The streetscape improvement plan by the Austin Transportation Department known as the East 51st Street Mobility Project is moving towards a groundbreaking after presenting its completed site plan by global engineering firm Atkins to the city’s Design Commission earlier this week, with a number of significant mobility and pedestrian features on deck for East 51st Street between I-35 and Berkman Drive.
A typical street view looking east on East 51st Street.
The project, dating all the way back to City Council’s approval of the East 51st Street Vision Plan in 2012 and a successful transit bond that same year, hopes to bring an urban environment to 51st Street closer to what you’d see just south of here inside the Mueller neighborhood, creating a more cohesive link between that region’s streetscapes and the adjacent Windsor Park neighborhood — upgrades include a protected bike lane on the north side of the street, a second fully off-street bicycle lane on the south side, and the replacement of the street’s current center turn lane in this area with a landscaped median offering more limited turning locations.
Parallel parking will be offered on both sides of the street in areas east of its intersection with Lancaster Court, which isn’t exactly the most glamorous feature but could provide a bit more protection for its bike lanes and sidewalks. Improved pedestrian crossings at East 51st Street’s intersections with Mueller Boulevard, Lancaster Court, and Berkman Drive will also be added, along with some sort of public art through the city’s Art in Public Places program:
The Art in Public Places (AIPP) panel selected artist Olaniyi Akindiya, also known as Akirash, in Summer 2019 to design artwork for this project. The artwork intends to encourage slower vehicle speeds and create a safe, lively space for everyone who uses the street, including people on bikes and people walking.
The project plan includes significant new landscaping along the length of the improvement area — plantings are set to include oak, bald cypress, and numerous other trees. New rain garden installations for the improvement of water quality along with detention ponds for runoff in the area are also shown in the project’s site plan:
The presentation of the completed plan to the Design Commission this week isn’t the final step, as its construction still needs to be approved by City Council. We actually aren’t sure precisely what the Design Commission said in response to this week’s presentation, since a video of the meeting held at the city’s new Permitting and Development Center inside the Highland redevelopment hasn’t been posted online — we certainly hope that won’t always be the case, since viewing these meetings online is kind of important to citizen involvement when it’s not feasible to attend in person.
A “desire path” on East 51st Street that will see a new sidewalk connection as part of this plan.
Still, it’s the most progress we’ve seen on this longstanding plan in some time, and with ongoing development both in Mueller and across the street inside Windsor Park, it’s a necessary upgrade for public safety in this district — with designs for the project currently at 100 percent completion, we should see the start of construction next year.