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Breaking down Austin's experiment on Barton Springs Road

 An aerial view of Barton Springs looking east from Zilker Park. A hazy Austin skyline can be seen in the distance.
Nathan Bernier
/
KUT
Construction has started on Barton Springs Road to prepare for a 12-month pilot project that will reduce car lanes and expand space for bikes, scooters and pedestrians.

Austin is set to embark on a year-long experiment along a bustling half-mile stretch of Barton Springs Road, an area best known for local restaurants like Chuy's, Baby Acapulco, Juiceland, Juliet Italian Kitchen and Green Mesquite BBQ.

The city hopes to enhance safety by reducing the number of car lanes from two to one in each direction between South Lamar Boulevard and Azie Morton Road. The construction likely won't be done until late October or early November. Then, the clock will start ticking on the 12-month trial period.

An illustrated cross-section showing the before and after of Barton Springs Road. The before image shows two car lanes in each direction with a center median and sidewalks on both sides. The after image shows one car lane in each direction, a buffer for bike lanes, a bike lane in each direction and a sidewalk in each direction.
Transportation and Public Works Department
/
City of Austin
An illustrated cross-section gives a general idea of the changes the city is implementing.

Existing bike lanes, demarcated by a single white lane, will be expanded and partially protected with a mix of flex posts and Zicla barriers, low-lying plastic dividers about the size of an armadillo made by a Spanish company of the same name.

 An illustration showing the Zicla barriers installed between a bike land and a car lane. The zebra-striped bumps are about the size and shape of an armadillo.
Zicla
Zicla barriers, depicted here in the company's marketing materials, will be used in combination with flex posts to provide a semi-protected bike lane. Police cars, fire trucks and ambulances would still be able to use the bike lane in an emergency.

"It's obviously a very popular area," said Lewis Leff with Austin's Transportation and Public Works Department. "If you've ever been there on a Saturday night, you see a whole lot of people on a very cramped sidewalk and a very substandard bike facility."

The city invited the public to share their thoughts on the pilot project. The consensus among supporters was clear: Barton Springs Road needs to be safer for pedestrians, cyclists and scooter riders.

Those opposing the project, however, raised concerns about potential traffic congestion. They fear that reducing lanes could result in gridlock on a crucial artery that feeds into MoPac.

To help understand the specifics of this transformative project, we'll take a step-by-step tour, starting at South Lamar Boulevard and heading westward.

At South Lamar, Barton Springs Road retains its current number of eastbound lanes. City traffic engineers believe this will help prevent a backlog of vehicles.

An overhead schematic showing how Barton Springs Road eastbound would keep the same number of car lanes at South Lamar Boulevard. Cyclists would still have cars turning right on South Lamar passing over their dedicated lane.
Transportation and Public Works Department
/
City of Austin
Barton Springs Road eastbound would keep the same number of car lanes at South Lamar Boulevard. Cyclists would still have cars turning right on South Lamar passing over their dedicated lane.

The aerial view below paints a clearer picture of Barton Springs Road eastbound: two left turn lanes, two straight lanes and one right turn lane. For those on bikes or scooters, navigating through this stretch will still require a careful dance with vehicles veering right onto South Lamar.

An aerial view looking west down Barton Springs Road at the intersection of South Lamar Boulevard
Nathan Bernier
/
KUT
Looking west down Barton Springs Road at the intersection of South Lamar Boulevard, the number of eastbound lanes will stay the same on Barton Springs.

Venturing further west, the road morphs. Near Josephine Street, where the Barton Springs Saloon and Green Mesquite BBQ are located, Barton Springs Road westbound maintains two car lanes for a few yards before tapering into a single lane. Here, the bike lane would widen.

An overhead schematic showing Barton Springs Road at Josephine Street
Transportation and Public Works Department
/
City of Austin
Barton Springs eastbound will have at least two lanes east of Jessi Street. Westbound car lanes will narrow from two to one at Josephine. That's where the westbound bike lane opens up.

As we proceed westward, Barton Springs Road eastbound shifts from a single lane to two lanes just before Jessie Street, home to Juliet Italian Kitchen and Thom's Market.

An overhead schematic illustration showing Barton Springs Road eastbound widening from one lane to two well west of Jessi Street.
Transportation and Public Works Department
/
City of Austin
Fire trucks, police cars and ambulances could use bike lanes in an emergency.

Beyond the Pecan Grove RV Park, Barton Springs Road switches to a single-car lane in each direction. Drivers can execute U-turns at Kinney Avenue, close to the new bus stop taking shape on the southwest side of the intersection, right outside Kava Bar.

 An aerial schematic showing Barton Springs Road at Kinney Street.
Transportation and Public Works Department
/
City of Austin
Work started this week to install a new bus stop on Barton Springs Road at Kinney Street. Drivers will still be able to make U-turns at this intersection.

Newly constructed barriers to prevent cars leaving The Picnic food truck park from turning left will stay. Drivers heading eastbound will still be able to pull into the food truck park.

 An aerial schematic showing the configuration of Barton Springs Road near the Piknik Food Truck Park
Transportation and Public Works Department
/
City of Austin
Some recently installed obstacles to prevent drivers leaving The Picnic food truck park from turning left will remain.

Nearing Barton Creek Road and Barton Boulevard, crews on Thursday were laying bricks for a new Capital Metro bus stop. The stop will have a shelter and a bench. The city's goal is to install two bus stops this week and two next week.

A man wearing a construction hat is laying gray bricks on the pavement. He's wearing a reflective vest and his fingers are covered in dust. Behind him, other men in reflective vests work on other parts of the bus pad.
Nathan Bernier
/
KUT
Construction crews were installing a new bus stop Thursday on Barton Springs Road near Barton Boulevard, one of several bus stops being relocated for the pilot project.

Across the street, another bus stop will be shifted away from the road to keep CapMetro buses from blocking westbound traffic when they pull over to pick up passengers.

The No. 30 Barton Creek/Bull Creek route is the only bus route traveling down Barton Springs Road. It operates every 35 minutes during peak hours.

 An overhead schematic view showing Barton Springs Road at Barton Boulevard.
Transportation and Public Works Department
/
City of Austin
The bus stop on the north side of Barton Springs Road near Sterzing Street will be shifted back so cars can pass in the single lane of traffic. The bike path will merge briefly with the sidewalk to pass behind the bus stop.

Between Barton Boulevard and Azie Morton Road, westbound Barton Springs Road will introduce a left-turn lane for cars intending to venture south down Azie Morton. On the eastbound side, the road narrows from two lanes to one after the Barton Springs Road Bridge. The new configuration will allow the pedestrian crossing over Barton Springs Road to be shortened.

 An overhead schematic view of Barton Springs Road just east of Azie Morton Road
Transportation and Public Works Department
/
City of Austin
Barton Springs Road westbound would have a left-turn lane for cars at Azie Morton Boulevard. Eastbound traffic would merge from two lanes to one east of Azie Morton.

Right now, that area has two car lanes in each direction and an unprotected bike lane on both sides of the road.

 An aerial shot of Barton Springs Road at Azie Morton.
Nathan Bernier
/
KUT
Barton Springs Road at Azie Morton now has two car lanes in each direction.

Beyond Azie Morton Road, the Barton Creek Bridge will have two eastbound lanes and one westbound lane. The protected bike paths will continue into Zilker Park.

 An overhead schematic of Barton Springs Road Bridge
Transportation and Public Works Department
/
City of Austin
The pilot project will reduce west car lanes across the Barton Springs Road Bridge from two to one. Eastbound traffic will retain two car lanes. Semi-protected bike lanes will continue on both sides of the bridge.

The traffic pattern shifts west of Lou Neff Road, reverting back to two car lanes in each direction.

 An overhead schematic of Barton Springs Road at Lou Neff
Transportation and Public Works Department
/
City of Austin
Barton Springs Road returns to two lanes in each direction at Lou Neff Road in Zilker Park.

Finally, toward William Barton Drive, bus stops will be upgraded while bike paths weave behind them.

 An overhead schematic of Barton Springs Road at Willam Barton Drive
Transportation and Public Works Department
/
City of Austin
Both CapMetro bus stops closest to Barton Springs Pool will get an upgrade.

The project's construction will be delayed by one of Austin's landmark events. The Austin City Limits Music Festival — an annual event that transforms Zilker Park into a mecca for music lovers during the first two weekends in October — will force a pause in the work starting in mid-September, when ACL loading trucks rumble into the park.

By the time ACL starts, if all goes according to plan, Barton Springs Road will have a fresh layer of asphalt and new lane markings. After ACL, crews will add the finishing touches, including the flex posts and Zicla barriers for the bike lanes. That's when the road will be reduced to one car lane in each direction.

After the 12-month trial phase starts in late October or early November of this year, the city says it will closely monitor the impact of the changes.

An update is due six months in, and by November 2024, a decision will have to be made: Keep the changes or revert back.

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Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at nbernier@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.
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