AUSTIN (KXAN) – Austin’s program to carve out street space for exercise and social distancing during the pandemic has been popular with pedestrians and bicyclists, as we observed many people outside Friday.
“I like it, it’s nice to walk down the street without all the traffic,” said Jenny Primrose.
But some business owners say the city’s “Healthy Streets” program hasn’t been so healthy for them.
John Korioth owns Eastside Tavern and says Memorial Day Weekend is important for business.
He arrived at his restaurant that Friday to discover barricades had been put up along Comal Street.
“My parking lot sits on Comal, so our customers could not get or assume they couldn’t get access to our business,” he said.
Comal Street between Lady Bird Lake and Manor Road is one of three stretches Austin Transportation has deemed a “healthy street” during this trial run.
Korioth says he and other business owners in the area were never told this was coming. This comes at a time when struggling local businesses are trying to rebound.
He compared it to blocking off streets for a Downtown event and consulting with those area businesses.
“All they needed to do was come in and talk to us for 10 or 15 minutes and get our feedback before they did it,” said Korioth.
Austin Transportation says it gave notice about the program and the effected streets through memos and the news media.
But several council members have been contacted by frustrated business owners along healthy streets about the city not allowing them to be a part of the stakeholder process.
Kathie Tovo was one of them.
“The intent was to provide ways for people to travel more safely to their businesses to increase their business,” she said Friday. “Anything that may be preventing that is something we want to address.”
A spokesperson for ATD added the department was given a strict two-week timeline for the program’s rollout.
Austin Transportation spent around $11,000 on signs, staff time and implementation of the first batch of Healthy Streets.
Following the push back, ATD modified the signs in areas of the healthy streets that have more businesses. They now say “Local Business Access.”
“Going forward, ATD will continue to work with local business owners as future Healthy Street segments are identified and brought forward for community input,” the spokesperson said. “With the additional numbers of people getting out to enjoy Healthy Streets, local area businesses are expected to benefit from more people seeing that they are open.”
Paige Ellis, who represents District 8, introduced the resolution for the program, which has also been adopted in several other U.S. cities.
The Austin Transportation Department (ATD) has done an excellent job in a short time to meet an urgent need for residents to have more room on our city streets to walk, bike, roll, and play,” she said in a statement sent to KXAN by a spokesperson.
“ATD is aware of the concerns expressed by business owners on Comal and is adjusting their treatment of commercial blocks as a result.”