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PARK(ing) Day 2019: Public Space… More Than Car Storage

Walking around most places, you’d think the purpose of public space is for automobiles, not people. Look at how much of our streets are given to storing cars versus providing social spaces, a basic human need, for people.

And yet, all that is a recent phenomenon. Until recently, public space was for everybody, not mainly for users of one transportation mode, and the public realm served a crucial role as a place for social exchange. Today, little social exchange happens in public space; most streets are civically dead.

PARK(ing) Day challenges this status quo by showing that public space, so much of it used for storing cars, can be used for anything: Public seating, bocce courts, artist galleries, information booths, cafes, drinking fountains, pocket parks, street vendors, and a million other uses. Yes, we need to accommodate cars appropriately but perhaps going as far as we have for cars is not the optimum use of public space.

For this year’s PARK(ing) Day on September 20th, Walk Austin and Bike Austin partnered on a space on Congress Avenue at 7th Street outside the Austin Contemporary. We wanted something fun, inviting, and quick and easy to do for people with little time to spare and one solution immediately stood up: Mini golf!

People of all kinds and all ages stopped by throughout the day to enjoy a few minutes on our 3-hole course. Those who completed two or more holes were treated to one of our homemade cookies! What was usually a dead space for storing two cars became a vibrant, fun place where people wanted to be, showing just what public space can be when we get our priorities right.

And plenty of other groups created their own spaces for the day…

That said, while there were some great installations, participation was down from 2018. Last year, the City of Austin allocated more resources to promote PARK(ing) Day and encourage people to participate; the strategy worked and participation was way up from 2017. Without that level of commitment from the City in 2019, fewer people got involved, showing that heavy lifting is still required to get PARK(ing) Day to a critical mass level where participation happens organically.

But imagine PARK(ing) Day next year if the City, the public, and the advocacy community all get serious about this opportunity to promote and enrich public space. Blocks of downtown could become bustling, vibrant community spaces for the day; school kids could make a project out of it and parents could come down for the afternoon; there could be art classes, dance lessons, karaoke, even bigger mini golf courses, and hammocks; organizations could share what they’ve been up to and connect with new members of the public. The result would be an electrifying return to public space, prompting conversation about how we could make longer term improvements.

At a time of widespread social alienation through decades of poor land use and transportation policies that distance people from each other, PARK(ing) Day could be a powerful way to kickstart a reevaluation of public space as the civic crucible of society. Next year, let’s shoot for the sky.

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Our Shoal Creek campaign declares victory!

After several years of rallying the community, Walk Austin and Bike Austin are thrilled to announce that our grassroots campaign for better walking and bicycling on Shoal Creek Boulevard has succeeded!

On Friday, the City of Austin announced the final designs for Shoal Creek and they include:

  • 12 new pedestrian crossings
  • Improvements to numerous existing crossings, including slip lane closures
  • Several stretches of sidewalk improvements
  • A two-way protected bicycle lane between 38th St and Foster Ln
  • One-way protected bicycle lanes between Foster Ln and Hwy 183
  • Numerous protected intersections

Find out more about the full list of improvements here.

For a list of project updates, including implementation, see here.

Having collected support for safer mobility on Shoal Creek from more than 3,000 residents, over 120 local businesses within a mile of Shoal Creek, and over 10 community organizations in the local area, Walk Austin and Bike Austin and our thousands of supporters thank the City of Austin for making the right decision on this critical transportation corridor. We look forward to seeing these plans implemented in the near future and most importantly to seeing more people, especially vulnerable road users, walk and bike along Shoal Creek and across Austin.

And, of course, a huge thank you to our many volunteers and supporters whose hard work helped make this victory happen. We truly appreciate all the help you gave. This success is yours…

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Speak up for better walking and bicycling on Shoal Creek at 3/26, 3,28, 3/30 Open Houses

Shoal Creek Boulevard, between 38th Street and Highway 183, is an important walking and bicycling corridor between north and central Austin. With its gentle curves, plentiful trees, trails, and creekside parkland the street is a prime walking area, not to mention an important arterial for people on bicycles.

However, Shoal Creek could be so much better. There are too few crosswalks, pedestrians often have to contend with turning vehicles when crossing the street, utilities often block the sidewalk, and there are few benches and gathering spaces.

That’s why Walk Austin is collaborating with Bike Austin to push for pedestrian and bicycling improvements on Shoal Creek Boulevard to make this a true Austin gem for people of all ages and abilities.

The pedestrian-related improvements Walk Austin is pushing for on Shoal Creek include the following:

  • Widen, where possible, and improve sidewalk surfaces
  • New marked pedestrian crossings where there is a current lack of crossings
  • Relocate sidewalk-obstructing utilities
  • Mid-crosswalk “State Law: Yield to Pedestrian” signs
  • More benches and public restrooms
  • Protected bicycle lanes (would improve pedestrian safety)
  • Landscaped buffer or rain garden between the protected bicycle lane and a sidewalk, if space allows, while retaining the existing curb lines
  • Lead Pedestrian Intervals (LPI) at 45th St, Anderson Lane, and at Steck Ave
  • A pedestrian underpass at Allandale Rd / 2222
  • Improve the pedestrian connection to Northwest Rec Center
  • Lower roadway speed design from Foster to Steck Ave by reducing travel lanes from 5 to 3 and ensuring lane widths are no wider than 11′
  • Create a safer crossing under Highway 183 with fewer roadway crossings
A possible pedestrian-bicycle underpass at Allandale Rd / 2222
A possible Shoal Creek Blvd, north of Foster Lane

Imagine a Shoal Creek one day bustling with children and the elderly, people walking to work or walking the dog, friends and neighbors stopping to catch up, and folks learning to ride their bicycles alongside seasoned riders. This beautiful, thriving Shoal Creek is within our grasp if we unite to push for it. Explore more possibilities for walking and bicycling improvements in the Shoal Creek Conservancy‘s Shoal Creek Vision To Action Plan.

However, this inspiring vision goes even further. A better Shoal Creek would also make possible The Big Loop, a proposed 30-mile hike-bike loop that would encircle much of Austin north of Lady Bird Lake and would include the existing South Walnut Creek Trail and Walnut Creek Trail, integrating them all into a stunning new facility for all Austinites and beyond. And the Big Loop can only happen if we succeed on Shoal Creek.

With your help, these inspiring visions could be around the corner. On March 26th, 28th, and 30th, the City of Austin will host three Open House events to present design alternatives for better walking and bicycling on Shoal Creek Boulevard. We need you to attend an open house event with the message “I want better pedestrian facilities and protected bicycle lanes on Shoal Creek”. You won’t have to speak, just write your thoughts down. The City will base its decision on this community feedback so please attend one event.

Thank you in advance for supporting this important project.

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Join us at the World Day of Remembrance – November 18th

On Sunday November 19th the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims vigil takes place here in Austin. Walk Austin will be a participating organization. This annual global event remembers those killed in traffic crashes. In Texas, 3,721 people were killed in the past year. In Austin alone, 68 people have died in 2018; roughly 2/3 of fatalities were on TxDOT-owned roads. This is an unimaginable amount of tragedy and suffering that warrants immediate action.

A big turn out to the event will send a powerful message to local and state governments to address the urgent issue of traffic deaths on our streets. Your presence will help save lives.

Official event webpage: http://visionzerotexas.org/vigil/

Schedule (full event information)

Sunday November 18th 2018

  • 5pm: Introductory speeches at the plaza outside Austin City Hall (NW corner of Cesar Chavez & Lavaca)
  • 5:25pm: Memorial walk to the State Capitol
  • 6pm: Vigil at the South Steps of the Texas Capitol

Speakers: Texas Representative Celia Israel; Commissioner Jeff Travillion, Travis County; Council Member Jimmy Flannigan, City of Austin; Jay Blazek Crossley, Vision Zero Texas; Katie Deolloz, Bike Austin; Kathy Sokolic, Central Texas Families for Safe Streets.

Social media links

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Walk Austin Endorses 2018 Bond Election Propositions A-G, Opposes Proposition J

By Tom Wald, Walk Austin board member

The Walk Austin Board endorses all City of Austin 2018 Bond Election items, Propositions A through G. We especially support the transportation bond item, Proposition G, which includes funding for sidewalk maintenance, Vision Zero safety projects, and urban trails, among other transportation needs. We also oppose land-use policy Proposition J. Read more further below.

Early voting has started and continues through Friday, November 2nd. Election Day is Tuesday, November 6th. The local propositions will appear far down on the ballot, and you must select them individually, regardless of voting straight ticket. Further voting information is at the bottom of this page. We encourage all eligible Austin voters to vote for all 2018 Bond Propositions A-G, and to vote against Proposition J.

Walk Austin advocated for pedestrian funding throughout the 2018 Bond development process, helping to ensure funding was included in the final ballot going to voters. We worked with the Austin Pedestrian Advisory Council, Farm&City, other advocacy organizations, other pedestrian community leaders, and city staff to understand community needs and goals. The need for pedestrian infrastructure funding is huge, and seizing each opportunity toward meeting that goal is critical.

Walk Austin Board Member, Tom Wald (left), speaks in support of 2018 Bond sidewalk funding at Austin City Council, June 28th, 2018. Toilet paper serves as a prop for the long road ahead to complete Austin’s essential sidewalk network. Photo: Patricia Schaub, former Walk Austin board member.

Proposition G would fund transportation infrastructure projects, including the following key pedestrian funding needs:

Sidewalk Funding: The City of Austin Sidewalk Master Plan identifies $1.6 billion in needs for completing our sidewalk network and repairing existing sidewalks. Over the next eight years, the plan calls for $25 million/year for new sidewalks and $15 million/year for sidewalk maintenance and ADA-accessibility upgrades. Proposition G would provide funding toward the latter, $15MM/year needs.

Vision Zero Funding: The City of Austin Vision Zero Master Plan lays out the city’s goal of zero transportation fatalities and serious injury crashes by 2025. The plan includes transportation infrastructure improvements, enforcement, education, evaluation, and other methods for meeting that goal. Proposition G would provide funding for transportation infrastructure improvements for all travel modes, including pedestrian safety improvements such as pedestrian hybrid beacons (signalized midblock crossings), crossing median refuge islands, low-speed shared streets, and more.

Urban Trails: The City of Austin Urban Trails Master Plan describes a network of hundreds of miles of paved pedestrian and bicycle trails connecting far across the city. These trails are designed to meet both transportation and recreation needs. Proposition G would include funding for multiple trail segments, including a section of the Red Line Trail that would connect between multifamily housing, office towers near The Domain, Capital Metro MetroRail stations, the Shoal Creek Trail, the Northern Walnut Creek Trail, and the North MoPac Trail.

Oppose Proposition J: We oppose Proposition J, since it presents time delays and barriers to changing our auto-centric land development code. Our current land-use policy favors car mobility over walking and transit in myriad ways. Walkable neighborhoods provide access to amenities for everyone, including the young, old, and other non-drivers. Our city needs to increase walkability in our neighborhoods to build community, provide equitable access to daily needs and community spaces, and respond to our traffic problems and climate change.

We encourage all eligible Austin voters to vote for all 2018 Bond Propositions A-G, and to vote against Proposition J.

Further information

Walk Austin belongs to Austin Together, a coalition of local nonprofits and community leaders that support the bond propositions, Propositions A-G. More information.

The City of Austin 2018 Bond website

Austin American Statesman endorsement of Proposition G

Austin Chronicle endorsement of all bond items, Propositions A-G

Voting information for Travis County voters

KUT News Austin summary of voting information and links

Go for a walk

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Walk Austin Collaborates To Bring PARK(ing) Day to Austin

By Heyden Walker, Walk Austin board member

On a Friday in mid-September, nearly 20 parking spaces along the streets of Austin became people spaces. Walk Austin teamed up with other local organizations to coordinate this tactical placemaking as part of International PARK(ing) Day, this year on Sept. 21.

The annual event’s mission – which has grown in popularity and scope since its inception in 2005 – is to raise awareness, through temporary, low-cost interventions, about the possibilities of rethinking how we use urban space. This year’s event brought thousands of people together in hundreds of cities around the world to turn single parking spaces into parklets for people to enjoy and congregate in.

Walk Austin was involved on several levels in bringing the movement to Austin’s streets. Board member Heyden Black Walker, of Black + Vernooy architecture and urban design, assisted with coordinating the 18 installations located throughout the city, with many in downtown. Activities and installations – put together by organizations as diverse as the Austin Parks Foundation and TBG Partners as well as motivated individuals – included giant chess, a canopy of green balloons, hopscotch, tic tac toe, hacky sack, street musicians and various food and drink offerings.

Walk Austin also partnered with the conservation nonprofit The Nature Conservancy Texas, the engineering firm Civilitude, the urban design and landscape architecture firm Asakura Robinson and the UT–Austin initiative Planet Texas 2050 to create “Parlor in the Park” at 316 Congress Ave. The installation featured a green astroturf carpet floor; comfortable, stylish chairs for relaxing; planters creating a streetside barrier from traffic lanes; and plenty of free goodies, including popsicles from GoodPop, tote bags, sunglasses, water bottles, stickers and more.

In addition, board members Adam Greenfield and Katie Deolloz helped organize installations and led two Walk Austin-organized walking tours of the downtown spaces.

We hope to expand PARK(ing) Day next year to encompass even more installations and organizations. Join us on Friday September 20, 2019.

We encourage you to think about putting together your own space and to support this grassroots effort to move the needle towards a walkable Austin!

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Walk Austin’s recommendations for CodeNEXT v3

Austin’s built environment – its buildings, streets, and public spaces, and how they fit together – profoundly affects our lives. The way we move around the city, whether we know our neighbors, if we can walk for our daily needs, our physical and mental health – the built environment is the prime influence on these crucial aspects of life and our land development code dictates what form the built environment can take.

Through the CodeNEXT project, Austin is currently in the process of creating a new land development code to replace its old outdated, auto-centric, and confusing code. Recently, Walk Austin sent to City Council Members its recommendations for updating the current draft version 3 of CodeNEXT. What follows is an amended version of what we sent to Council. If you have any feedback on our recommendations, let us know.

We strongly support the vision of a compact and connected, and thus walkable, community set forth in Imagine Austin and encourage you to measure the code’s success by this standard. Creating safe and vibrant pedestrian spaces for all Austinites is an issue of equity, environmental sustainability, and quality of life. A new land development code should move us into a future where people can interact friends and strangers in public space and safely get to daily destinations on foot.

Austin has a strong legacy of supporting parks and trails, which are important public spaces. This code rewrite is an opportunity for us to open our eyes to the other public space all around us, our streets, and make them function for everyone. In order to meet this vision of an Austin for everyone – young and old, rich and poor, fully abled and disabled – we must build diverse walkable communities. Walk Austin appreciates the improved connectivity standards incorporated in draft 3, and we note that there are more important changes to make to realize the goal of a walkable Austin.

To that end, we recommend the following updates be made to the draft CodeNEXT document:

Add missing middle housing and ADUs throughout the city

The zoning maps need to allow for diverse housing types throughout the city to meet the housing needs of individuals and families of multiple income levels and needs. This should be accomplished by including Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) in all zoning categories. Heavy Residential (3-6 units/ lot) should also be spread throughout the City. While these actions alone will not solve our affordability crisis, they will allow many more people to live in central neighborhoods near jobs and activities.

Strengthen Anti- McMansion Ordinance recommended by Planning Commission by removing FAR limitations when building multiple housing units

The Planning Commission recommended an anti-McMansion ordinance aimed at reducing the number of demolitions that would result in a larger single family home replacement and encouraging building of more modest sized housing for many. We fully support this aim. The Commission recommended restricting Floor Area Ratio (FAR) further than is called for in zoning if a demolition will result in a single home, but not if the demolished structure is replaced by multiple units. We recommend increasing this incentive by removing FAR entirely when the replacement is more than one dwelling unit.

Our city has many restrictions on building that are aimed at context sensitivity. Removing FAR for multiple dwelling units, while maintaining other restrictions such as impervious cover and height restrictions will increase housing supply while maintaining buildings that are context sensitive. Given all of the other restrictions, FAR is simply reducing the amount of housing that can be built and available to middle-income families.

Zone for commercial where people live

Walkable neighborhoods combine housing with commercial development such as restaurants, grocery stores, coffee shops, banks, and childcare facilities. While we support the change from general commercial zoning to mixed use and main street zoning, the draft code and map must also encourage neighborhood level commercial development. We recommend adding additional main street zoning in interior or secondary neighborhood arterials. For example, along Speedway in Hyde Park and Emerald Forest in South Austin. These types of streets have transit, and would provide walkable access to neighborhood commercial. Main street zones also allow town houses as a use that should be encouraged in these locations. The current draft of the code leaves many residents living outside of a walkable distance of commercial development and daily needs.

Put additional housing and jobs near transit

Mapping needs a stronger connection between transit and density. A walk marks the beginning and end of most transit trips. The mapping needs to consider Capitol Metro’s new bus routes and especially Bus-Rapid Transit lines and future Project Connect transit lines, as well as corridors identified in Imagine Austin. Locations that have or will have high capacity transit should be zoned to incorporate more homes and businesses within a quarter mile. This means adding back in transition zones that would allow for 2-4 story attached dwelling units.

Remove Parking Minimums while retaining handicapped parking spaces

Removing parking minimums will allow the market to determine appropriate levels that take into account buildings near transit and active transportation, allowing for construction savings which in some cases can be passed on to residents. More cars parked on residential streets encourage slow driving, making streets safer for pedestrians. We certainly are sensitive to the need for handicapped parking to remain. CodeNEXT should retain the same number of handicapped parking spaces that would have been required under existing code. The City should also consider providing more public handicapped parking in urban areas.

Incorporate the Street Design Guide into the code

Understanding that the Draft Street Design Guide will be incorporated into technical criteria manuals governing how streets and roads are designed in Austin, Walk Austin recommends incorporating the prioritized hierarchy found in the current city documents. That hierarchy should be clearly stated in CodeNext, reflecting that pedestrians take highest priority on our streets and roads, with the order from highest to lowest priority as: pedestrian (1), transit (2), bike (3), automobile. Beyond that, Walk Austin agrees with recommendations made by the Pedestrian Advisory Council.

Design building standards for walkability and community building

There are several places the code can be improved to design walkable places: reduce setbacks, include active façade requirements, limit building footprints, and include building character standards

a. Reduce residential setbacks to no more than 15’ and remove setbacks requirements in commercial and mixed use zones

A symbiotic relationship between buildings and streets is crucial for lively, walkable, and economically strong neighborhoods. The most comprehensive study of front yard dimensions was conducted by architect Jan Gehl who concluded that 10.6’ was the optimum depth for allowing neighbors to connect while still providing sufficient space for yards to be useful and for houses to function as sanctuaries. Commercial buildings function best when they come right up to the sidewalk, creating an intimate, defined walking environment and making businesses most visible to passersby. In the case of a 0’ setback, either the building or a defined outdoor space (patio) should come up to the right of way.

b. Require active façades in commercial zones

Long blank walls in commercial areas prevent ground floors from acting as destinations that attract pedestrians and enliven streets. The current CodeNEXT draft includes a purely aesthetic articulated facade requirement. Instead, an active facade requirement in commercial zones, used in cities such as Melbourne and parts of Manhattan, should mandate features such as regularly occurring and recessed doors, visually permeable windows, awnings, arcades, and sittable window sills.

c. Limit building footprints by requiring buildings be built on a single lot

Most of Austin’s liveliest and most walkable areas, such as South Congress, 6th Street, and Guadalupe Street (“The Drag”), are characterized by compact, fine-grained development where each building occupies a relatively small amount of land. However, recent developments occupy entire, or even multiple, blocks. This raises shuts out small local developers, raises commercial rents, limits business diversity, and creates an unpleasant walking environment of monolithic buildings. Where large areas are slated for development, such as Planned Unit Developments (PUDs), master plan for the area, and divide the land into smaller lots to be developed by multiple parties. Any aggregation of lots must require publicly accessible pedestrian walkways or alleys between buildings where lot lines exist or previously existed.

d. Incentivize quality construction

Buildings made of local materials with quality construction practices possess local character and authenticity, last longer, create neighborhood pride, promote psychological well-being, and encourage walking. Many Austin residents feel strongly about neighborhood character, as reflected in the Community Character Manual published in 2014 and through repeated feedback during the CodeNEXT process, and are unhappy with the generic, low quality of recent development. We recommend initiating a post-CodeNEXT project to survey the character, materials, and construction techniques used in Austin’s historic buildings; survey the public on the types of buildings it wants to see; and investigate how to require or incentivize these preferences in new construction.

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