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Special event parking near Zilker might not be that bad

Tuesday, June 13, 2017 by Jack Craver

City officials involved in crafting a new special event parking permit program are urging people to relax.

A proposal to limit parking in neighborhoods near Zilker Park during major events, notably Austin City Limits Festival, ABC Kite Festival and the Trail of Lights, has been largely misinterpreted, a number of officials told the Austin Monitor.

“There was misinformation put out there on what staff’s approach was,” said City Council Member Ann Kitchen, who represents parts of the targeted neighborhoods. “(People) were responding to inaccurate information.”

Some accounts of the proposed new rules on social media framed them as a major increase in parking restrictions. In fact, if anything, the rules would simply be clearer, although violators can likely expect the penalty to be stiffer.

David King, a Zilker resident who was a member of the Parkland Events Task Force, which last year recommended developing the new permit parking program, said that a map of the affected area distributed by the Austin Transportation Department led some residents to mistakenly believe that the proposal was to put new parking restrictions on every street in the area.

Instead, said King, the idea is to target streets that are too narrow to allow parking on both sides during major events. Such situations make it hard for emergency vehicles to get through, he explained.

The transportation department already restricts parking during events with safety in mind, but the problem is the signs they use to enforce them.

James Russell, the executive director of the Trail of Lights Foundation as well as a member of the Parkland Events Task Force, guesses that his organization spends roughly $70,000 a year putting up and taking down temporary no parking signs before and after the annual event. For some other events that are run by the city, such as the Kite Fest, it’s taxpayers who foot the bill.

However, cost is far from the only problem with the current signs, he told the Monitor.

“One they’re ugly. Two, people move them. Three, sometimes they blow down.”

In addition, although the aim is to prevent visitors from jamming up the streets, the current rules bar even neighborhood residents from on-street parking during the events. And, as King pointed out, there is often confusion related to when the signs are put up and taken down. ACL is particularly confusing. Since it takes place over two weekends, people are unsure of whether the parking restrictions are in place during the week in between.

The task force thus recommended last year to instead put in place permanent signs. It also recommended creating special event parking permits to allow residents of the area to continue parking on the street during the festivals. Finally, it urged the city to raise the fines for cars parked illegally during special events. The current figure being floated is $250, although those who pay early could have that fine cut in half.

However, what the task force did not recommend was what the transportation department has suggested doing: asking permission from neighborhood residents before putting up the new signs.

As reported by the Austin Chronicle earlier this month, the department has indicated that it will model the new special events parking permits after the existing Residential Permit Parking Program. Under the latter program, with the support of 60 percent of a street’s residents, the city installs signs barring on-street parking except to cars with the appropriate residential permit.

Russell doesn’t see the point in asking permission. Streets that don’t support establishing the new program will be subject to the temporary signs if the transportation department determines that parking restrictions are necessary for safety purposes, he said. The only difference is that residents won’t be able to park on the street themselves during the events.

King also said that while he wants neighborhoods to have a say, they should not be able to overrule the judgment of public safety professionals.

A spokesperson for the transportation department said that staff is coordinating with neighborhood groups to hopefully hold a public meeting at the end of the month for residents to voice their opinions on the issue.

“ATD is still working through the details of an Event Parking Program and assures the public that our staff will seek community feedback on various options for what an Event Parking Program would look like, before implementing any programs,” ATD’s Jen Samp told the Monitor in an email.

Another issue that has been raised about a special events permit parking program is that residents who receive them could sell them to event attendees. Russell conceded it’s possible that will happen, and he said that how the permits are distributed will be key to preventing it from becoming a problem. As long as there is a reasonable limit on the number distributed per household, he said, it won’t be a big problem if residents sell them because they will then be taking their own cars off the streets.

Parking plan courtesy of the city of Austin, included in a Friends of Zilker open records request available online here.

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