The Top 10 ATXplained Stories Of 2018

Dec 28, 2018

In the last year, more than 1,100 questions and responses were submitted to KUT's ATXplained project. The idea behind ATXplained? You ask, we answer.

Are you new to Austin and there's something you drive by every day you're dying to know the story behind?

Or have you lived here for decades and want your long-unanswered questions finally laid bare? These are the questions we want to help you answer. 

Some we were able to get to the bottom of in the past year, like Doug Addison's from November: "This is my 24th fall in Austin, and I've never seen the tree color as varied and vibrant as it this year. Why? Or is it my imagination?"

Others – like, "WHAT'S UP WITH THE FROST TOWER? IS IT SUPPOSED TO LOOK LIKE AN OWL?" from Jason N. – we're still mulling over.

Here are the most popular ATXplained stories of 2018. If you have a burning question about something around Austin, send it to us here.

10. Who's that Texan-sounding dude telling me to cross the street all over Austin
Jenny Stirrat asked KUT about the voice behind certain crosswalk signals around Austin. KUT introduced her to Lupe Alvarado.
Credit Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Jenny Stirrat noticed a new voice telling her it was safe to continue across Austin's crosswalks. It wasn't the typical robotic voiceover she heard before. 

"I feel the voice on there is a very Texan-y, Austin-y voice, and I was just kind of curious if that was a conscious decision that somebody made," Stirrat asked.

KUT's Andrew Weber met the man behind the distinctive voice at Austin intersections. 

9. Dan is moving to Austin. Here are 27 books you suggested for him and other newcomers.

In just three days, we received almost 200 book recommendations for Dan Brooks, who reached out to us looking for some good reading material about Austin before his big move from Philadelphia. 

"It's important for me to have an idea of the space that I'm occupying, and books are generally one good way to learn about a place," Brooks said. Pared down to a manageable list of 27 recommendations, ranging from "Armadillo World Headquarters: A Memoir" to "A Twist at the End: A Novel of O. Henry and the Texas Servant Girl Murders of 1885," Brooks got quite the reading list.

Read more about the 27 finalists here.

8. When can you call yourself a 'real' Austinite? Y'all had some ideas.
Credit Hazel O'Neil for KUT

Sarah Edens moved a lot in the past 10 years and wanted to settle down in Austin. She lived in the city for six months when she reached out to us with this question: "When can you call yourself a 'real' Austinite?"

There was a flood of responses. Some said you could only be a real Austinite if you were born here, while others described being an Austinite as a state of being, when you couldn't be at home anywhere else. 

Several said throw out the idea of checklists all together: "People make a city – not checklists of barbecue, Christmas lights and swimming holes."

Listen to the story by KUT's Matt Largey and read some of the many responses we received here.

7. Why was I-35 designed as a double-decker through Central Austin?
An archival photo of I-35 through downtown Austin following the construction of the upper deck.
Credit Austin History Center

A solution to ease traffic congestion through downtown Austin 50 years ago inspired a question from KUT listener Javier Palomares.

"Why was I-35 designed as a double decker through Central Austin, instead of a wider highway? As far as I know there are not many cities that have highway running through it that was designed in the 1960s and it's actually a double-decker."

Palomares would be right. Faced with the monumental cost of buying all the property on either side of I-35, it left city planners and the highway department one choice at the time: to go up.

Read and listen to Jimmy Maas' story on how the "ugly scar" of the I-35 double deck (as state Sen. Kirk Watson calls it) came to be.

6. What's the deal with the doors to nowhere in the new Austin Central Library?
The "door to nowhere" at the Austin Central Library.
Credit Gabriel Cristóver Pérez / KUT

"I saw the door and I saw a little girl reach her hand up to the doorknob and pull on it. And I had this moment of panic," Katherine Hoffman said of her visit to Austin's Central Library, where you will find a mysterious door opening to the cavernous atrium below.

"My main theory is that it's some kind of mistake," Hoffman figured. "Somebody accidentally had already ordered the glass and they were kinda like, 'Well, we'll just deal with it."

The top comment in the r/CrappyDesign subreddit speculated the "death door" was meant to hoist up large equipment.

The answer, as KUT's Audrey McGlinchy found, was none of the above. The library, in fact, uses the door to suspend window washers as they clean the windows of the five floors below. Read and listen to the full story here.

5. Yup, it's still illegal to swim in Lady Bird Lake. Here's why.
The swimming ban is well-posted near the lake.
Credit Julia Reihs / KUT

"I threw my dog's ball in the water in 2004 and everybody freaked out, telling me that I was going to get arrested and that the water wasn't clean and that I had to get out," Sean Mahan told KUT this past summer.

"So, since 2004, I've followed that rule." But how did the rule come into place? The answer is pretty bleak.

On Mother's Day 1964, two girls were carried away in a swift current on the Town Lake shoreline and into the deep water under the I-35 bridge. Inez Rendon, 11, answered the screams of her 8-year-old sister, Cynthia, by trying to save her, but both drowned.

Two weeks later, the Austin City Council passed an emergency proposal to ban swimming in the lake. And it's been that way ever since.

Read and listen to Matt Largey's story about why the ban is still in place.

4. Why is Hippie Hollow clothing-optional?
A sign warning of nude swimming and sunbathing at Hippie Hollow on Lake Travis.
Credit Martin do Nascimento / KUT

This ATXplained story from last year did so well this year it was worth revisiting. 

The story behind Texas' only clothing-optional public park, located on the shores of Lake Travis, goes back several decades. Newspaper reports in the '70s show neighbors complained about noise, trash, drugs, people parking on the street – and skinny dipping – at the rocky spot known as Hippie Hollow.

When Travis County took over the management of the park in 1985, it put up parking and trails and started charging admission. KUT's Matt Largey says at this point it was just kind of understood there would be naked people at the park.

That was until a sign made it official. Read and listen to the full story here.

3. Why is the map on the floor of the Austin airport full of misspellings?
"Guadaloup" as it appears in the map on the floor of the Austin airport.
Credit Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

With holiday travelers pouring through Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, this story from March has seen a resurgence.

A map on the floor of the airport near baggage claim has a problem, but few notice it. Arcelia Hernández says her children pointed it out to her. That's how she came to discover Austin streets with bizarre misspellings: "Neueces," "San Jancinto," "Brassos," and even "Guadaloup," which really got to her.

KUT's Mose Buchele spoke to one of the people who designed and installed the map in 1999. While the city said at the time it had plans to fix the misspellings, almost 20 years later they remain in place.

2. Why are Austin's trees having such a colorful autumn?
Fall foliage colors in South Austin on Nov. 26, 2018.
Credit Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

"This is my 24th fall in Austin, and I've never seen the tree color as varied and vibrant as it is this year," Doug Addison said. It wasn't just his imagination.

Three ingredients made 2018 the best fall foliage year in Austin in recent memory.

Sixteen inches of rain in September and October, a cooler-than-average fall and an increasingly diverse tree canopy combined to make this a memorable autumn.

Mose Buchele breaks down the science behind our colorful fall here.

1. Is it really legal to walk down the street with a beer in Austin neighborhoods?

Colter Sonneville has become an evangelist for drinking in public in Austin.
Credit Austin Price / KUT

A sign posted around Chicon and East Cesar Chavez Streets got Colter Sonneville thinking.

"No alcohol consumption on public streets/sidewalks and pedestrian way designed area. Open glass containers prohibited."

Did that mean the rest of Austin was an open-container zone? 

Sonneville was pretty confident about his theory, having tested it out for a while.

The Austin Police Department confirmed it: city law allows people to walk around with a beer in most neighborhoods.

But there are still areas where drinking in public is definitely not OK. Read and listen to Ashley Lopez's full story here.