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After lake drownings, safety upgrades come to Rainey Street trailhead

An orange sign on a fence cautions visitors about the lake in the background and a drowning risk.
Michael Minasi
KUT News
The pleas and demands for permanent improvements came from family and friends of two men who drowned in the lake near Rainey Street last spring.

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More than a year after community members called for better lighting and safety measures along a portion of Lady Bird Lake near Rainey Street, permanent upgrades are finally nearing completion.

The pleas and demands came from family and friends of two men who drowned in the lake last spring near the popular entertainment district, along with others whose family members drowned in the area before 2023.

The Austin City Council pledged to improve safety along a poorly lit stretch of the trail. Nearly $1 million was dedicated to the efforts, using 2018 bond money that was earmarked for trail improvements.

Temporary lighting and a camera were installed last March and left in place while the city studied and evaluated a long-term solution with consultants and stakeholders.

The city had already installed signage and fencing along some parts of the trail. It also stepped up police and park ranger patrols near the area. In November, a permanent camera was installed at the corner of Rainey and Cummings streets.

Last week, crews added more than 20 permanent light fixtures — one of the key requests from community members. Security lighting was scheduled to be completely installed by the end of June.

But that is not all that's being done to improve safety, said Katie Kimball, a landscape designer for the Parks Department.

“We are actually extending some of the fencing,” she said. “So, in areas where there are gaps, we will be installing new split rail fencing and gates to block pedestrian access.”

Separately, the Trail Conservancy is nearly done with the Rainey Street Trailhead project, which includes components that address increased safety, including lighting, signage and wayfinding, city officials said.

The trail improvements are just one piece of the puzzle to improve safety.

There have been calls to train bar staff to help prevent overserving and spiked drinks. There is also community support for increasing access to drink spiking test kits.

In April, the city launched Sip Safely, a pilot program designed to raise awareness around drink spiking and prevention in Austin’s entertainment districts. The city dedicated $100,000 for the program, including money to purchase and distribute drink spiking testing strips. More than 50 businesses — a majority of them in downtown Austin — are participating in the program, but city officials said they expected more to join.

Last summer, Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services began piloting a program near Rainey Street, where two medics are stationed at the south end of the area to respond to any needs at the bars, including people who are drunk, and monitor the trailhead.

These programs will need permanent funding, but with a tight budget, the City Council will likely have to make some tough decisions about what programs will get to continue.

Council Member Zo Qadri, who represents the area, said it's too soon to tell what will get funding in the end, but assured residents that he is advocating for funding for safety on Rainey Street, and downtown’s other popular nightlife district along Sixth Street.

“We want to make sure that the general area continues to be safe whether it be lighting, whether it be cameras, whether it be fencing, whether it be signage,” Qadri said, "but also making sure we have the proper personnel around that area."

The City Council is set to begin budget discussions in July.

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Luz Moreno-Lozano is the Austin City Hall reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on X @LuzMorenoLozano.
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