AUSTIN (KXAN) — Project Connect officials announced Tuesday the public transit program will move ahead with a new design proposal to remove car traffic from The Drag, the stretch of Guadalupe Street that runs adjacent to the University of Texas at Austin. The latest design iteration is a hybrid of two initial options floated by project heads last year, which proposed designs with and without car traffic.

The Orange Line is a 20-mile light rail system running along Lamar Boulevard and Congress Avenue, extending north from the Tech Ridge Park & Ride at Howard Lane down south to Slaughter Lane. Capital Metro currently operates its MetroRapid 801 bus route along the future light rail corridor.

“The Drag is one of the iconic places in our city and it epitomizes and embodies so many of the things that make Austin, Austin and gives it its character and the kind of vibrancy, the pedestrian activity, the diversity of activities,” said Peter Mullan, chief of architecture and urban design with the Austin Transit Partnership.

Car-Free, Enhanced Transit Mall

Officials unveiled Option C of design proposals for The Drag, an elevated transit mall that incorporated design elements from the original two designs. The enhanced transit mall option will feature bus and light rail transit, pedestrian and cyclist traffic only along the Guadalupe corridor, between 22nd and 29th streets.

It will also incorporate a continuous, minimum 15-foot sidewalk along the west side of Guadalupe — closer to the retail stores and restaurants — and continuous street-lining trees. Separate pedestrian and bicycle facilities are also featured in the design.

“We’ve tried to take the elements of the previous options, previously reviewed, and kind of refine them and enhance them to make this work as well as we can,” Mullan added.

Two different scenarios have been proposed for how to best incorporate design options:

  • Scenario C1: A shared bus and bike lane
  • Scenario C2: A dedicated bike lane, with bus services to operate on a shared light rail transit guideway

Both of these scenarios include an emergency vehicle lane to be used as necessary. The light rail platform would be stationed in the center of the roadway.

From a design standpoint, one resident asked about the pros and cons of the two bus design options included in the enhanced transit mall. Mullan said ATP will need to better study scheduling and timing efforts with a combined light rail and bus guideway, as well as evaluate safety measures for shared bus and bike facilities.

When evaluating The Drag, Project Connect leaders highlighted significant pedestrian and cyclist use along the corridor.

Projection data along the roadway estimated the following on how many people could travel the corridor under various scenarios:

  • No change to Guadalupe corridor: 6,470 people per hour
  • Option A: One lane, general purpose traffic: 19,250 people per hour
  • Options B and C: transit mall without general purpose traffic lane: 21,160 people per hour

Analyses conducted by project heads said they anticipate a traffic pattern pivot that prioritizes local traffic along the Guadalupe corridor, with an emphasis on bicyclists, pedestrians and public transit use.

Other changes to come to the greater corridor include:

  • Converting Nueces Street to a two-way street between 21st and Guadalupe streets
  • Bulb-outs added at Nueces Street and Fruth Street
  • Fruth Street converted to a one-way northbound road between Guadalupe and 29th streets
  • Bringing sidewalks and pedestrian crossings up to Americans with Disabilities Act compliance
  • Adding a new traffic signal at Nueces and Guadalupe streets intersection

Public feedback

A significant portion of public feedback pertained to Dirty Martin’s, the Guadalupe Street staple that has called Austin home since 1926. Under current alignment plans along the corridor, Project Connect officials said the business will be expected to relocate.

Mullan said he doesn’t see currently alignment options available that won’t impact Dirty Martin’s. He noted apartment complexes across the street and said when it comes down to deciding whether to disrupt businesses or residences, programs typically design in favor of the residents.

One speaker said he is an Austin native and referred to Dirty Martin’s as “a mecca of culture and history for many, many Austinites.” He said it’s a historic location and removing Austin’s original history in an effort to reduce traffic and congestion is insensitive, especially given chain restaurants and luxury apartments across the street.

This summer, Project Connect will release its 30% design and cost estimates along with the program’s draft environmental impact statement. As part of that draft, Mullan said project heads will outline how many properties are at risk of being condemned due to the project.