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City Council Examines Alley Activation And Parking Overload

UW Green Futures Lab/Scan Design Foundation/Gehl Architects
Seattle developed this concept art when the city began "activating" its alleyways in 2010.

The Austin City Council had parking on its mind today. And now Austin is one step closer to eliminating minimum parking requirements for many downtown businesses, and looking at a program could to lessen the number of cars entering downtown. 

Pilot Parking Program

The council heard a briefing on parking program encouraging businesses to reduce car commuting. The program could begin as soon as April, if the council approves a measure next week.

Business owners would be encouraged to provide on-site services like daycare, offer employees the opportunity to work from home, promote carpooling among employees, and add bike parking  – all in an effort to secure fewer parking requirements.

Council member Laura Morrison voiced concern the lack of parking could create an overflow into residential neighborhoods around the Central Business District.

“There may be divisiveness in a certain area about whether to have resident-only parking to deal with the overflow problem," Morrison said. “I’m concerned that actually getting resident-only parking is not going to be enough of a measure of whether or not we’re sensing or seeing a lot of overflow parking from a particular situation.”

George Zapalac, an urban planner with the City of Austin, said the measure should not lead to requests for additional residential parking.

If approved, the program would launch in April and the city would begin accepting applications in May Business owners could then implement their incentives over the summer from June to August; the Planning and Development Review Board, along with the Transportation Department, would review the effectiveness of the program in October.

Zapalac says the program would then continue through the summer of 2014, with the final evaluation by council in October 2014. 

Activating Alleys

While the city could limit parking requirements for the rest of the Central Business District, it could outright eliminate them for some buildings downtown.

The council approved, on second reading, a requirement eliminating parking requirements for smaller and historic buildings. The hang-up that prevented the change from passing outright? Downtown alleys.

The proposal states that neighboring businesses could use alleys for loading and unloading and supporters say that would ease congestion. But council member Kathie Tovo – who sponsored a separate, successful item today calling for an alleyway master plan – said private use could strip the spaces of  “more public, more pedestrian, and more bicycle friendly activities.”

Staff said cities like Seattle have “activated” some alleys for uses like parks and cafes, but allowed loading in others, which prompted a wisecrack from Council Member Chris Riley.  

“If we’re not doing loading and unloading in the alley, and we’re not doing it on the street, can you help me understand?" he asked.  "I know Seattle is big into aircraft …”

Tovo’s amendment to prevent alleyway loading failed, but the overall proposal passed seven to zero.

The parking pilot program will be put to a vote next week at city council, and the downtown requirement proposal should return for final approval soon as well.

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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