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City eyes major upgrades, parking garages for Zilker Park

Monday, November 21, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki

The city has released the draft of its vision plan for the future of Zilker Park, which splits the major enhancements proposed for the park into five regions that include the seven primary activity zones for current public use and programming.

Some of the most substantial improvements likely in store for the 351-acre park include a land bridge to connect the north and south portions across Barton Springs Road, special restoration for 91 acres that have been environmentally damaged, improved access via shuttles and more connection points, and a welcome plaza converted from existing structures, including the Caretaker’s Cottage. Community feedback on the plan is open until Jan. 8, with online and in-person events scheduled in December.

The northern region’s priority projects include a parking garage on its eastern side or under the MoPac Expressway, realignment of Stratford Drive along MoPac and restoration of the former Butler Landfill area into a woodland and meadow.

The central region would see the land bridge intended to reunite the north and south park areas, with an underground parking garage added to accommodate visitors from outside farther away. A new Zilker Hillside Theater would be integrated into the land bridge, with the possible reduction of Barton Springs Road to two lanes with parallel parking and improved bus stops.

To the east, picnic areas and restrooms would be improved, and a pedestrian and bicycle bridge on Toomey Road would increase connectivity. Also, Lou Neff Road would be converted to bicycle and emergency vehicle use only, and a bridge across Lady Bird Lake would be added between Roberta Crenshaw Bridge and the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge.

The park’s southern area would include a third new parking garage connected to the Welcome Plaza, and the Caretaker’s Cottage and Quonset Hut will be repurposed for educational uses. The south side of Barton Springs Pool would remain open year-round, while Barton Creek would be rehabilitated.

To the west, there will be a new entry road to the Girl Scout Cabin and the southern section of Columbus Drive would be turned into a nature trail, with Andrew Zilker Road converted to pedestrian and bicycle use only. Columbus Drive would also be partially closed with a roundabout, and the nature trail would be extended from Barton Creek Greenbelt to Lady Bird Lake over the land bridge. A new pedestrian bridge on the west side of Barton Springs Pool would improve the connection across Barton Creek.

The plan comes after a multi-year community feedback process to gather ideas about the most important issues to address in the park going forward. More than 20 smaller plans and vision documents were used and more than 6,000 comments and suggestions were gathered from outreach events held in all 10 City Council districts.

Early reaction to the plan on social media and elsewhere has brought criticism about the inclusion of three parking garages, though the plan notes that there would be no increase and a potential decrease in the footprint of parking spaces compared to what is currently offered. The concentration of those parking areas along with shuttle and circulator transit options within the park are intended to reduce the impact of drivers circling the park’s lower-grade road looking for spaces, which disrupts visitors’ use and degrades the roads over time.

In January, a memo drafted with feedback from more than a dozen stakeholder groups including the Trail of Lights Foundation and Zilker Theatre Productions offered early thoughts after an early map and design plans were shared with the community. That memo supported environmental and visitation improvements, and rehabilitating the polo fields and landfill areas as long as the parking in those areas was relocated elsewhere on the park property. The groups opposed reducing existing lawn areas or introducing vehicular traffic near the Austin Nature and Science Center, while pushing for the visitor hub, upgrading the playground near Barton Springs Pool and improved transportation paths throughout the park.

The plan was created with the help of consulting firm Design Workshop, which was paid $600,000 for its work.

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

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