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Pilot program will clear cars from Rainey Street on weekend nights

Thursday, November 7, 2019 by Samuel King

On weekend nights, Rainey Street can be crowded with cars, scooters and pedestrians. Pretty soon, only one of those groups will be allowed on the street.

The city of Austin is getting ready to shut down Rainey Street to vehicle traffic on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights as part of a pilot program that will begin in a few weeks. The closure would cover Rainey between Driskill and River streets. Emergency vehicles would be exempt.

The plan comes after months of research and discussions with community members. Neighbors had raised concerns about growing congestion and access for emergency vehicles during the most crowded times on the street.

The weekend closures were set to begin Nov. 14, but the Austin Transportation Department is now looking at Dec. 5 for the start date. The change was made to provide more time to engage with people who live and work in the neighborhood, and to finalize logistics.

The city found Rainey Street begins to fill with pedestrians Thursday nights, peaking with an average of 900 people counted on the street at 11 p.m. Saturday night. More than 7,000 people were counted between 6 p.m. and 2 a.m. on both Friday and Saturday nights.

The Austin Police Department worked with the Transportation Department on the rules and will set up barricades.

Under the initial plan, bicycles, pedicabs and scooters will be barred from Rainey Street during the closure period. During a meeting of the Austin City Council Mobility Committee, some members expressed support for changing that plan.

“It may not be something that pans out to work well, but I think it’s important to know that if we are closing down a street and seeing what will work on Rainey Street, that we allow people to be bicycling in, as opposed to getting a ride in,” said Paige Ellis, who represents District 8. “It could alleviate some of the concerns about car, pedestrian, bicycle conflicts of those mobility modes.”

Cole Kitten, a planner with the Austin Transportation Department, told Council members that adjustments to the pilot program’s parameters and length are possible.

“I think that a big element of the pilot is perhaps making sure that it can be nimble and flexible throughout the duration of the pilot,” he said, “so if something isn’t working out, we are able to adjust accordingly.”

There will also be designated pickup and drop-off zones for rideshare passengers on Driskill, Davis and River streets, something neighborhood organizations had supported.

But some residents opposed a full closure of Rainey Street, saying it would not solve congestion issues in the area.

Kitten said officials would continue to keep neighbors informed and collect feedback during the pilot period.

City officials will reconsider the program in the spring. The pilot is set to run through March 8, the week before South by Southwest begins. Rainey Street was closed to traffic at certain times during this year’s festival.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. It has been updated with the new December 5 start date for the pilot program. Photo by Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT.

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