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Austin launches initiative to redesign Congress Avenue

Monday, April 10, 2017 by Syeda Hasan

For Austin visitors, it’s hard to beat the iconic view of the Texas Capitol from Congress Avenue. But for those who live and work along the corridor, the streetscape could use some improvements.

On a Friday afternoon, about a dozen customers sit and sip coffees at the Hideout Theatre and Coffee House downtown. But in a few hours, visitors will fill the theater for an evening improv show. When night falls, co-owner Kareem Badr said a top concern for customers and performers is safety.

“Late at night when people are leaving after shows, they tend (to) have a buddy system so that they can get through there, and there’s no reason why that should have to happen,” Badr said. “It shouldn’t feel that unsafe.”

The Hideout has remained downtown since it opened about 18 years ago, but Badr says its prime location near Seventh Street and Congress Avenue has some drawbacks. Parking has long been a challenge, both for his customers and for day-to-day business.

“You know, we’ll have an appointment for some repair, whether it’s a fridge or sign or something, and the day will come where they’re supposed to come and fix it, and then a week goes by or two weeks go by and they’ve attempted three or four times, and they literally just can’t find parking,” he said. “And because we’re such a small business, we don’t have any dedicated parking spots.”

Badr plans to share his concerns as part of a new city initiative to redesign a popular section of Congress, with the project boundaries stretching from the Capitol to Riverside Drive.

David Taylor with the city’s Public Works Department said Austin has made similar planning efforts in the area, but those plans have excluded this stretch of Congress.

“But all of those recent efforts have expected this effort on Congress Avenue to help define new guidelines and develop a new plan for the details of Congress Avenue,” Taylor said.

Funding for the design portion of the project is already in place. It will come from the mobility bond passed by Austin voters in 2012, but Taylor said the city will likely have to issue another bond to fund construction. The city is partnering with the nonprofit Downtown Austin Alliance to implement the plan.

Michele Van Hyfte, the group’s vice president of economic development, said another priority is getting Congress Avenue in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Van Hyfte said that by today’s standards, Congress Avenue could not have been built in its current form.

“There are trip hazards,” Van Hyfte said. “There are ramps up to the sidewalk that are not compliant with the law. … Whether you are fully abled or disabled in all of the ways that are addressed in the ADA, how can that street be made more welcoming and more accessible to you?”

The city is taking feedback through an online survey and plans to hold another public meeting next month. A final project report is set to be released next year.

Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr./KUT News. This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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