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Rainey District street closures might be in the works

Council directs shared streets pilot to look at restricting motorized-vehicle access on some nights

Food trucks in Rainey during SXSW 2019
Shutterstock

Increasing density and development in downtown’s Rainey Street District (already a popular entertainment district) has led to more traffic in the area, with incumbent congestion and decreased safety in tow. As a possible solution to the problems an unwieldy mix of cars, pedestrians, scooters, and bicycles can incur, the Austin Monitor reported Wednesday, the City Council has directed the city manager to look at a pilot that would restrict vehicular access to the area on some nights of the week.

Director of Austin Transportation Rob Spillar said the city might model the pilot on current Sixth Street closures, which take place every Thursday through Saturday. While safety is the primary concern in both cases, Michael Abelson, president of the Town Lake Neighborhood Association, took the position that street layouts in the two areas are not comparable and that restrictions similar to those on Sixth Street wouldn’t work for the Rainey district. He noted that “Sixth Street is on a matrix and you have ways to get in and out” and maintained that is not the case in Rainey.

Abelson also pointed out that dense development, with a number of residential towers built and planned, means more drivers in the small district.

The managing director of Sackman Enterprises, developer of 70 Rainey, expressed concern that closing streets could complicate emergency-vehicle access to the area, citing a recent serious crash in the area in which a motorist struck a scooter. (It was unclear if that crash occurred in an area where motorized vehicles would be banned—since those areas haven’t been determined—and therefore would not have happened in the first place, in theory.)

Mayor Steve Adler said the city does not plan a pilot that would restrict emergency access, while Councilmember Kathie Tovo pointed out that such access had presumably already been planned during South by Southwest this year, as vehicles were banned from the area during that event. Tovo also said that, in addition to working toward improving safety, she hopes that a conversation about the restrictions will also encourage district residents to use methods other than driving their own cars to come and go in the area.