Potential future of Congress Avenue on display at DAA 'open house'

Change is coming to Congress Avenue.  Eventually.  

"We are looking 10, 20, 30 years in advance," said Michele Van Hyfte with the Downtown Austin Alliance.

Van Hyfte says last year the DAA asked the public what they would like the "Main Street of Texas" to look like in the future.  The Congress Avenue Urban Design Initiative took those ideas and translated them into design concepts so Austinites are getting to see what Austinites came up with at an open house on Tuesday.

"Downtown can't necessarily add lanes.  We have the downtown grid that we have.  But we want to increase the choices so that people can have great sidewalks to walk on where they feel safe and comfortable, dedicated bike lanes where they feel that can be a safe cyclist," she said.  

One possible lane configuration is having dedicated bike lanes running down the middle of Congress.

Just an idea at this point but if it gained traction it wouldn't be the first time Congress had something other than automobiles going down the middle...a street car used to run through it.

One change that's already happening on Congress is a permitting process that allows certain businesses to have patios on the sidewalk.

"It's going to add about 25 seats.  It's a $70,000 project so it's a very nice patio," said Jenai Hales, owner of Cafe Aragona. 

Hales says her patio is about 3 years in the making.  She says two parking spaces were lost to make way for it so she's hoping the city can alleviate some of those downtown parking issues.

"Patios all along Congress would add a lot of character, it would be really nice but if there's nowhere for people to put their vehicles...we can't live in a world where we think everybody is going to do away with their vehicle and do public transportation that's just not reality.  We need to resolve that and get more parking garages or something," Hales said.  

David Kruger, owner of Kruger's Diamond Jewelers went to Tuesday morning's open house right next door to him.  Not in agreement with everything he saw. 

"If I have a customer coming from La Grange or Leander, guess what, there's no bus service, there's no trains.  They're probably not going to ride a bicycle so I still need parking, I still need streets that run smoothly," Kruger said.            

Kruger says he wishes the city would put in 4 free customer service spots at each intersection.

"It doesn't cost the city anything to do that.  It costs them a little parking revenue but whatever," he said.

Kruger says he gets the ideas are long term but he's got some questions.

"There's no timeline to it.  What's our first thing that we're going to do?  Where's our money coming from?" he said.  

Some answers are likely on the way.   Hyfte says they're collecting info from the public now and in the summer or early fall they will present a recommendation to the public.

"Then it would begin an adoption process that would be presented to the boards and commission and ultimately go before city council," Van Hyfte said.

Tuesday night’s open house at 800 Congress is from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

If you can't make it the DAA is hoping you'll fill out a survey about all of this on downtownaustin.com.