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Why are parking garages a part of the Zilker Vision Plan?

Friday, May 12, 2023 by Nina Hernandez

City Council’s Mobility Committee learned more about the mobility aspects, in particular the proposed parking garages, of the Zilker Vision Plan at its meeting Thursday.

The city released the draft of the vision plan in September. The document, which runs more than 200 pages, encompasses ecological restoration and uplift, park programming, education and outreach, and transportation and mobility. Certain mobility aspects, in particular an option in the plan that calls for an underground parking garage, have drawn public scrutiny.

The Mobility Committee heard a presentation on those mobility aspects of the plan from Gregory Montes, program manager with the Parks and Recreation Department, and Claire Hempel of the consulting firm Design Workshop.

Hempel said that parking, accessibility and connectivity were major themes in the initial public survey conducted by the design group. “The challenge is how to balance these initiatives with the other guiding principles around equity, the environment, sustainability, and history and culture,” Hempel said.

When it comes to mobility, the plan includes multiple modes of accessibility, including transit, vehicular, bike and pedestrian. The plan includes realignment of Stratford Drive along MoPac Expressway, up to three parking garages, conversion of several vehicular roads to pedestrian and bicycle routes, and a land bridge as a connector across Barton Springs Road.

“The external shuttle is critical to support the anticipated increase in Zilker visitorship as the city’s population grows in the future,” Hempel said. “The two proposed lines will connect the park to transportation hubs and external parking garages like One Texas Center, Republic Square and City Hall.”

Last summer, approximately 500 parkgoers participated in a shuttle pilot program between the park and One Texas Center. Hempel said the program is due to begin again on Memorial Day weekend.

In terms of vehicular circulation, the plan calls for holding the current number of parking spaces at just under 2,500. But instead of 1,300 formal spaces accompanied by 1,150 informal spaces, many of which are on unpaved areas, the plan calls for 2,479 formal spaces. Hempel said that by concentrating the current parking, including in garages, the plan will reduce overall impervious cover.

The plan also includes an internal shuttle circulator and an expansion of the Zilker Eagle train route to the north, which will serve as both a recreational element and a way to get around the park. The plan also enhances trail connectivity by adding crossing points across Barton Springs Road.

At the end of the briefing, Council Member Vanessa Fuentes said she had received calls about the parking garage aspect of the plan and asked if Hempel could explain the need for the garages and if there is a possibility it might not be necessary to include them in the final plan.

Hempel said the design team was aiming to both reduce impervious cover and consolidate the parking scattered informally throughout the park. That was what led to the recommendation of three parking garages.

“We also have a lot of other mobility solutions within the park, talking about shuttles, parking areas outside of the park,” Hempel said. “If we are able to accommodate those parking spots outside of Zilker, that means they don’t necessarily have to be located within Zilker. And with our population growing in Austin, we know that the number of parking spaces there today wouldn’t be sufficient for the number of people we anticipate visiting even more frequently in Zilker moving forward.”

Montes said the parking garage solution is also intended to relieve congestion seen in certain areas of the park.

“The other thing to think about is that the existing surface lots right now do not have any sort of drainage enhancements for the runoff,” Montes said. “Some of the parking lots that are near Barton Creek run directly through the turf straight to the creek. So a garage was a solution to hopefully focus those drivers coming to the park in a certain location.”

Currently, there is nothing mitigating the pollutants from cars parking on those surface level lots, Montes said.

“All those car pollutants just run off into the park, and those closest to the creek or other areas have created drainage issues and erosion,” Montes said.

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