We recently asked our readers to tell us which downtown Austin streets, if they were given the keys to the city through some supernatural force, they might like to close to traffic and convert into shared pedestrian plaza spaces — think of something like the 16th Street Mall in Denver, or the “Texas Mall” planned as part of the state’s remodel of the north side of the Capitol Complex.
We got nearly 100 responses with a wide variety of downtown streets — big shoutout to all the folks (about six or seven of you) who had the same idea of answering “I-35.”
Congress Avenue was the winner by a lot, receiving 23 votes for closing sections of the avenue in the stretch north of the river and south of the Capitol. Some bold folks wanted to shut it down all the way from Cesar Chavez to 11th Street, with others thinking the stretch from Seventh to 11th Street could be promenade-ized. These are some of those takes:
I would choose to close down Congress Avenue south of the Capitol, because why not??? With the “Texas Mall” to the north (and the improved Speedway Mall through the UT campus just north of that), closing down Congress from 11th to Cesar Chavez would create a 2 mile long (take *that* Denver!) pedestrian corridor that would connect Austin’s centers of business, government, and higher education.
Congress Avenue, from Capitol to the River, but with most of the cross streets still open. (Likely close 10th, 9th, 3rd & 4th cross streets.) So you would still have some cross traffic in places, but with larger chunks of contiguous park-like, urban, spaces.
Next up was Second Street, with 16 votes, which makes sense — with its “Great Streets” design standards, the Second Street District itself is already very pedestrian-friendly, so transforming it one step further into a fully walkable space makes sense.
2nd street. Any street that also goes by “Willie Nelson Blvd.” (the patron saint of Austin) you should be able to wander down with a buzz on and not worry about getting killed by a car (although some tourist on a scooter may get you first). Oh to dream.
2nd st all the way to West Ave. The new bridge there and area outside the library should be for pedestrians only
I would love to see 2nd street closed off entirely. It’s a beautiful area and with the right restaurants could have real potential.
Sixth Street, specifically the “dirty” eastern stretch between Congress Avenue and the highway where you’ll find shot bars and street fights a-plenty, received 14 votes. This is a good choice because this stretch of the street already is closed off at night on weekends, so it’s pretty easy to imagine doing it all the time.
Close east sixth street. Begin the slow transformation of Austin’s only stretch of gorgeous old buildings into something more than trashy bourbon street bars.
6th street – because the buildings are already the “right” size (human scaled 3 stories) and most are protected because they are historical. We already shut the street down and make it pedestrian only on weekends, so as big a political issue. While right now, most of the businesses are bars, they would likely change to more restaurants and other businesses (which is going to happen eventually anyways given the changing demographics of downtown) but closing the street down would act like a “big boom” for that development (a la Seaholm district redevelopment). Plus, we know it would get used because there is plenty of tourist infrastructure (hotels, notoriety as a destination in austin) to guarantee it will get fed foot traffic.
6th Street from the Interstate to Congress Ave. I would have a trolley line down the middle of 6th , turn left on Guadalupe, left on 3rd and left at the Interstate creating a loop between different entertainment districts downtown. The only vehicles allowed on 6th street would be the trolleys and non-motorized vehicles.
Some people also thought the bar district over on West Sixth Street would make for a nice plaza, so maybe we should just close the entire thing forever? A man can dream.
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Rainey Street’s next on our list with 11 votes. I would personally love to see it closed to traffic considering what it’s already like to drive there on a Friday night when people are out and about — close it off to cars, keep the parking spaces in the MACC lot and let rideshares drop folks off at the surrounding streets.
Even if we couldn’t immediately make this happen permanently, I don’t see why the city couldn’t start trying it in the evenings on weekends just like they do on Sixth Street. People didn’t even bother to explain their votes for this one, the benefits are so obvious.
The one I’d really never considered before was Fourth Street, which got 9 votes for different stretches on both sides of Congress Avenue:
4th street between the Convention Center and Republic Square Park. I would also extend the Cap Metro Rail line all the way down 4th to Republic Square. Then I would create a light rail line from North Lamar Transit Center to Republic Square along Lamar and Guadalupe (past UT and the Capital). Feel the power!!!
I’d close off 4th street from Rio Grande to the Metrorail station. It would open up a large section of downtown storefronts and offices, cause a potential flow towards the Metrorail and boost its ridership, and be close enough to 2nd street to create more explorable space. It would be a great spoke off of the Shoal Creek trail by the library, making a safer path from the library to the rail station.
Fourth Street seems like the most obvious contender without spending TOO much time thinking about it. Between Republic Square and the downtown Metro station – the walkability of that street would give way to potentially having street fairs, ending in two beautiful parks. It would also help congestion on weekend nights, when Wild West 4th and the gay clubs start to experience dense overflow on those narrow sidewalks! What a better way to honor Austin’s gay community than to finally give the LGBT community their own open stomping ground!
We also received a few votes for Colorado Street, Cesar Chavez Street, North Lamar Boulevard, the aforementioned I-35 closure advocates, and other bright ideas:
Cesar Chavez from Lamar Bridge to Red River. Create a huge waterfront plaza
Lamar, between 6th and Cesar Chavez. It’s a nightmare for pedestrians to cross at the moment
Riverside from S 1st to Lamar. Yes, I know it is not technically downtown
Guadalupe, from MLK until it merges with Lamar
What about North Loop? Residential areas need to be more walkable too. I personally prefer to see more super blocks, like in Barcelona where 9×9 grids are closed to through traffic.
Okay, so, the people have spoken — we’ve got no choice but to close all of these streets. Seriously, some good ideas here! We’re going to print them all out and drop them on the front porch of city hall.