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Austin's reviving an early pandemic program to make neighborhood streets more pedestrian-friendly

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Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
Avenue G in Hyde Park was one of a handful of streets that was partially closed last year to encourage outdoor activity under the city's Healthy Streets Initiative.

A city program to encourage walking and biking on neighborhood streets is back.

Last year, the Austin City Council rolled out a program to cordon off some streets to encourage outside activity during the first wave of COVID-19.

Council unanimously passed a revival of the program Thursday that will let neighborhoods apply for "Living Street" status, giving them permission to use barricades and other temporary traffic-calming measures to encourage street use.

The resolution from District 8 Council Member Paige Ellis directs the city manager to also set up a similar program to reserve streets as a space for children to play and aims to simplify the permitting process to have block parties.

The street closures were initially spun up during the early days of the pandemic as the Healthy Streets Initiative. City staff wound that program down earlier this year, but Ellis' resolution aims to make it permanent, rebranding it as the Living Streets program.

"It has become clear that Austinites want to get to know their neighbors in a more meaningful way — from the ongoing pandemic to looking out for each other during the winter storm," Ellis said in a statement after the resolution passed. "Outdoor spaces for public gathering and entertainment is the perfect way to continue building community relationships."

To apply for a permit, 60% of neighbors would have to be on board with the request, according to the resolution. The temporary closure would last six months, with an option to extend it or undo it.

The resolution directs the city manager to set up a formal application process to request street closures and rejigger the permitting process for block parties. City Manager Spencer Cronk is expected to return to City Council with a plan before Jan. 21.

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