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Committee mulls medical center skybridge proposal

Tuesday, November 11, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

A proposed medical center skybridge continued to provoke discussion Monday, when the City Council’s Comprehensive Planning and Transportation Committee took its turn questioning the need for a pedestrian walkway.

The pedestrian bridge, to be located at 15th and Red River streets, has attracted a lot of discussion and attention at City Hall and Central Health.

Austin’s new teaching hospital is being developed under a partnership between the University of Texas, the Seton Healthcare Family and Central Health. The bridge will connect the hospital with a parking garage. At Monday’s meeting, a final design for the bridge was not available.

Steven Harris, a director with the University of Texas System, said he could not speak to the design, just the planning and master plan. According to the master plan for the area, said Harris, it was important for Red River and 15th streets to become a gateway to the campus. He said the university was very interested in encouraging multimodal transportation on the campus and was working to ensure that they created an environment that could be used by pedestrians and bicyclists.

Council Member Chris Riley said he was glad to hear that plans envisioned the area as a gateway, at the street level, “that would not feel dangerous to an average pedestrian.”

“I think there is some fairly widely shared hope that the area we are talking about evolves as an area that is more pedestrian-friendly than it is today,” said Riley. “So when we heard at the work session that there was going to be a skybridge because, ‘For God’s sake, you wouldn’t want people at the street around there,’ that was a little troubling.”

Riley questioned the previous assertion by staff, which he summarized as “there are going to be so many people crossing that it would be dangerous for (patients) to cross at street level.” He pointed out that greater numbers of pedestrians usually made for safer conditions.

“If we are taking the position that we want to get large numbers of pedestrians out of there for safety,” Riley said, “then I worry (about) the kind of conditions that will be left for those that are still there on the street.”

Harris said the bridge would offer another level of traffic and use, but there would also be street access to the hospital.

Though work in the area is expected to continue until mid-2017, Harris said, Red River Street should be opened to through-traffic again in January. Riley said that was good news, especially for bicyclists who have been struggling to find a safe route since its closure.

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