AUSTIN (KXAN) — Several business owners think reopening East Sixth Street to traffic is the only way to curb the violence that’s plagued downtown.
“Before anything else is done, the reopening of the streets is the most important,” said Marc Roppolo, who has operated Roppolo’s Pizza on East Sixth Street for more than 30 years.
The Safer Sixth Street Resolution passed city council earlier this month. It did not include an option to consider reopening East Sixth.
Councilmember Kathie Tovo said she has received emails from multiple business owners asking council to reconsider following the downtown shooting that injured four people the last weekend of South by Southwest.
“I certainly respect their concern about the area. They’re front and center — right close to yet another shooting on Sixth. I really appreciate their continued engagement,” she said. “But I’m going to be guided by our city staff, our interdepartmental team that includes the Austin Police Department and Transportation Department, who have said there just are too many pedestrians in that area of Sixth Street right now to reopen the street.”
The interdepartmental team that advised Tovo’s office on the street closing includes APD, the transportation department and Austin’s Music and Entertainment Division, Tovo said.
Below is the original recommendation the team provided regarding the opening of the street:
With the current very high volume of pedestrians present, especially during peak late-night hours of 11:30pm-2:30am, and narrow sidewalks, the team does not believe re-opening 6th Street would be feasible. The team believes that more diverse uses in the 6th Street district with patrons visiting establishments during the daytime, evening, night and late-night hours could lead to 6th Street being visited by both more people and a more diverse demographic, but with those visits being more spread out instead of concentrated only during late-night hours. In addition, this could naturally lead to a staggered exit throughout the evening and reduce the very high volume of patrons exiting establishments all at the same time at 2:00am. If this type of change in uses and pattern of visits were realized, and if there were wider sidewalks installed on 6th Street in the future, the team believes this topic could be re-examined to see if the conditions make re-opening the street more feasible. While it is outside the direct scope of this item, we want to recognize that a redesign and rebuild of 6th Street could both add wider sidewalks (and other pedestrian infrastructure) and catalyze investment and changes in use in the adjacent historic buildings and thereby contribute to a more diverse mix of uses in the district.City of Austin Safer Sixth Street Dec. 27 Resolution
Roppolo and others cited similar crowds on Rainey and West Sixth Streets, asking why those streets can stay open to traffic while East Sixth cannot.
“My understanding is that it’s guided by the number of people in a particular area,” said Tovo. “So I think they make that decision based on how many people they see in that area. I will say, we have had issues on Rainey too.”
“It’s a frightening situation,” said Roppolo, referencing recent shootings. After the mass shooting in June 2021, he hired security staff keep his pizza patrons safe.
City council is still looking into several measures besides the reopening of the street to create a safer environment, which includes mixed-use spaces and creating outdoor seating to prevent crowding.
“The staff had said they don’t want to reopen the street to cars, but we’re committed to making sure we’re implementing other kinds of solutions,” said Tovo.
Master Police Officer Dimitrios Mastoras with Safe Night LLC goes around the country helping cities with nightlife management plans.
“Things like increasing outdoor seating activities, I really don’t see how that reduces the conditions that alcohol-related violence,” he said.
KXAN Investigates spoke with him while analyzing the safety measures of Arlington, Virginia’s entertainment district. He believes there is a way to create a safer environment without completely reopening the street to traffic.
“The best strategies are multi-component, community-based programs that combine policy, training, community mobilization and support from public safety agencies,” he said. “We need to move from a reactive enforcement stance to a more collaborative problem-solving stance.”
Roppolo just wants the best for his late-night snackers and staff.
“It’s truly the most iconic street downtown,” he said. “Let’s get back to that.”