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AURA, UT group want to tear down wall, plant trees

Thursday, September 10, 2015 by Sunny Sone

Tear down that (West Campus) wall.

The West Campus Wall – which runs along much of the University of Texas’ western edge, separating the campus from Guadalupe Street – has long been a symbol of UT’s isolation from the rest of the city, and several groups agree it’s time to tear it down.

That was one of the sentiments expressed by both transit activist group AURA and My Guadalupe, a UT student organization, at a forum concerning the Guadalupe Street Corridor Improvement Program on Tuesday night on the UT campus. The forum – hosted in a building just yards from the wall – included presentations from John Laycock and Robert Prentiss of AURA, Jacob Brackmann of My Guadalupe and architecture professor Sinclair Black, who helped design the Second Street District downtown.

“The Drag is a place where lots of different modes of transportation are colliding very unhappily,” Prentiss said. “People are standing in the bike lane, people are sitting on the wall in the blazing sun waiting for the bus. It’s just not working well.”

The groups agreed that the Drag needs a change. Among the groups’ common recommendations were calls for more shade trees, focused transit planning and, of course, tearing down the wall. Laycock said Alan Hughes, Austin Transportation Department project manager, told AURA that Guadalupe would receive shade trees regardless.

“What the Drag is missing on the western half of the right-of-way is trees,” Brackmann said. “It’s hot a lot of the time, and we have two seasons – summer and slightly not summer.”

The forum comes while the city is taking community input on the Guadalupe Street Corridor Improvement Plan, which was initiated last fall.

The event began with a discussion of the “alliance” formed between AURA and My Guadalupe, as Brackmann put it. The groups began coordinating earlier this year, with AURA focusing on mass transit-oriented issues. The groups hope that funding for changes will come from a 2016 mobility bond.

AURA specifically recommended removing all street parking from Guadalupe and preserving two lanes for mass transit, which would leave just one passenger car lane going in each direction. The mass transit lanes would also keep rail in the realm of possibility, Laycock said.

Guadalupe has four times the pedestrian traffic of any area in the city, Hughes told Community Impact. The thoroughfare has a strong lead over Congress Avenue and Sixth Street, the second- and third-place contenders. Guadalupe also borders West Campus, one of the densest neighborhoods in the state.

Last spring, AURA conducted its own surveys of pedestrian, transit and single-car traffic on Guadalupe. Commonly known as the “clicker” study, it determined that 2,700 transit users get off at the West Mall bus stop, and 280 vehicles pay to park along the Drag each day, with numbers confirmed by the city.

Brackmann focused on pedestrian issues in My Guadalupe’s recommendations. He held up cities like London, Dallas and Denver as models for their approaches to pedestrian traffic. His group – and Black – would like to see a Guadalupe that has wider streets and promotes nighttime activity, particularly on the west side of the street. He promoted the idea of sidewalk cafes, which Black said would also help improve the homeless problem on the Drag.

Black held up Second Street as an example of return on investment. The revitalization project cost $500,000 per city block and has generated more than $1 billion per four city blocks of new development, according to his numbers. Those figures don’t count the new JW Marriott hotel or developments like Seaholm that have popped up around the Second Street District.

All these recommendations were tempered by the fact that achieving these plans is no simple task. Black recommended another plan for Guadalupe three years ago that was approved but never realized. The city study is expected to be completed this winter.

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin

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