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Vision plan takes on mobility woes at Zilker Park

Tuesday, July 13, 2021 by Sean Saldaña

Last month, the Parks and Recreation Department held its first community meeting for the Zilker Metropolitan Park Vision Plan, an ambitious effort to develop a framework for the park’s future. The department calls it the “first comprehensive planning effort in the park’s 104-year history.”

With months of planning under its belt far, the vision plan is determined in its efforts to develop the park, aiming to address issues ranging from parking and land use to historic preservation and equity.

The immense planning effort is partly explained by the park’s popularity; Zilker, which receives an average of 7,200 visitors a day, is among the city’s most iconic and unique attractions and in 2019, it pulled in $2.4 million in fees for events hosted in the park like ACL Festival.

Zilker’s usage as an event space is not just limited to large-scale festivals, though.

At last week’s meeting, Claire Hempel, landscape architect with Design Workshop, the primary consulting firm for the project, said, “Most people know of the bigger events like ACL, the Kite Festival, and the Trail of Lights, but there are actually hundreds of events and programs that happen almost daily throughout the year.”

The park’s popularity is actually at the root of many of Zilker’s mobility issues.

Hempel said that, since the vision planning effort was initiated, the planning team has noted “significant mobility gaps” at Zilker. Despite being located in Central Austin, getting in and out of the area can be difficult, as Barton Springs Road and MoPac Expressway are the two main access points to the park.

In a survey conducted by the city, the vast majority of Zilker visitors said they get to the park via their personal vehicles, followed by running/jogging/walking and bicycling. Public transit is an even less popular way of getting to Zilker.

One of the contributing factors to these trends comes down to accessibility and ease of use. Right now, there are around 2,700 parking spots at Zilker, but only one bus line that services the park and a lack of dedicated bicycle routes around the area. In a city heavily reliant on car usage, it’s significantly easier for the average person to get to Zilker via car than any other method.

Improving the area’s mobility will be an important part of the vision plan moving forward. Survey results indicate that the two biggest reasons people avoid the park are a “lack of parking” and because it’s “too crowded.”

According to Hempel, part of the solution ultimately comes down to “accommodating and encouraging non-vehicular travel.”

In addition to making the park more bike- and pedestrian-friendly, the vision planning team has also heard ideas about a potential shuttle system that would run through the area, hopefully easing the reliance on cars.

Throughout the rest of the month, the city will hold pop-up meetings in each City Council district to gain further community feedback, and in August, it will host the second community meeting. Austinites may sign up for updates on the city’s website.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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