As downtown Austin residents and true believers in the power of design to shape the human experience of the urban environment, it’s our job to periodically remind y’all that the best way to create fun, safe, and memorable public spaces in cities is to pick a street and take away some (or all!) of the cars.
You’ll frequently find these pedestrian-focused “living streets” in Europe, but they’re starting to find their way over to our side of the ocean as well, not the least of which is the upcoming conversion of Congress Avenue north of the Capitol to a pedestrian mall by the Texas Facilities Commission:
You can’t easily pull this off everywhere, of course — we’ve unfortunately designed the majority of American cities, Austin among them, to be very inconvenient to navigate without sometimes using a car, though some intrepid folks still manage — and thus we think the place to start is simply trying to reduce traffic in the urban core, an environment dense enough to sustain vibrant streets with people parking (or riding, walking, and scooting) from elsewhere without on-site parking to spread things out.
One of the most vibrant areas of downtown Austin is the Second Street District, which achieved its walkable status by widening sidewalks and limiting traffic to one lane each way — and whaddaya know, putting pedestrians on equal footing with cars makes them want to spend time there, shopping and eating grain bowls or whatever.
But what if we could take this further, and close a section of downtown Austin street to traffic altogether, instantly converting it to a pedestrian mall — or “promenade,” if you’re feeling fancy — creating a place people actually go, rather than drive through? Consider this a thought experiment where you’ve been declared the mayor for the day after winning some sort of sweepstakes, and a drunk, unhinged city planner has given you carte blanche to close whatever street you want to traffic, consequences or unpopularity be damned (it’ll grow on people).
Tell us where you’d do it and why — we’re going to pass your answers along to the folks in charge and see what they think:
Header image caption: Downtown Austin’s Second Street District does the pedestrian-friendly thing right, and it’s a much better space because of it. Image: PatMat99 / Flickr