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City continues to work on Zilker special event parking

Monday, July 17, 2017 by Jack Craver

The city transportation department is adamant: Nothing has been determined yet about parking for special events held in Zilker Park.

Hence, the meeting at the Austin Energy headquarters on Barton Spring Road Thursday evening was an opportunity for Austinites to review different proposed parking policies for major events, such as the Austin City Limits Music Festival and the Trail of Lights.

Staffers presented two broad options. The first is to maintain the status quo, whereby temporary “no parking” signs go up on one side of streets in neighborhoods near the park during special events. The second option is to entirely bar parking on both sides of the streets during the events except for neighborhood residents, who could get special parking permits.

Rather than doing a traditional town hall event, in which city staff presents an idea to an assembly of seated residents, the department opted for an “open house” format, in which people could talk with transportation officials individually.

Transportation staff guided guests through a five-step process, showing them maps that displayed the current parking restrictions in place throughout South Austin neighborhoods during special events as well as ones that demonstrated how the different proposals would play out.

The format proved productive, said Austin Transportation Department spokesperson Jen Samp.

“That was one thing everybody agreed on. How we did the open house. As opposed to just a short question-and-answer and Powerpoint,” she said.

So the department could get a sense of where they were coming from, both literally and figuratively, attendees put dots on a map of the city indicating where they “live, work and play.”

That exercise showed staff that it wasn’t only folks from the affected South Austin neighborhoods showing up to express their opinions, said Samp. People from other parts of the city who attend the events came to voice their opinions as well.

According to the comment cards submitted by neighbors that Samp shared with the Austin Monitor, at least a few people came to express opposition to further parking restrictions.

One asked that Trailside Drive “be left for the public.” Another said, “leave it as is. Public streets.” Finally, commented one person in response to the proposed permit parking program: “This just stinks!”

Disagreements over parking between those who live near popular entertainment attractions and those who come to enjoy the entertainment are hardly new. The first group is often annoyed by the influx of traffic and parked cars on their streets, while the second group is frequently irritated by neighborhood parking restrictions that make it hard to find a parking spot.

James Russell, the executive director of the Trail of Lights Foundation and a member of the Parkland Events Task Force that recommended putting in place the permit parking program, acknowledged a certain discomfort with restricting access to a public resource.

“I do agree that they’re public roads and I have a hard time telling somebody they can’t park (on it) when their tax dollars pay for it,” he said.

However, in the case of major events, he said, public safety demands some restrictions. Among other challenges, parked cars on both sides of some of the small neighborhood streets near the park make it difficult for emergency vehicles to get through.

Russell also reasons that if there must be parking restrictions, they should be designed so that people aren’t hit with big fines for parking in front of their own homes, which occasionally happens under the current system.

The temporary signs are the other issue with the status quo. Complaints about them include their ugliness, their tendency to fly away and their cost.

Gail Rothe, a Zilker resident, told the Monitor that putting up permanent signs alerting people to the parking restrictions during certain events would probably save the city some time and money.

Just as important, she added, is to put signs throughout the neighborhood. Big ones at the entrance, she said, “don’t work.”

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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