon. “We’re not going to do it while there’s major construction in the area,” he said, adding, “We’d want to wait until we’ve got 1st and 3rd Streets operating.” Barton Springs Road, which is being revamped, must also be completed.

Librach said closing Riverside Drive would impact not only Barton Springs, but also Cesar Chavez and all the bridges across Town Lake. He indicated that he is interested in looking at all options being discussed by area stakeholders.

The Parks and Recreation Board also voted to support the extension of West Avenue to provide access to the Seaholm Power Plant and construction of the Lance Armstrong Bikeway. However, they are opposed to the extension of 3rd Street. Commissioners voted 7-1 to recommend those three changes to the City Council. Only Board Member Amy Babich voted against them. Board Member Linda Guerrero abstained because she is a new appointee and did not hear the earlier presentation. Babich, an avid bicyclist, said she could not vote for extension of West Avenue because the street currently offers a safer route for bicyclists and pedestrians than it would with additional traffic.

The board has already gone on record in opposition to portions of the Seaholm Master Plan, including the realignment and widening of Cesar Chavez, reconfiguration of Sandra Muraida way and bisection of public parkland by streets laid out in a grid structure.

The Downtown Commission, which is made up of representatives of various other commissions and several civic organizations, could not reach a consensus on their recommendation and decided to postpone final action until next month’s meeting. However, a majority of the group appear to be in support of the near-term proposals, but want to see some changes. Cesar Chavez again is a source of controversy, since part of a motion which was tabled contained a recommendation that a process be started to make the street a “a grand, two-way, lakefront boulevard within five to ten years.” The motion, which will presumably be a starting point for next month’s discussion, also recommends: • finding suitable locations for restrooms along downtown streets, • consideration of musicians’ unloading and loading needs along 6th St; • including extensive input from retail merchants for planning 2nd St.

• further study of Guadalupe and Lavaca for bike lanes, and • developing strategies for better western access to downtown.

New member stresses regional cooperation

Council Member-elect Betty Dunkerley visited the Save Barton Creek Association (SBCA) last night, telling members she may not know everything about the problems of the Edwards Aquifer, but “I’m willing to learn.”

Dunkerley, who is taking over Place 4 from Council Member Beverly Griffith, said SBCA and other organizations interested in protecting Barton Springs must “somehow begin to frame these issues in a mainstream way.” During her campaign, Dunkerley said she found residents of various parts of town, but particularly East Austin and Northwest Austin, who were angry about city tax money being spent to protect the Barton Springs Salamander. “It was easier to talk to them about air quality,” she said, because they could relate that to the health of their family and friends.

After the meeting, Dunkerley said she knows that if water quality is bad for the salamander, it is also unhealthy for people. She stressed that changing the focus in conversations about the environment would be key to reaching a consensus within the community on environmental protection.

Dunkerley also said she is particularly interested in working with other jurisdictions to develop a regional plan, like the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve Plan, a multi-agency conservation effort.

Members asked questions about Dunkerley’s position on the Stratus Properties proposal for Circle C, but she said she will have to make a thorough study of the issues before she can make a decision. After a brief vacation, she said, she will be briefed by city staff. She also asked SBCA to designate one member who could provide expert information on the proposal.

The Council member-elect pointed out that she is an avid birdwatcher and has the equivalent of a degree in biology, so she feels at home with the language of science. After hearing a presentation on the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District’ s grant proposal to protect aquifer water, Dunkerley was off to another meeting.

Most problems caused by utility work

What started out as a controversial proposal last fall to change the rules for street closings downtown fizzled at Tuesday night's Urban Transportation Commission meeting with little discussion among commission members and no comment from members of the film community.

The UTC formed a subcommittee to study the situation last fall on the heels of one of Austin’s busiest years for film production (see In Fact Daily, June 15th, 2001). That fact, combined with street closures for utility work and instillation of fiber-optic cable, aggravated some downtown merchants who complained that access to their businesses was being cut off (see In Fact Daily, Oct. 16th, 2001). But the UTC's subcommittee reported that changing the rules for film-related street closings wouldn't have much of an impact on downtown traffic and parking.

“The merchants couldn't really provide data that showed that the film closures were really the problem,” said committee member Michelle Brinkman. “The problem with street closures has more to do with underground utility work and easements, and the film portion of it was really very small. It just did not appear that there was a very compelling economic case that they would benefit from any change in policy on street closures strictly for filming.”

The UTC voted to recommend no changes to the current street-closing procedures. However, the group did encourage the city to continue its efforts to minimize the number of street closures. The city is offering an on-line survey on "street cuts" at http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/news/02/streetcutsurvey2002.htm

here for Monday ,,

Friday.

Mad panthers . . . Members of the Gray Panthers plan to hold a demonstration outside City Hall this morning. They're upset they weren't scheduled on the agenda of the Audit and Finance Committee of the City Council to make a presentation about their views on the city budget . . . Art honoring public safety professionals to be unveiled today . . . Amigos En Azul (Friends in Blue) will unveil artwork by local artist and retired Austin Police Captain John Vasquez at 1:30pm today in the lobby of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Vasquez has done wood carvings of local fallen officers. Mayor Gus Garcia and Chief Stan Knee will be on hand, as well as Benavides Ruiz, the widow of Deputy Keith Ruiz, who was killed in the line of duty . . . Stratus plan tops Zoning and Platting Commission agenda . . . The Commission may take pity on those with other cases, but otherwise, discussion of the controversial plan will probably take the whole evening. Bill Bunch of the Save Our Springs Alliance is drumming up opposition to the plan and hopes to bring a large crowd to the meeting at 6pm at One Texas Center . . . Conservation voters target Green . . . The League of Conservation Voters is inviting members and friends to a fundraiser for Democrat Patrick Rose, who is running against Republican incumbent Rep. Rick Green. Both are from Dripping Springs. The league describes Green’s environmental record as “horrible” and Rose as a man who can reestablish Hays County’s pro-conservation stand. Attorney John Scanlan is hosting the party at his home, 1115 Wild Basin Ledge, from 5:30 to 8pm tonight . . . Groups announce they will sue Texas Supreme Court . . . When the Texas Supreme Court decides which cases it will hear on appeal, there is no public disclosure of the vote. Texans for Public Justice, LULAC, the Texas Observer, Common Cause, the ACLU and the National Voting Rights Institute are holding a press conference at 10am today in the Speaker’s Committee Room at the to announce the filing of a federal lawsuit to make that information public . . . Council agenda humongous . . . That’s what we all get for having such a light agenda last week and no meeting again until June 27. But there is some good news. Two potentially contentious items, the Stratus Properties proposal and the Upper Boggy Creek Neighborhood Plan, will likely be postponed. This is the final meeting for Council Member Beverly Griffith. Mayor Gus Garcia will present her with a Distinguished Service Award for her six years of hard work. Supporters and friends are invited to the 5:30pm ceremony at the LCRA.

© 2002 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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