City of Austin may start making you pay to park on South Congress

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin Transportation Department, in coordination with the Downtown Austin Alliance, has released a series of parking recommendations and changes being considered for the popular South Congress shopping district.

For several months, the groups have been closely examining and collecting data on the area. The goal is to develop new strategies to help local businesses prosper while easing parking burdens on residents who have sacrificed as demand in the area has grown.

“The Downtown Austin Alliance is working on the strategy for the City of Austin to future-proof the South Congress district by linking parking supply and management solutions to ongoing mobility and development initiatives. This data-driven approach, which will include a coordinated package of over more than 15 policies, programs and systems to address SoCo’s parking needs, is flexible and balances the different needs of the people who live, work in, and visit SoCo.”

Casey Burack, General Counsel & VP of Government Affairs, Downtown Austin Alliance

The study found several issues: more than half of the available parking is in off-street lots and garages, which is restricted to specific users like employees and neighbors. Only 37% of the available parking is actually on South Congress. For those that do park in the unrestricted free spots, the average car is parked between six to ten hours at a time.

In a newly released series of videos debuting the recommendations, Phil Olmstead, the principal project manager for Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates, a group hired by the City of Austin Transportation Department, runs though several of the 15+ strategies being considered, highlighting one pay-to-park concept that is on the table.

That recommendation requires those parking on the city streets to pay $2 for the first hour of parking and $3 for the second, strictly enforcing a two-hour limit for all drivers.

South Congress is “too popular and too vital to have those parking spaces be free,” Olmstead said.

In this scenario, anyone parking on South Congress would be required to pay. Parking permits would be distributed to residents, business owners and employees who would park in the neighboring residential streets.

A different strategy calls for creating a “parking and transportation management district,” which sets clear geographical boundaries and rules for those areas. That space would be overseen by a committee made up of merchants, business owners, residents and employees.

There were several other strategies on the table, many which fall under a package system which may be mutually implemented and enforced. Whichever strategy is chosen will be regularly updated and monitored to ensure its success as demand dictates.

At this point, the strategies are just in a draft stage. The organizations are looking for public feedback before a phased implementation can begin. The final draft and strategy is expected to be complete by June 2020 with a phased implementation beginning shortly after that.

The COVID-19 pandemic could impact the timeline of implementation moving forward. The strategy recommendation will likely be released in the coming months.

To view the recommendations, click here.

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