City of Austin working with public on vision for Congress Avenue's future

"Right now it is a little bit of a hazard not only for some with disabilities but those that are able-bodied.  We want to make sure that the trees are healthy, that it is safe and well-lit," said Michele Van Hyfte, Vice President of Economic Development for Downtown Austin Alliance.

Van Hyfte said it's been about 30 years since Congress Avenue has gotten attention.

The Congress Avenue Urban Design Initiative is a partnership between the city and the Downtown Austin Alliance, a vision for the Avenue from the Capitol to Riverside.  Hundreds of Austinites were a part of the public input process.

Lizzie Smith with the City of Austin's Planning and Zoning Department said Congress has a 120-foot right of way for pedestrians, cars and bikes.  She said more than 70% is dedicated to just cars and parking.

"Something that we've heard over and over from various stakeholder groups and the public is they want to have a little bit more dedicated to people biking and people walking and all modes rather than just kind of a through-put for cars," Smith said. 

Smith said an activity that was done with some of the participants involved slips of paper representing bike lanes, traffic lanes, parking, sidewalks, green space and then placing them on the street where they think they should go.

One suggestion identified in the "Community engagement summary" proposed bike lanes down the middle of Congress.

Of course, this is just an idea at this point, one of many.

"We had people who just put lawn along the entire thing so there would be no cars or anything, we had people putting bike lanes in the middle, we had people putting bike lanes on the side, taking parking off, adding more parking," Smith said.

But if the idea did gain traction, it wouldn't be the first time Congress had something other than cars going down the middle of Congress.  A street rail used to run through it.

Another issue identified in the report is that Congress isn't balanced when it comes to retail and other types of services.  Downtown is a pretty active place south of 7th Street.

On the other hand as you get closer to the Capitol, downtown is a little bit less lively.  There are exceptions.  There are some spots to eat but there are also vacant historical buildings which according to that report can make this area seem deserted at times.

"There could be incentives considered for how to attract certain types of business to certain areas of the Avenue but also looking at the street scape design and making sure that you have an attractive place where retail wants to be," Van Hyfte said.

Something else mentioned in the report is improvements to the Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge because so many people go there to watch the bats.  The bridge wasn't really made for that.               

The next step is the consultants working on this plan will come back with some recommendations next month for more public input.

A final plan is coming in the spring and council approval will come after that.