The Lamar Beach sports fields, on the western side of downtown, near the water, have always just been there. The area has its own natural beauty, like much of the area around Lady Bird Lake, especially when bathed under twilight. But it is has always just been there. Not crying for help, or being lauded for its utility. Just there. (Spoiler alert – if you are new to Austin, it isn’t really a “beach”. We’re funny like that.)
The Austin Parks Department is aiming to change that by moving forward with a master planned redevelopment, putting six concepts in front of the public. The city has launched a poll with a deadline of January 15 to solicit feedback on the proposals. A draft master plan is anticipated in March 2016, and a final master plan is anticipated in May 2016.
While the project is being run by the Parks department, it is clear that a major impact of any redevelopment will be major transportation changes. The proposals include the options of elevating, burying and relocating Cesar Chavez. I’ll be honest: the options seem a little overwhelming, and I have to give credit where it is do to American-Statesman reporter Andra Lim for breaking them down. (Your best bet to wrap your head around it is to use the article in conjunction with the project proposal graphics.)
Having spent some time looking at the proposals, I forecast a challenging execution of whatever master plan is adopted. Nothing in any of the Parks Dept. outreach that I have found talks about funding sources, and frankly I’d be surprised to see the city voters at-large support a bond for a “downtown park project”, or see Council Members give up ward politics to divert existing park or capital improvement funds out of their home districts.
In order to sell the master plan, it will have to be marketed in reducing traffic congestion for drivers exiting Mopac into downtown. And now for the buzzkill: on closer inspection it appears almost all of the proposals make traffic worse. I’ll tell you right now, that ain’t going to fly with folks.
The only options that would make traffic better than current conditions would include major costs, and potentially strong community opposition (in the case of elevated roads especially). This rings especially true when the Council and voters have higher priorities to debate, such as I-35 toll lanes, commuter rail, and Lamar/Burnet transportation improvements — thus making it more likely they will table a Lamar Beach debate.
I think a viable alternative to any of the master plan proposals simply looks at how to make existing conditions more accessible and useable with a low-cost, low-impact solution. A major improvement, that wouldn’t require a big ordeal could include adding a minor street to connect the YMCA frontage to Lamar and Pressler, and improving the park-scape.