March 30, 2017
By Kylie McGivern
One of the hot areas of Austin nightlife is trying to deal with the next wave of changes. Rainey Street. In between I-35 and Red River Street, the residential neighborhood has been transformed since the first bungalow was converted to a bar eight years ago. Almost all of the homes have been bought out. Now some of the bars have given way to high rise apartments and condos. Through it all, the popularity and traffic has been a constant issue.
Now, those who call the street home, want a say in the neighborhood’s future.
“It just gets to be mind blowing about how you will move into and out of this neighborhood,” Kitty McMahon said, talking about pending and proposed construction in the area for new condos.
The neighborhood group said it was the proposal for two 40+ story towers on the villas of town Lake that prompted the desire for a traffic study, with recommendations they say are reminiscent of those the city made back in 2011.
Carmen Garfundo, who lives in the area, said, “[The city has] never been able to fund a comprehensive study for this neighborhood even though it’s been promised.”
Garfundo says the city’s broken promise is what led neighbors to push for an independent traffic study funded by developers, The Sutton Company.
That’s where engineering firm Big Red Dog comes in. “We found that if everything were built we were told would be built, it would end up to be about three times as much as was down there right now. In terms of both residents, office, retail, three times the amount of development. ” Dan Hennessey with Big Red Dog says.
He says, “One location we found that there’s a pedestrian crossing [Rainey] every three seconds on average for about five hours. So it really kind enlightened us about what the priorities need to be in that area”
Hennessey says one thing that could be done very quickly is removing parking spaces and creating loading zones. Long-term, they’re looking to Interstate 35 improvements.
As for Garfundo, he says, “There needs to be a great deal of attention paid to pedestrians if this place is going to survive as a business.”
Big Red Dog says they will finish the report and give a final presentation to the neighborhood in the next month, before giving a presentation to the city. It’s currently vetting recommendations with the transportation department.
Four years ago, the parking situation on Rainey Street started to get so bad the city went in and installed pay meters. It also started working on adding more spaces. At times, the city has closed the street to traffic. It’s also talked, with some push back, about changing the street to a one-way road to help with traffic flow. After that, the city and the Rainey Street District have been working on sidewalks. Like other streets throughout Austin, Rainey was on the list for sidewalk repairs. But with the increase in foot traffic with all the bars and events to Austin, the need was sped up.