AUSTIN (KXAN) — For nearly a decade, a bright orange and white emergency gate at the intersection of Morrow Street and Easy Wind Drive has divided the Crestview and Crestview Station neighborhoods. It restricted through traffic, and it has left some residents demanding both answers and a change.
But as of this week, the gate has been opened. It’s a part of a three month pilot program to track safety levels and effectiveness of the gate that Austin City Council approved last week.
Council Member Mackenzie Kelly, ahead of council’s vote on the item last week, said the structure has been a barrier that has divided residents for too long. She also said the site has been home to nearly 400 crashes over the past four years.
“The pilot program to open the gate is a wonderful opportunity to connect people and facilitate mobility, especially all-important first responder vehicles at a sight which has become an expensive safety hazard, having cost the city over $15,000 in maintenance and has been the scene of nearly 384 car wrecks over the last four years” she said.
Austin Transportation Department officials said the gate was approved by council in 2011 as part of zoning changes made in light of the Crestview Station development. The gate restricted through traffic to emergency vehicles only.
Emergency gates are atypical, officials said; according to ATD, the only other known emergency gate running across a public street is located on Aldwyche Drive between Lightsey Road and Winfield Drive.
Austin Transportation Department officials will collect data on traffic volume and speeds of vehicles passing through the intersection while the gate is open and compare those collections with prior levels during the gate’s closure. Following the three-month run, officials will compare the two datasets to help determine whether leaving the gate open impacted traffic and accident levels one way or another.
Neighborhood resident Chad Bettac said the emergency gate has posed significant safety concerns for residents of Crestview Station, who were forced to take N. Lamar Boulevard and turn north to enter the neighborhood. He said he has witnessed the dangers of the gate firsthand, when he and his toddler son were in a car accident entering the roadway from Banyon Street.
In a community letter Bettac forwarded to KXAN, he and other neighbors outlined the three main priorities for opening the gate: safety, community and connectivity.
“We desire to be one united Crestview where neighbors are a connected community and can visit one another safely,” the letter read in part.
But for some residents, the issues surrounding the gate are deeper than the intersection themselves.
Perry Fowler has lived in the Crestview neighborhood for 11 years. He said while the pilot program is a step forward, it doesn’t necessarily address the overarching issue of safety and heightened traffic congestion in the neighborhood.
Morrow Street is located between N. Lamar Boulevard and Burnet Road. Fowler said the roadway is often used as a cut through between the main thoroughfares — a concern, he said, that needs to be address by city leaders.
“There is a legitimate safety concern, particularly with ingress and egress off with Lamar, which I think is really kind of part of the issue. It’s just, it’s a busy street,” he said. “I think part of the issue there kind of boils down to the fact that, you know, when the city approved that development, they didn’t account for the traffic going in and out of the development, certainly not on two main thoroughfares.”
More than a decade after first moving into the neighborhood, Fowler said more families have moved into the area, leading to an increase in bicycles on the roads, children in strollers and kids playing near the roads. With heightened traffic on Lamar Boulevard and Burnet Road and more residents moving into the area, his concerns aren’t just the nuisance of increased traffic, but the potential fatalities that can come with it.
“I don’t think that you can do anything with regard to the intersection there without addressing issues at Lamar,” he said.
When it comes to the gate, both neighborhoods’ residents have a variety of perspectives on what measures should be taken, Fowler said. The perfect solution that appeases everyone might not be possible, he said; but he added it’s council’s obligation and duty to more critically analyze the safety components at stake.
“You will never see as many people at a neighborhood association meeting as you would otherwise when this issue comes up, or when there’s an election, because people really care about it,” he said. “And there are a lot of folks that have been very involved with these issues for a long time.”