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Wednesday, December 3, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

City switches downtown streets to slow traffic

Plans to convert downtown’s Seventh, Eighth, Brazos and Colorado streets from one-way to two-way streets are underway.

On Monday, City Council’s Comprehensive Planning and Transportation Committee heard a presentation on a timeline for the change from acting Transportation Department Assistant Director Jim Dale.

“A lot of cities have gone through this process, of being two-way initially, then going to one-way to help move capacity to move a lot more vehicles,” said Dale. “But as we start to look at the pedestrian realm and looking at the complete streets … the two-way conversion does lend itself to a more pedestrian-friendly environment, with a tendency to slow down traffic.”

Dale ran through the timeline and explained that the section of Brazos between Cesar Chavez and Sixth streets will be converted in January 2015, with the design of the section from Sixth to 11th streets to be designed next year. Colorado will also become a two-way street from 10th Street to Cesar Chavez. That is scheduled to take place in fall 2016. Seventh and Eighth streets are also slated to make the switch, though when that will happen has yet to be determined.

Council Member Chris Riley contributed his understanding of the history of street direction in downtown Austin. He said the city switched to one-way streets downtown in the 1970s. It was, according to Riley, “a time when no one envisioned spending much time downtown, except if they were in a car.”

“As we’ve come to rediscover the value of having a more hospitable pedestrian environment downtown, we’ve reconsidered that decision,” said Riley. “I appreciate this. It’s been a long time coming.”

Riley said the Great Streets Master Plan targeted “low-hanging fruit” streets that carry lower volumes of traffic for the first switch-overs. He pointed out that Ninth and 10th streets were also being considered for the switch-over. Public Works Director Howard Lazarus said that they were still part of the plan, but not currently scheduled for conversion.

Riley also took the opportunity to question how bicycle safety was incorporated into the plan. He said that the only north-south dedicated bike lane was on Lavaca Street, which is a fast-moving, congested road with a lot of hills.

Dale said there wasn’t room on Brazos for both a bike lane and parking.

“So both car parking and traffic took a higher priority than bicycle safety?” asked Riley. “I think that is what you just said.”

Dale said he would get more information. Council Member Laura Morrison pointed out that a comprehensive plan for when parking should be prioritized and when cycling should be prioritized might make sense.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council Comprehensive Planning and Transportation committee: an Austin City Council sub-committee charged with, among other concerns, coverage of a set of development and transportation issues.

Great Streets: A development project focused on remodeling streets for vehicle, pedestrian and bike use.

Public Works Department: This city department oversees major capital improvement projects; maintains the city's trails, roadways, and bridges; and promotes safe travel on city thoroughfares.

Transportation Department: This city department is responsible for municipal transportation planning including roadways and bikeways.

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