AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin said there would be increased safety measures at Rainey Street and the nearby Rainey Street Trailhead at the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail starting this weekend.

The city said Austin Police officers are already patrolling the area, and additional park rangers stationed along the trail will begin Friday night.

“The increase in patrolling will continue indefinitely,” a City of Austin spokesperson told KXAN.

According to a release, the city said the focus on safety was a result of the two recent drowning deaths that occurred this year. Both cases remained under investigation as of Friday, but the city said at this point in the investigations, there was no evidence of foul play.

“Since 2014, there have been five late-night/overnight drownings near the Rainey Street Trailhead area. Three previous drownings that occurred between 2014 and 2018 were fully investigated and ruled accidental,” the city said. “Autopsies are performed by the Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office in each of these types of death investigations. None of these autopsies have revealed any trauma or other indication of foul play.”

According to the release, the circumstances of the drownings over the past nine years varied, but the city said one common theme was the combination of alcohol and access to Lady Bird Lake. 

On March 10, the Parks and Recreation Department finished installing four sets of solar-power lights and a fence on the Hike and Bike Trail near Rainey Street.

“A permanent infrastructure plan for the Rainey Street trailhead area is already in the works, with construction expected to begin this year. The plan includes consideration for hard-wired lighting, cameras, fencing, signage and safety beacon installation,” the city said.

Council Member speaks on recent deaths

Austin City Council Member Zohaib Qadri spoke with KXAN about the recent deaths and upcoming safety measures.

“We’re looking at everything that we can potentially do to make sure that these tragedies don’t keep on occurring,” Qadri said.

Beyond the city council’s resolution to improve safety infrastructure, Qadri said he hopes that people become more aware of their surroundings and to remember that city parks are closed after 10 p.m.

He also talked about what role Austin’s drinking culture may play in these cases.

“What we’ve heard, and what we’re looking to get more information from APD and TABC is, are there bars that are overserving? Are there bad actors that might be spiking drinks?” Qadri said. “When you mix folks drinking and potentially having their drinks spiked, and then they’re walking to and from an area…that’s right by a body of water, it leads to the possibility of something happening. People should always feel safe going out to downtown, to Rainey Street, anywhere in the city.”

Trail hikers react to increased patrols

Alfredo Muchacho walks near Rainey Street every day but says he’ll only go out on the trail when the sun is up, never after dark.

Muchacho says with these latest drownings, he’s grown more steadfast in his caution about the trail.

He says increased police presence will help him feel more safe but wonders how much impact new safety measures like the temporary fences that have been put up along the trail will have.

“I haven’t really seen that much change other than these fences that they’ve put around, but I don’t think those fences are going to do much. Yes, police and patrolling. I do think that helps,” Muchacho said.