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Zilker Park has sidewalks and safer bus stops headed its way

Wednesday, February 2, 2022 by Willow Higgins

In an effort to improve pedestrian safety, Austin’s Public Works Department is working on building better sidewalks and bus stops in and around Zilker Park. Most who frequent the park agree that Barton Springs Road and the connecting Stratford Drive lack adequate pedestrian infrastructure, despite the heavy foot and vehicle traffic in the Zilker area year-round. The project is on a faster and different track than the Zilker vision plan, which could take more than a decade to implement.

PWD is partnering with the city’s Parks and Recreation and Transportation departments, Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority and District 8’s Quarter Cent Program to execute the improvements, which are framed as a high-need safety and accessibility issue. The project is anticipated to cost between $1.5 million and $2 million, although planners haven’t landed on a final number. The improvements will be completed in two phases – the Barton Springs Road work first, and the Stratford Drive work second.

The project proposes a shared-use path on Barton Springs Road and Stratford Drive, wide enough to accommodate pedestrians, bicyclists and wheelchairs alike. The sidewalk on Barton Springs will have landscaping between the path and the road to provide a barrier from traffic, and the Stratford Drive improvements will include trail lights to illuminate the dark areas near the MoPac Bridge. The bus stop improvements will be basic, including a landing pad that connects to the sidewalks, a bench, a trash can and better signage. Current bus stops near the Zilker Botanical Garden and along Barton Springs Road are bare-bones, marked only by a pole in the grass.

Shelley Kilday, a program consultant from PWD, presented the planned improvements to the parks board last week for feedback and discussion. Because the improvements are for preventive maintenance, Public Works did not need the board’s recommendation or City Council’s approval, although the project stemmed from a suggestion made by Council Member Paige Ellis. That said, members of the board reacted differently to Kilday’s presentation.

“It does seem difficult to propose using taxpayer dollars for an area that is currently under discussion for being realigned,” Parks and Recreation Board Member Sarah Faust said. “I’m obviously supportive of improving the bus stops and the pedestrian access, especially at the botanical garden, I just think it’s really challenging to do so (given the vision plan).”

Board Member Laura Cottam Sajbel agreed with Faust’s comments and questioned whether the partnership has effectively coordinated with those involved in the Zilker Vision Plan to ensure work isn’t being done needlessly when the vision plan is executed. Zilker’s mobility issues have been mentioned as a key element addressed in the plan.

“We’re working with our area engineers and PARD and are in constant discussions about that,” Kilday said. “So all along, we’ve been trying not to do anything that conflicts and it looks like it’s consistent. If we put in a shared-use path, even if you realign the road somewhere, the shared-use path can always be used by bicycles and pedestrians, strollers, walkers or wheelchairs.”

But other board members were excited about the improvements and concurred that the issue is urgent enough to execute it in advance of the vision plan, especially because funding for the vision plan hasn’t been finalized, and because the plan is a long-term project.

“Trying to get to Zilker Park any other way than in a car is just so difficult,” Board Member Nina Rinaldi said. “It makes total sense to me that these improvements bottleneck in the category of urgent health and safety improvements.”

Photo by Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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