Photo by Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT
Thursday, July 29, 2021 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

Would opening Sixth Street to cars on the weekend make it safer? One Council member wants to know.

Austin City Council members will vote Thursday on whether to have city staff look into reopening Sixth Street to vehicular traffic on weekend nights.

The intent is to make the street safer, said Council Member Kathie Tovo, whose district includes downtown Austin.

Tovo said according to a study done by the nonprofit Responsible Hospitality Institute, opening Sixth Street to drivers could encourage people to head home after drinking and prevent them from gathering in the street. She said she’d like to have city staff test the idea and gauge its impact on safety.

According to City Council’s agenda for Thursday, the Responsible Hospitality Institute worked with downtown stakeholders, authorities and emergency crews to produce a set of recommendations “for improving perceptions of safety, creating ‘visible systems of order,'” and improving the downtown historic district in other ways. (KUT requested a copy of the study to review it but has not received it yet.)

The Downtown Austin Alliance declined to comment for this story.

According to the Austin Police Department, the portion of East Sixth Street between Brazos and Red River streets has been closed to cars on weekend nights since at least the early 1990s. The street is not open to traffic Thursday through Sunday from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m.

Last month, a 25-year-old man was killed and more than a dozen others were injured when at least one teenager fired a gun near the corner of East Sixth and Trinity streets. Police say the people injured were innocent bystanders.

“As we’ve seen with the recent rash of fatal shootings, some of those individuals who are coming down to Sixth Street to be in the streets are doing so for bad purposes and the results have been tragic,” Tovo said.

Tovo is also proposing a slate of other measures to make Sixth Street safer, including upgraded lighting and finding a way to attract businesses other than bars to the area.

Thursday’s vote on whether to open Sixth Street to cars would be preliminary. Changes to the road’s traffic accessibility wouldn’t be immediate because it could be dangerous, Tovo said.

“Because the crowds are so large right now, reopening the street would put pedestrians into immediate conflict with vehicles if those lanes are reopened,”she said.

If the resolution passes, city staff would be asked to come up with a list of changes that need to be made before taking down the police barricades that are put up at night and a timeline for when this could happen.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

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