Austin trying out closing streets to make room for social distancing

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As people adjust to the new normal of staying six feet from one another, the Austin Transportation Department is trying out closing streets in three different areas of the city to through traffic.

The “Healthy Streets” initiative is being implemented after the Austin City Council passed a resolution two weeks ago. It called for temporarily creating safe outdoor spaces for Austinites to walk, bike, push strollers and travel in wheelchairs while social distancing requirements are in effect during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In total, ATD closed five miles of roads Thursday.

  • Bouldin Avenue / S. 3rd St. / Garden Villa Lane between Banister Lane and Barton Springs Road
  • Comal Street between Manor Road and Lady Bird Lake  
  • Country Club Creek Trail extension (Trail, Wickersham Ln., Ventura Dr., Madera Dr.) between Mabel Davis Park and Lakeshore Drive 
Healthy Streets initiative closes local roads to allow for social distancing while exercising. (KXAN Photo/Julie Karam)

People who live on those streets can still drive in and out of the area. Delivery vehicles and emergency vehicles can also still access the streets.

The newest set of street closures follows modifications that recently happened over Longhorn Dam on Pleasant Valley Road and the closure of Riverside Drive from South First Street to Lee Barton Drive.   

“In response to these closures, people living on or near these streets can more comfortably walk, wheelchair roll, run, and bike with enough space to maintain physical distance. This effort does not impact emergency vehicle access and transit service will remain on Bouldin Ave.,” said city officials in a news release.

Anna Martin, ATD’s Assistant Director, said, “We are going to be seeking community feedback on these first three streets as well as asking the community to give us suggestions for future streets.”

Martin said the closures can help alleviate crowding issues at public parks and trails.

“We’ve also heard that the trails and the parks are getting a lot of use, and we don’t want those to get too full and have people too close together,” she explained. “So these will be alternative locations where people can go have a few miles or a couple of miles of street to recreate on.”

City officials emphasized the closure isn’t for people to gather in the street. Rather, it’s for “active use” only.

They said in the news release, “Participants are expected to keep at least six feet apart at all times and required to wear a face covering while engaging in active recreation.”

Martin told KXAN ATD will have people out at those locations monitoring how everything is going. “This is really unprecedented, and we’re trying as a department to be nimble and adapt and serve our community during the really interesting times.”

At the beginning of May, KXAN reported how San Marcos is letting businesses use parking spaces.

When asked if Austin would consider closing streets, so restaurants can have room to create seating six feet apart, Martin said, “We’re going to start the outreach to some of our restaurant districts and see if there’s interest there. We’re happy to accommodate if we think that’ll be helpful bringing some business back to Austin.”

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