No more cars on Rainey Street on weekend nights; Austin’s pilot program begins tonight

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Starting Thursday, December 5, the City of Austin will test out closing Rainey Street to vehicular traffic on weekend nights.

The popular road packed with bars and food trucks will shut down from Davis Street to River Street.

Rideshare drivers can drop off their passengers on Driskill Street, Davis Street or near Mexican American Cultural Center.

The pilot will run from December 5 to March 8, 2020. The closures will happen:

  • Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays
  • 9 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.

Liane Miller, Austin Transportation Department’s program manager, said, “Make sure you’re looking for where you’re going to park on the north or the south end of the closure, or maybe even a little bit further away and just walk over from where you parked.”

Miller said the city will check in periodically during the pilot and review things like “How are people arriving to Rainey Street? What does loading and unloading from vehicles look like? Are pedicabs being able to access the closure?”

If needed, she explained, the city could open up a bigger drop off and pick up area by removing parking spots. But they will see how everything goes first.

For deliveries and musicians who need to load and unload equipment, city officials said they surveyed businesses and found that most of those activities take place during the day.

They added, “Alley and side street access is retained in the district, which provides options for loading and unloading during pilot hours.”

A few years ago, Big Red Dog Engineering and Consulting conducted traffic studies on Rainey St. and found that a pedestrian crosses Rainey every three seconds between 9:30 p.m. and 2:30 a.m.

In a more recent study done by the City of Austin, officials found that at its peak, pedestrians made up 80% of the total traffic on Rainey. They counted 7,000 pedestrians between 6 p.m. and 2 a.m. each Friday and Saturday night.

“Wrong solution at the wrong time”

People who live on or near Rainey Street told KXAN the pilot is the “wrong solution at the wrong time.”

Rusty Tally, President of the Milago Homeowners Association, said, “Do the easy things first before you close the street.”

He said the city should’ve created a master plan 10 years ago before all the high-rises were built. Now, without a master plan, he said the neighbors want to see the city focus on basic improvements like adding sidewalks and crosswalks.

“Right now, there’s no crosswalks,” Tally said “It’s just simple things like that, paint on the street with a crosswalk is much cheaper than closing a street and paying overtime police men to man barriers.”

The neighbors also worry about how first responders will get to their homes when the street is closed on weekend nights.

“We’re a little dead end neighborhood that has one street in and out of it, so it’s not like we have all these cross streets where people can take all these different directions in and out of our neighborhood.”

City officials told KXAN Public Works spent $300,000 in the last five years for pedestrian improvement projects in the Rainey area.

The Transportation Department has also used fees developers paid to improve sidewalks or pave roads.

Tally said, however, there are still areas missing sidewalks. “Do the easy things first before you close the street,” he said.

How Austin Police will handle the closure

Austin Police told KXAN the department “will not need more officers than normal to accommodate the closure.”

They have officers assigned to the Rainey Street area who will cover that district as usual.

The department has officers whose specific responsibility is handling the closure and re-opening of 6th Street on weekend nights, so the same shift will handle the Rainey closure.

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