What are emergency gates, and how many Austin neighborhoods have them?


An emergency gate at the intersection of Morrow Street and Easy Wind Drive has been opened as part of a three-month pilot program to track traffic levels and safety in the area sans gate, following Austin City Council action last week. (KXAN Photo/Kelsey Thompson)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — An emergency gate at the intersection of Morrow Street and Easy Wind Drive in central Austin’s Crestview Station neighborhood has long been a point of contention for some neighbors in the region. Following Austin City Council’s approval of a pilot program opening the gate earlier this month, some begged the question: How many emergency gates are there in Austin, and what purposes do they serve?

According to Austin Transportation Department officials, only one other emergency gate of its kind exists in a residential area: an emergency gate running across a public street is located on Aldwyche Drive between Lightsey Road and Winfield Drive.

Emergency gate installations are often linked to safety concerns for surrounding residents, ATD officials said earlier this month. As part of the latest 3-month pilot program, ATD will measures factors like traffic volume and vehicle speeds to determine whether it’s safer to keep the gate open or close it once more.

After reporting on the Crestview Station emergency gate earlier this month, some neighbors reached out to KXAN with their own safety concerns about the gate’s closure.

The main safety concern is that, without access to Morrow Street, drivers are forced to take an unprotected left turn across North Lamar Boulevard traffic. As a mom, resident Kate Sherwood said the thought terrifies her.

“I have a future teen driver who’s going to drive within a year. And the idea of having him take an unprotected left on North Lamar keeps me up at night,” she said. “He wouldn’t be the first teen to make a bad choice in a car. So. So for me, having a safe exit for him out of the neighborhood when he’s going to school or whatever activities is incredibly important.”

Resident Chad Bettac was in an accident trying to exit the neighborhood more than a year ago with his toddler son in the backseat. He said this pilot program is a necessary step toward enhancing safety measures for neighborhood residents, especially as N. Lamar Boulevard traffic continues to grow.

“It’s just a dangerous intersection,” he said. “This [open gate option] is so much safer.”

Without Morrow Street available, Crestview Station drivers are left with either Sugaree Avenue, where there isn’t a traffic signal, or circumventing to St. Johns Avenue, where there is a signal. At best, it’s an added inconvenience, he said; at its worst, it’s a massive safety issue.

While the pilot program was formally approved earlier this month, this isn’t the first the gate has been opened — it’s just the first time the city has been behind its opening. Bettac said the gate had spent much of the past year opened after repeated vandalizations of the gate resulted in thousands of dollars in city repairs.

Bettac said he’s grateful the city is taking this next step forward with this pilot program, and hopes it extends well beyond the three-month trial window.

“I welcome the pilot program. I think our neighborhood has been asking for that,” resident Jessica Momb added.

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