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Rainey Street traffic study calls for less parking, more pedestrian crossings

Friday, March 17, 2017 by Syeda Hasan

Last year, residents of the Rainey Street neighborhood struck a deal with a developer looking to build new condos in the area. They agreed to conduct a comprehensive traffic study, determining what the most pressing transportation needs are and how they could be affected by new development.

Preliminary findings of the study show that on a typical weekend evening, cars frequently stop in the middle of Rainey Street to drop people off to nearby bars and restaurants. The lack of designated crosswalks means pedestrians often make dangerous crossings in the middle of the street.

Dan Hennessey is with Big Red Dog Engineering, which conducted the study.

“What the neighborhood associations were worried about was development coming into the neighborhood, and they were particularly concerned about their vehicle congestion getting into and out of the neighborhood,” Hennessey said.

This study was prompted by a new condo complex proposed to go up in the neighborhood. Before breaking ground, the developer, the Austin-based Sutton Company, agreed to pay for neighbors to commission a comprehensive traffic study of the area. The goal is to help guide this project as well as future development.

The study outlines several proposals to calm traffic, including eliminating some parking spaces along Rainey Street and turning them into designated passenger drop-off areas. It also proposes adding large speed bumps, called speed tables, which are longer and have a smooth, flat surface. Along with slowing cars down, Hennessey said the devices would provide an elevated, visible place for pedestrians to cross the street.

Big Red Dog has also floated the idea of expanding Rainey, which currently dead-ends at Driskill Street. The study suggests extending the road to Cesar Chavez Street.

“Really, what we wanted to do was take a comprehensive look at everywhere that they might add connectivity, whether that’s for pedestrians (or) vehicles, and it was less about capacity and more about completing a grid so that there’s more options to get around,” Hennessey said.

Last year, a vote by City Council lifted a cap on the number of units that the Sutton Company could build on the site. Currently, the space is occupied by the 58-unit Villas on Town Lake condominiums. Lora Herring lived there for 23 years. She moved last year to a complex down the street where her mother lives.

“Used to (be), they could call me at 2 in the morning (saying) ‘your dad fell,’ (and) I could jump in the car and be right over,” Herring said. “And now, if that happened on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday night, it would be, oh, I could be there in 45 minutes or something.”

Herring heard Big Red Dog’s proposals at a recent public meeting. While she supports adding designated drop-off areas and improving transit access on Rainey Street, she thinks proposals such as street expansions would be tough to accomplish.

Hennessey said Big Red Dog plans to take its findings to city staff for review and that it will also hold one last public meeting next month to further vet the recommendations.

Photo by Stephanie Tacy for KUT News. This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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