AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Transportation Department wants to eliminate free weekday on-street parking on the north side of Lady Bird Lake, as well as install meters in the large parking lot next to the Austin High School tennis courts.
The plan, which goes before the Urban Transportation Commission Tuesday, would see meters installed along Veterans Drive and Atlanta Street where runners and cyclists often park to use the trail circling the lake. This is in addition to the meters Austin ISD plans to install on Stephen F. Austin Drive, which the district announced in April.
The commission will review the plan at 6 p.m. at City Hall, and members of the public are invited to give their feedback. No meters will go up before the end of August, when the transportation department will present the plans to the full City Council.
ATD’s proposal would create 329 new paid spaces on streets and in the paved parking lot underneath MoPac in an attempt to create more turnover, preventing people from leaving their cars there all day and making it easier to find a place to park.
The meters would operate the same hours as the AISD meters, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays, and weekends will remain free.
That’s often the hardest time to find a spot, said Philip Wiley, a board member at the Deep Eddy Community Garden. The garden has been in operation for more than 30 years, sandwiched on city parkland between Veterans Drive and the hike-and-bike trail.
“Over the years it’s gotten noticeably busier and noticeably more active,” Wiley said. “On the weekend it’s not at all unusual to come here and not be able for people to access the garden.”
It’s especially difficult, he said, for the gardeners with limited mobility to have to park blocks away.
Runners who spoke with KXAN said having to pay for parking probably wouldn’t deter them from using the trails. “Personally I would try to just find a way around it,” Katie Taylor said as she prepared for a run.
Taylor grew up in Austin, spending time with her family near the lake and now running there a few times a week. “It’s like my ritual.”
She understands the need to update infrastructure as the population grows, but she doesn’t like the idea of putting in meters because she worries it will limit access to Austin’s natural areas for people who can’t pay for parking.
“Why are we going to look for profit in something that should be free and open to everybody?” she said.
The transportation department’s presentation indicates a different motive for the meters. The paid parking AISD plans to implement, the slideshow states, would likely push drivers away from Stephen F. Austin and into the free spots farther up the road. That would make it harder to find a spot and decrease revenue the school district anticipates from the meters to improve security and maintenance around the high school.
In response, ATD wants to create a parking transportation and management district, or PTMD, surrounding the area on the north side of the lake. That arrangement requires 51 percent of the money collected from meters to be invested within the PTMD’s boundaries.
In this case, the department states, that could include park and lighting improvements, work on sidewalks and public art.
In the first year of collections, the department anticipates the meters will bring in $160,992 in total revenue. After expenses to install and maintain the meters, the area around the new paid parking could see as much as $41,416 in direct investment, according to department figures.
But some Austinites worry the plan further calls into question the city’s open, natural spirit.
“This running trail is one of my favorite things about Austin,” Lauren Mata said. “I used to come down here religiously.”
Mata lived in the city for 19 years before moving across the country recently. She still heads to the trail whenever she can. “And I can park for free. That’s another thing I really love, it’s easy.”
The good news for the trail-users who value free parking is the dirt lot on the south side of Lady Bird Lake will still be free.
Wiley, the community garden board member, sees both sides of the argument: both the need for more parking spot turnover and the need to keep public spaces public for everyone, regardless of ability to pay for access. “It’s a tricky balance that there’s no right answer for,” he said.
“I’m not voting for meters,” he added. “Nobody’s asking me for my vote, either.”