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Ciclovia on hold while parking proposal creates controversy on Congress Avenue

Tuesday, June 26, 2018 by Caleb Pritchard

The dream of shutting down Congress Avenue for a daylong bicycle festival is in a state of suspended animation.

City Council made a step toward the idea just over a year ago when it voted on a resolution directing the city manager to explore the potential costs related to the event known as a Ciclovia.

When staff returned in September with a $93,000 estimate that didn’t even include Austin Fire Department costs, passion among the city and its planning partners, Bike Austin and the Downtown Austin Alliance, quickly cooled.

Instead, the Congress Avenue Urban Design Initiative has taken center stage, according to Bike Austin Executive Director Katie Smith Deolloz.

That effort, a planning process that would transform Congress Avenue from the Capitol to just south of Lady Bird Lake into a multimodal urban boulevard, took a spin last Wednesday through the Downtown Commission meeting, where several commissioners expressed reservations about the proposed reductions in on-street parking spaces.

The reduction would accommodate wider sidewalks and raised bike lanes and is aimed at influencing a mode shift away from single-occupant vehicles.

Commissioner Rich DePalma, also a candidate for City Council’s District 8 seat, suggested that cutting the 20 spaces per block by half could create a burden for some downtown visitors.

“Those are the considerations for those who are in District 8 or District 6 and other parts of the city,” DePalma said. “We’d like to be closer to downtown, but we haven’t won the lottery yet.”

Commissioner Jennifer Bristol echoed those sentiments but issued a disclaimer that she typically supports designing “habitats for humans, not cars.”

Nonetheless, she said, “I travel around the state quite a bit, and I go to different cities. And when I get there and I can’t find parking and I’ve got to get to a meeting, it gets frustrating. And then I make, let’s just say, poor choices while driving. Those all add to the frustration of, ‘Oh, I’m not sure I want to be in this downtown area.’”

Last year, the DAA published its parking census that tallied up nearly 72,000 parking spaces in downtown Austin. That figure did not include the many parking garages attached to towers currently under development, nor the 8,000-car underground garage the state is planning to build north of the Capitol.

DePalma asked about the possibility of the city building an underground parking structure beneath Congress Avenue.

“It’s a good idea for us to consider,” David Taylor of the Public Works Department told him.

Photo by Bike Texas made available through a Creative Commons license.

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