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Sunday gridlock points up traffic, parking needs near Long Center

Tuesday, April 22, 2008 by Austin Monitor

Angry operagoers, many of whom missed some or all of “Carmen” in the Long Center on Sunday afternoon due to parking problems, deluged Austin Lyric Opera General Director Kevin Patterson with emails Monday and he forwarded them on to the City Council.


For Council Member Brewster McCracken it was a sure sign that the new plan for rail that would run by the Long Center needs to implemented right away. ROMA Design will unveil the plan at a Transit Workshop at 5:30pm today in Town Lake Center at 721 Barton Springs Rd.


On Sunday opera lovers lined up to get into the Long Center Garage. However, because of a reggae festival at Town Lake, many of those spaces were taken long before the opera fans started into the garage before the opening curtain at 3pm Sunday.


The opera’s web site directs overflow parking on Sunday to the One Texas Center garage and at the Convention Center garage on Second Street. The map for the downtown location indicates that the opera would take passengers from the Convention Center garage to the Long Center.


But city streets seem unable to deal with what McCracken called “the perfect storm. It goes to show that as you get more density and people in the urban core, you couldn’t widen the roads enough to accommodate all the people who are coming here on Sunday.”


For example, Charlene Cooper, who described herself as a senior citizen from Georgetown, wrote that she and her husband arrived on Cesar Chavez Street at 2pm, only to find traffic backed up for blocks—across the bridge and down the street toward Seaholm. When they arrived at the Long Center an hour later, the garage was full.


Because her husband could not walk very far and they felt sure they would miss the first act, the Coopers went home without seeing the opera, she wrote, warning that if there is a similar problem next time (The Bat, Sunday, June 1) they will not be buying any more tickets. “This would be so terribly sad as the ALO has worked hard to build the quality of performances and bring such talented stars to Austin.”


Others found parking elsewhere—including some who drove downtown and caught a taxi—but still missed part of the opera.


“After what happened Sunday, there’s going to be a push to serve the Long Center and the park,” with light rail, McCracken said. He said it would be relatively easy to put rail—either light or ultra light—down Riverside Drive on a route from the airport—because of the large amount of right-of-way that has not yet been paved.


Council Member Lee Leffingwell said, “I certainly wouldn’t be willing to assign blame to anybody but the fact is both of these events, I’m sure, had been planned for a long time. It was surprising how much traffic congestion was created by the joint events together and the parking facilities that weren’t there.” Leffingwell said he attended Friday night’s performance and found it excellent.


Lyric opera director Patterson did not return a call for comment. However Cliff Redd, executive director of the Long Center, said the gridlock was a “true infrastructure problem that will require a city solution going forward.”

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