The City of Austin is examining ways to make parking in the South Congress area less of a mess.
“It doesn’t work well for the residents, it doesn’t work well for the business owners and their employees and also can be hard to find for visitors heading to the South Congress district,” Anna Martin, consulting engineer with the Austin Transportation Department, said.
A recent study done by Nelson\Nygaard in partnership with Downtown Austin Alliance and other neighborhood groups found that while there are 5,372 parking spaces in the area, residents, visitors and people who work there often fight for the same convenient spots. Those are often along Congress Avenue itself or on the blocks immediately surrounding it.
“Only 60% of the parking is utilized at the peak, which means there’s a lot of spaces not being used," Martin said, "but folks don’t know where to find them."
The area examined included the core South Congress district, as well as a longer stretch of Congress from Riverside Drive to Live Oak Street.
Matt Parkerson, executive director of the South Congress Improvement Association, lauded Nelson\Nygaard for its work on the study.
"I am hopeful that this could be the step forward," he said. "A deep dive about how much parking availability, where are people parking, where are they coming from, how are they getting there, all those layers of data have been compiled for the first time."
The study found about 40% of spaces have some level of restriction to public uses, with roughly 24% on streets regulated by the residential parking permit program. That means they’re off-limits to people who don’t have resident or guest permits.
Martin said residents support the program because it ensures they have places to park – but that also creates problems for others.
“Different blocks have different times of day that it’s in place, so it makes it confusing for the visitor, as well as confusing for our parking enforcement crews,” she said. “We also find that it can be underutilized during the day, meaning that when the visitors to SoCo are looking for places to park during the day, a lot of those blocks are empty.”
On the other hand, 44% of street parking in the area is free and unregulated, meaning people often park for hours at a time without moving, reducing turnover of spaces in the neighborhood.
The study also found almost 50% of visitors to the South Congress district get to the area by some other means than driving alone. That includes transit, biking or using ridesharing apps like Lyft or Uber.
The city plans to hold a public meeting early next year on the issue, before coming up with some final strategies to address the situation in the spring. Parkerson said he hopes the strategy will be comprehensive.
"It's not just one problem, it's many and it's not going to be a silver bullet to fix it," Parkerson said. "It's going to be a comprehensive package of recommendations that will have to come out to really alleviate some of the stress down there."
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