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Staff nixes proposals to improve Rainey Street traffic

Thursday, December 16, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

The Downtown Commission got to hear a lot of “noes” last night as Transportation Department Engineer Lee Austin addressed many of the proposals suggested by Commissioner Stan Haas to relieve traffic in the Rainey Street area.


Haas had placed six suggestions before city staff at the Downtown Commission’s last meeting, an effort to mollify Rainey Street residents who had come to the commission on a number of occasions looking for relief from the proliferation of bars and traffic in the neighborhood.


Pressed for specific reactions to each proposal by Haas, Austin ran down the list of suggestions: removing parking on the west side of Rainey Street from Driskill to Cummings and replacing it with a pedestrian walkway; removing parking from the south side of Driskill and Davis; removing traffic-calming devices at the intersections of Rainey and Davis, Rainey and River, and Rainey and Driskill; and installing a stop sign for south-bound traffic on Red River at Davis Street.


Austin nixed them all.


Removing barriers and parking spaces would do nothing more than speed up traffic in the area, causing more danger to pedestrians, Austin said. Chair Mandy Dealey, who admitted she is no transportation expert, agreed.


“The more congested it is, the slower people drive,” Dealey told one speaker. “If you just had it striped, people would drive much faster, and I think that would be as dangerous for pedestrians.”


The only suggestion that still seemed to be in play at the end of Austin’s remarks was residential parking permits. The city is also still looking at the possibility of improved lighting for the area’s streets.


The handful of area residents who showed up were disappointed by the city’s response and inability to generate any solutions. Michael Abraham, who lives in the Villas on Town Lake, lobbied for the additional stop sign, which Austin said could not be theoretically justified under current guidelines.


“At some point, reality has to set in and trumps theory, and the reality on the ground every weekend in that neighborhood is traffic that is congested and backed up on Davis, Driskill, and Rainey,” Abraham told the commission. “And nothing seems to be being done to address that issue.”


Austin dismissed a number of suggestions from the audience about the addition of a sidewalk, saying topography would make such a project costly, probably upwards of $1 million. Even a six-inch raised curb, given the current state of the street, would probably present a huge tripping hazard, she said.


“Run ‘em over but don’t trip them,” Abraham quipped to the audience in response.


Robert Icenhauer-Ramirez, who owns Icenhauer’s on Rainey Street, agreed that the area has problems but did not agree that removing parking spaces and replacing them with a pedestrian path is going to address the issues raised by residents.


“We’ve not had a single pedestrian-vehicle accident out there in five years,” Icenhauer-Ramirez noted. “I do agree there are probably things that can be done to improve safety out there, such as the lighting.”


Commissioner Michael McGill reiterated Austin’s suggestion that a Rainey Benefit District could be created that would funnel local parking fees into public improvement projects, such as a sidewalk. Gordon Derr, assistant director of the Transportation Department, said the concept had been used in West Campus and that language was being drafted to allow other areas of the city that are not in line for improvements to pay for various projects.


A new stakeholders group made up of bar owners in the area will meet later this month to look at additional suggestions. That group, organized by the Texas Bar and Nightclub Alliance, will meet on Tuesday, Dec. 21, at 2pm at the Emma Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center. The meeting will be open to the public.

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