Friday, February 19, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

Parking meters? In Zilker Park?

Austinites who frequent Zilker Park are used to kites, lights and fences going up. But this week, a wholly unfamiliar sight within the park grounds caught some residents off guard.

Last week, the Parks and Recreation Department sent out notice that, beginning March 5, it would “implement a new method for collecting Zilker Park entry fees” by installing 30 automated parking pay stations for the parking areas within the Great Lawn.

That change expands the number of places where visitors will regularly have to pay for parking, which now includes the south lot of Barton Springs Pool and parking for the Great Lawn. However, the hours of and rates for paid parking will be the same as they have been for at least a couple of decades, according to Parks and Recreation Department Division Manager Charles Vaclavik, who spoke with the Austin Monitor on Thursday afternoon.

“We’ve always done this – it’s just if you’re not going there on those days, you never really noticed it,” said Vaclavik, who explained that parking rates will apply from the first weekend in March through Labor Day on weekends, holidays and during special events. All the money collected goes into the city’s general fund.

Vaclavik said that 15 or 20 years ago, the city charged for parking throughout the park, because it has always had the authority to do so. However, it hasn’t collected at the Great Lawn and south lot of Barton Springs Pool consistently, due to staffing.

“That is a little different, but we’ve done it in the past. Just not recently,” said Vaclavik. “That will be new to some people.”

He explained that there was no need to go to City Council to install the meters because there was no change to the fee schedule or authority. “We’re only changing the method of collection. We’re not changing the rate. We’re not changing when we collect,” said Vaclavik. “We’re just trying to be a little more efficient.”

The official notice sent out by the city explained that the meters would solve a number of logistical problems. First, the meters would help reduce congestion on Barton Springs Road, where weekend pay stations had previously caused traffic to back up. In addition, the department is expecting the switch to reduce operating expenses by reducing the number of employees needed during a regular season (currently 12 to 15) down to two: one for monitoring parking and one for enforcement.

According to Vaclavik, it will also make things a bit easier, logistically speaking. “We’ve always had to hire temporary staff for that six-month period … which are normally teenagers.

“Try to get a teenager to come in on the holidays. You can imagine,” said Vaclavik. “Hopefully, this will work out better for us.”

Photo of newly installed meter taken by Alan Pease; Photo of Zilker Park by Mwyzykowski0821Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Barton Springs Pool: This man-made, spring-fed recreational pool is rightly considered the spiritual center of Austin. Despite its intimidatingly cool waters, it remains a popular year-round swimming spot for Austinites of all ages.

City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department: The city department responsible for the city's park system, rec centers, and associated infrastructure.

Zilker Park: Austin's largest downtown park, Zilker Park is comprised of 350 acres donated by Andrew Jackson Zilker in 1917. It contains the Zilker Botanical Gardens, Umlauf Sculpture Garden and adjoins Barton Springs Pool.

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