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Commission backs plan to end free parking at Walsh Boat Landing

Thursday, June 12, 2014 by Jenny Blair

Kayakers, canoeists and partiers on barges won’t get to enjoy free parking at Lake Austin’s Walsh Boat Landing for much longer. At Tuesday’s Urban Transportation Commission meeting, Austin’s Parking Enterprise Manager Steve Grassfield told commissioners that nearby streets and lots will soon feature metered parking.


The Walsh Landing area is home to popular hangouts like Hula Hut and Mozart’s Cafe. But as local resident Blake Tollett of the West Austin Neighborhood Group explained, people use up scarce parking spots while on rented party boats that dock there, sometimes for hours. Lake Austin Riverboats, which operates the 250-passenger Commodore, leases parking space for passengers at the nearby Lower Colorado River Authority headquarters. But smaller rental companies don’t provide parking.


“The captain is told by people who rent the boat, ‘Pick me up over at Walsh,’ It’s commercial use as far as I’m concerned, and they don’t pay any fee to Parks on this. They don’t have any parking at all provided for their patrons,” Tollett said. “These people are out there half a day.”


“They’re just taking advantage of a free facility,” said Commissioner Stanton Truxillo, who also lives in the neighborhood.


On weekend evenings, two to three party boats dock at Walsh Landing, according to Grassfield, so dozens of partygoers use parking spaces in the lots and neighboring streets. Some nearby streets are subject to Residential Parking Permits.


In response to an Aug. 29, 2013 Austin City Council resolution directing that new fee parking be evaluated in the area. The Austin Transportation Department, the Parks and Recreation Department and neighborhood stakeholders met to discuss the issue, Grassfield said.


Their plan calls for new pay stations to line sections of Enfield Road and Lake Austin Boulevard and collect fees from 8 a.m. to midnight daily. Two surface lots on Lake Austin Boulevard between Bonnie and Enfield Roads will also collect fees via pay stations from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, which coincides with park hours. (The lots are PARD property, and an attendant currently collects a $5 cash fee there on weekends.) Both will have a five-hour prepaid maximum. The changes take effect this month.


Those lots have long been in sorry shape, and PARD recently spent $10,000 to level them and add crushed concrete. It plans to put fees toward more consistent lot maintenance, said Charles Vaclavic, a PARD division manager involved with the project.


In January and March, on-street parking averaged 83 to 93 percent occupancy, Grassfield said. By industry standard, 80 percent is the threshold beyond which paid parking is considered necessary, Grassfield told the commissioners, citing parking expert Donald Shoup, author of “The High Cost of Free Parking.”


The five-hour maximum worried some commissioners.


Commissioner Dustin Lanier warned that party boaters could be left in the lurch. “All you’re going to do is generate a ticket factory,” Lanier said. “Where are people supposed to park if they have that activity there to do?”


Commissioner Richard MacKinnon added that alternatives to parking are few in this area. Bus service there is thin, while biking isn’t possible for people bringing their own boats. “If you limit it to five hours,” he said, “we’re generating some revenue, but we really haven’t solved the problem.”


MacKinnon also suggested smaller companies could also arrange to let customers park at LCRA.


Grassfield said PARD is meeting with party boat operators and the Law Department to devise solutions. Average parking duration on the UT campus is only about two hours, despite five-hour maximums, he said, but he admitted he did not know how long a typical party boat excursion lasts. He said ATD would observe average parking times and ticketing patterns to determine if a five-hour limit is reasonable.


The commission voted 6-0 to endorse the plan.

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