Making 6th Street safer: City departments give updates on increasing lighting, curbing underage drinking

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — In a city memo Tuesday, Austin Police and other city departments gave an update to the mayor and council members on efforts to make Sixth Street safer.

It’s part of the “Safer 6th Street Initiative,” a resolution Austin City Council passed earlier this year that focuses on ramping up safety efforts along the famous street in downtown Austin. Some actions were required to be implemented by Aug. 30, and other actions were to be made by Sept. 30.

Here’s a breakdown of a few of the action items listed in the initiative and how far along APD and other city departments are in accomplishing them.

Increasing lighting

As part of the initiative, the city wants to increase existing lighting along Sixth Street “to provide dramatically brighter spaces,” according to the memo. So far, an interdepartmental team consisting of members from APD, Austin Fire, the transportation department, Austin Energy and Austin Code, identified places that need more lighting, which included the north-south side streets and alleys.

Energy crews did maintenance on existing traditional street lights and replaced old-style fixtures with LED lights. The memo says in all, Austin Energy “replaced 64 heads of which approximately 10% were not working.”

One of the next steps the team wants to tackle is encouraging property owners with buildings along alleyways to install lighting on their buildings to face the alley. This is because “there is very little room in the alleys” for light poles, and Austin Energy isn’t installing new ones there. The team says it will follow up on this action in October.

The team also indicated the “best solution” for lighting these kinds of high-volume areas
may be lighting specifically designed for pedestrians, rather than the street light network. They said their team would consider this option over the next month.

Curbing underage drinking

In the memo, APD confirmed there is an underage presence on Sixth Street and underage drinking is occurring. To combat this, the interdepartmental team planned to work with the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission on ways to curb underage drinking and prevent underage Austinites from visiting Sixth Street during nights on the weekends.

So far, the team carried out an operation on Sept. 2 alongside TABC to target underage drinkers and look for fake IDs. “Moving forward, TABC and APD will be jointly conducting operations and initiatives,” according to the memo.

Establishing a dedicated EMS presence

The safety initiative also calls for the interdepartmental team to see if it’s possible to create a dedicated EMS presence along Sixth Street during weekend nights. This dedicated presence would have specialized vehicles for rapid response, treatment and transport.

In the update, it says “planning is already underway” between APD, AFD and ATCEMS to create a dedicated presence and “staging area” on Sixth Street. The staging area will serve as a command post for a Rescue Task Force, which will allow first responders and officers to enter areas that aren’t secured to get to, treat and extricate patients more quickly.

Changing the layout

The team is also exploring options such as café seating, water barriers and other “pop up” efforts that would temporarily widen the walkways for patrons to move between establishments. The goal would be to eliminate the space where people gather in the street during the weekend closures and use the street for other purposes.

According to the memo, they needed additional time to engage with business and property owners in the area to identify possible locations and get feedback on these ideas. They plan to continue these conversations in the first half of October and develop a timeline for implementing these pilot programs in the fall.

Engage with other cities

This month, their team is also engaging with with “peer cities” including Seattle, San Francisco, New York, Orlando, Las Vegas, Arlington and Sydney, Australia to identify best practices in entertainment district planning. They expect to report relevant recommendations from this research to council by Oct. 30.

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