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City staff recommends streamlining street closure process

Friday, March 27, 2009 by Austin Monitor

City staff proposed changes Thursday on how the city deals with street closures during festivals and parades. The biggest change would be in how street closures are approved. Now event planners have to secure signatures from neighbors supporting the closure, and the staff proposes moving to a system that would assume the permit for a closure is granted unless 20 percent of the surrounding neighbors register an objection.


The staff also proposes to change the notification process from one relying on going door-to-door and distributing information to allowing for e-mail or other electronic communication. Event organizers would have to submit their applications to the city farther in advance, 180 days, and provide notice farther in advance to neighbors. City council would have to approve that change, while most of the other recommendations could be done administratively.


Getting word out to the public about downtown events could be easier with the implementation of a new web site next month. “Very soon, you will have a special events web site,” Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza said. “It will be a one-stop location for members of the public to find out what’s happening and when, what are the street closures, and what are the detours. Individuals will be able to register so they can be notified via e-mail.”


The other proposals are intended to minimize the impact of street closures. They would require that at least one east-west street or pair of streets remain open downtown, even during special events such as marathons or street festivals. The staff would prioritize keeping 5th and 6th Streets open along with 11th Street. That would apply to both moving events (races or parades) and stationary events (festivals). The staff identified a similar need to preserve at least one north-south access route such as Congress Avenue, Guadalupe, or Lavaca, and recommends that the Congress Avenue Bridge and the South First Street Bridge not be closed at the same time.


“One of the concerns that we continue to hear from the downtown business community is about access to their parking facilities, and that’s also important to the growing downtown residential population,” Garza said.


The staff also wants to change the way the city deals with “walking” events, such as fund-raising 5k walks or parades. Instead of setting up traffic barricades, the staff proposes having APD officers travel with the walkers and set up a protective “bubble”, closing and then immediately re-opening the streets as necessary.


One concern brought up during the task force meetings and reiterated by the staff on Thursday was when barricades are set up on downtown sidewalks, and for how long. “For a Saturday or Sunday event, it’s likely that these barricades will be set two or three days in advance,” Garza said. “Many of the members of our public depend upon the sidewalks in the downtown area, and it does become a disruption.”


To address that issue, staff is recommending that barricades be put into place no more than 20 hours before the start of an event and then removed immediately after the event. “What we have discovered in the past is…it’s possible that an event happens on a Sunday, and if there’s another one coming up on Saturday, it’s likely those barricades will stay there for the entire week.”


The Austin City Council will hold a public hearing in April on the proposed changes.

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