After two rounds of our extremely rigorous and not-at-all scientific survey about the worst Austin intersections, a majority of votes nearly as overwhelming as traffic itself has brought us a clear answer, at least in the opinion of our readers: Sixth Street and North Lamar Boulevard takes the cake, with more than 30 percent of the vote.
We received 538 total votes in this final poll — for the record, that’s more feedback than we’ve ever gotten on a poll or survey before, probably owing to traffic’s unique ability to bring out the…well, let’s call it “passion” of residents — but the city’s particular dislike of Sixth and Lamar is made very clear in the end results. (The snarl of Guadalupe, Lavaca, and East Cesar Chavez Streets feeding into South First Street at the Drake Bridge “wins” second place, with 12.88 percent of the vote.)
The dreaded intersection of Sixth and Lamar, clearly photographed at a time of day very far from rush hour. Those Google Street View vans know what they’re doing.
So, how do we fix it? Here are a few suggestions about improving Sixth and Lamar from our previous survey — we tried to include the constructive comments rather than the multiple instances of “drop a bomb on it,” though you’ll probably also understand that sentiment if you’ve spent a lot of time stuck here:
I would tunnel Lamar underground between 5th and 6th Street so through traffic is removed from the surface. Then, I’d convert Lamar between 5th and 6th to a vehicle-free pedestrian mall in order to better facilitate all the pedestrian activity in the area. It’d also be ideal if the surface parking lot in front of Whole Foods was changed into something with a more pedestrian-friendly use, like a park or retail similar to what’s already on the west side of Lamar. There would still be one lane of Lamar at 5th and 6th Streets, but it would a right-turn only lane.
This configuration would completely eliminate left-turns from all approaches. These former left-turn movements can still be accommodated by better signal timing at Bowie St and West Ave to the east of Lamar, and at Baylor and Walsh St to the west of Lamar. Finally, I’d reconfigure the approaches of 5th and 6th to have a bus lane and a protected bike lane since the space used by the left-turn lanes would no longer be necessary.
For the record, tons of people answered the first intersection survey with Fifth and Lamar and Sixth and Lamar as a single answer, which makes sense due to the close proximity of both. The whole area is kind of a mess for everyone, whether you’re driving, riding, or walking, and it doesn’t really matter what side you’re on. We split the two intersections up for this last poll, but as you can see above, Sixth and Lamar handily came out on top in the “badness” category.
Build additional lanes on Lamar from 6th south across the river. The bridge needs to be expanded or rebuilt and the railroad bridge would need to be rebuilt. No additional traffic lanes have been built across the river in 40 years. We desperately need more travel lanes for cars across the river – the bottlenecks at the river must create a huge proportion of the traffic issues downtown.
What you might not realize is that Austinites have hated Sixth and Lamar for a long time — the Austin Statesman called it one of the city’s 12 worst intersections all the way back in 1950, only nine years after traffic signals were installed there.
…motorists cut this corner, disregard the traffic signals, turn improperly and come to a body bursting stalemate in arguments over right-of-way.
Here’s a piece from the Austin Chronicle discussing the woes of the intersection and plans to improve it from 1998, making the article just old enough to drink, and one of the unrealized solutions mentioned is some kind of tunnel:
Area retailers and residents, championed by the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association (OWANA) and the West End Association, want to relieve the congestion by tunneling two Lamar express lanes underneath Fifth and Sixth streets, from Ninth to Town Lake, and convert the aboveground lanes into calmed, local access roads that will coincide harmoniously with proposed “New Urban” architecture fronting Lamar. Sixth and Fifth would become two-way, four-lane roads with slower speed limits. But another plan, offered by the Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA), would prioritize east-west traffic instead, converting Fifth and Sixth streets into express tunnels underneath Lamar, leaving local access lanes along those streets but removing the parking.
You know what’s worse than two competing plans for this intersection’s improvement? Neither one ever happening! Still, the long-term vision plan for Capital Metro’s Project Connect does include a stop at Fifth/Sixth and Lamar for its crosstown bus line — though that doesn’t necessarily mean anything’s changing at the intersection, since that line is described as a rapid transit “light” design without dedicated right-of-way for its buses.
To make matters worse, the Mobility Plan for the North Lamar Boulevard / Guadalupe Street corridor funded by Austin’s successful 2016 mobility bond, which includes the possibility of upgrades to the Sixth and Lamar area, is currently “on hold” as it waits for Project Connect to take a clearer shape, with the city expecting to revisit the plan in 2020. Until then, please keep sending us ideas for tunnels and that sort of thing.