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Group worried about parking, retail planning

Monday, June 3, 2002 by

The Real Estate Council of Austin (RECA) has released a critique of the city’s Downtown Austin Mobility Plan (DAMP), expressing the fear that the pedestrian-friendly plan will “precipitate an exodus from downtown by creating conditions—increased congestion, inadequate parking, etc—that decimate its primary character as a business center at the expense of other uses.” The report was written by Dominic Chavez, RECA’s governmental relations liaison, with input from a six-member task force. Members of the task force include John C. Lewis, chair, Steve Mattingly of the Gottesman Company, Randy Lee of Stewart Title Guaranty Company, Jim Skaggs, chairman of the anti-rail group ROAD, attorney Bob Richardson, and transportation consultant Mike Weaver of Prime Strategies. All but Skaggs and Weaver work out of downtown offices.

Austan Librach, director of the Transportation Planning & Sustainability Department, has read RECA’s report and complained of factual errors. For example, Librach said, the task force report claims DAMP will cost $77.7 million, when the real figure is closer to $15 million. The reason for the error, Librach said, was that RECA included costs for the Great Streets Program, which is an unfinished vision for the future, not a plan for the next few years.

In addition, Librach said, “They’re recommending we do things that are in our recommendations already.” He accuses the task force of doing the same thing they are accusing the city department of doing—planning for only one mode of transportation. “They are essentially recommending everything for (automobile) mobility and nothing for pedestrian-friendliness.” The real estate group has ignored all the experts that have looked at downtown in the past few years, he said. “There’s absolutely no balance” in RECA’s proposals.

Among the DAMP proposals is changing 2nd, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th Streets, Colorado, Brazos, Trinity and San Jacinto Boulevard into two-way streets and prohibiting left turn lanes from Congress onto the numbered streets and from Lamar to 5th and 6th Streets during rush hours. Librach told In Fact Daily that his department is considering a change to the proposal for turns from Lamar to 6th Street so that morning rush-hour commuters would still have that turn option. The change is in response to complaints from West 6th Street eateries that their customers will be unable to reach them during that time period, cutting into their business. They are also still tinkering with Riverside Drive in response to input from boards and commissions, he said.

Librach provided articles explaining that conventional wisdom among traffic planners of the 1950s was to make downtown on-street parking off limits during rush hours. Later, planners decided it would be better to take parking off the streets and put cars in lots or parking garages. However, traffic consultants now believe it is better to eliminate a number of downtown parking garages in order to keep the central city compact, replacing it with on-street parking—but to a lesser extent. The reason for the shift, according to engineer Gerald Forbes (writing in the ITE Journal), is a realization that use of the automobile as the primary mode of transportation downtown is ultimately unsustainable. “The sustainability goal has influenced downtown traffic plans enormously,” he notes. Forbes lists in descending order walking, cycling, public mass transit and the private automobile as sustainable modes of transportation . The City Council adopted a resolution in December 2000 that called for creation of a plan using that same hierarchy, setting in motion the current proposals.

Chavez points out, however, that Austin’s most recent parking study, done two years ago, showed that the city would have a more than 7,700-space deficit by 2005 and the DAMP proposals would eliminate at least 200 parking spaces. The parking study recommended that the city work to increase mass transit users to 20 percent of downtown visitors. That’s a great goal to strive for, but it’s totally unrealistic,” said Chavez. Census figures show that total work commuting in Austin is only 2.6 percent, the RECA report says.

Librach said the city is already planning to add 250 parking spaces for the public at City Hall, but he does not know whether those spaces will be free, which is the RECA recommendation. In addition, RECA would like the city to commit to reducing the pedestrian right-of-way from 32 to 18 feet and replace the proposed parallel parking along 2nd Street to angled parking.

In addition to increasing the number of downtown parking spaces, RECA recommends the following:

• Development of a comprehensive retail plan for the entire central business district; and

• Development of a transportation plan that “finally addresses the lack of ingress and egress from the major highways that surround the CBD.”

In some cases, the task force agreed with the city staff recommendations. In others, they asked for changes to specific portions of the DAMP proposal. For example, RECA recommends double-cycling of signals—putting left turns at both the beginning and the end of green lights—on 5th and 6th Streets. The DAMP plan recommends left-turn restrictions from 2nd through 10th Streets on a 6-month trial basis. That would only happen during peak hours, which meets with the group’s approval. However, RECA would like to see all bus routes removed from Congress and the addition of “dedicated, signalized turn lanes for 5th and 6th Streets.”

Librach said such a change was unlikely. As for asking Capital Metro to move all its buses off of Congress, Librach said, “no way,” although the city is asking that specific buses be rerouted.

Chavez stressed that RECA wants to work with all the other groups that have a stake in what happens downtown, “to try to come to some consensus on the issue.” He said he had already met with Charlie Betts, executive director of the Downtown Austin Alliance, which has voiced support for most of the DAMP proposals. To view the DAMP proposals, click here: If you would like to skip the proposals but register your opinion on selected portions of the proposals, click here:

Librach concluded, “They’re essentially asking us to stop and do three or four years of study and that isn’t what the City Council asked us to do.” Librach said he expects to take the plan to the City Council in July.

here for Monday ,,

In Fact Daily offers easier search engine . . . Subscribers may now search back issues of In Fact Daily by entering a key word at the bottom of this page. The archives have also been updated, so that references appear in chronological order, with the most recent story first. Readers may also go to the Archives from the headline page, as before. We hope this simplifies use for our subscribers . . . Summer means higher electric bills . . . City Manager Toby Futrell and Austin area utility customers who have received help on their bills will hold a news conference at 10am today to talk about the city’s Plus One program. The program distributed a record amount of funds last year and the trend may continue this summer. Futrell and representatives of social service agencies will talk about the need for more funding and a special summer sign-up program for those who need assistance. The local unemployment rate has been at a 13-year high since January . . . Designer panel has full schedule . . . The Design Commission has a full, and possibly contentious agenda this evening. Items up for discussion and recommendation include the Hilton’s Convention Center Hotel, the Downtown Design Guidelines and the Convention Center Parking Garage . . . Leadership Austin honoring two with “Best Party Ever” . . . On Thursday, Leadership Austin will present the 2002 Honorary Leadership Austin Alumnus Award to Neal Kocurek, president and CEO of St David’s HealthCare Partnership. The group will also honor the Rev. Joseph Parker, senior pastor at David Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, with the 2002 Polly Scallom Community Trustee Award. The awards ceremony, billed “the best party ever,” by Leadership Austin will be from 7:30 to 10pm Thursday at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

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

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