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Town Lake Park / Riverside Drive

more on Roadway Improvements

Following lobbying by park advocates, the City embarked on a plan to redevelop the area around the Palmer Events Center, making it more park-like. The park advocates' biggest request was for the street Riverside Drive to be removed, in order to connect the parkland that exists north and south of that street. That particular request didn't fly, although the City did agree to reduce Riverside from four lanes to two narrow ones.

The reason this project merits a page on BicycleAustin is that cyclists' needs were ignored throughout the planning process. For example, the new, smaller Riverside Drive lacks bike lanes -- which are even more important now that motorists don't have another lane to move to in order to pass bicyclists. But even more disappointing was that this re-do of the roadway with inadequate bike facilities was pushed through without the knowledge of cyclists, or even the Urban Transportation Commission!

Here's UTC commissioner Patrick Goetz's take on this blunder (Nov. 2005):

Both Linda DuPriest and Colly Kreidler (COA bike/ped coordinators) attempted several times to provide input to this project and were told each time that "we're not ready for input from bicyclists yet". Then a completed plan emerged that couldn't be changed any more "this far along in the process". Bicycling advocates were purposefully shut out of the process -- if you don't believe me, ask Colly. This was a backroom deal hammered out between the ANC and one or two city staffers who let themselves be intimidated into believing that they would fired if they didn't do exactly as the ANC commanded. I've been to ANC meetings and am very familiar with their modus operandi: they endlessly harrass and CAF (a formal complaint sent to city council) staff until eventually some people crack and do what the ANC tells them to despite their own better judgement -- these neighborhood crazies bullies will make life living hell for any COA staffer who doesn't agree with their vision of racially/class/use segregated 1950's suburbs. You saw with your own eyes how apologetic Robert Holland was after this stinky dead woodchuck was hauled out from under the porch and into the light of day. The only reason we finally managed to get some bicycle facilities into the plan is that I found out about what was happening through a casual comment made by my girlfriend (who heard about it from the ANC), and put the issue on the UTC agenda. After the UTC meeting, everyone found out about what was happening and Sondra Creighton got involved to try and straighten things out. Not even the ANC has the nerve to CAF the director of Public Works....

At least for now, the price of bicycling is eternal vigilance. You can bet that some "stakeholders" are already whispering into the ear of Public Works staff that adding the bike trail is going to cost too much and that this money would be better spent on "reclaiming land for surface parking". No, I'm not making this up. At the meeting that Eric and I both attended, one of the ANC crazies kept talking about "reclaiming land for surface parking" and suggested repeatedly that there was no room for bike lanes because including a toxic coal tar-coated surface parking lot in the park plan was more important.

Update from Eric Anderson (Jan. 2006):

Passing on good news regarding Town Lake Park (TLP) and Riverside Drive. Town Lake Park funding and contract was approved last Thursday by City Council. This means that ALL of the 11th hour modifications to the Riverside Drive roadway and TLP bicycle circulation items that were hashed out are part of the funded and approved TLP contract:

Approved TLP phase II bike accommodations/ improvements are these:

  • 12 ft central spine trail connecting Riverside Drive and Dawson at Barton Spring Road along current Dawson R.O.W.
  • east-bound (off-street) 12 ft bike lane from Dawson parking lot to east of traffic circle
  • appropriate signage and pavement markings reflecting one-way bikeway(s)
  • curb-cuts east of traffic circle/ west of Bouldin Creek, and other modifications to 8 ft north Riverside Dive sidewalk to function as interim shared-use sidewalk allowing west-bound bike travel
  • curb-cut at Lee Barton Drive serving Pfluger Bridge ingress and egress
  • concrete staining from Pfluger bridgehead to Lee Barton Drive curb-cut marking pathway onto and off bridge to Lee Barton Drive/ Riverside Drive intersection

Clearly the work is not done. Still hanging over this project is the reality that both the Riverside Dr. project and TLP project planning processes proceeded with inadequate participation by the bicycling community, UTC and COA bike Program. Unfortunately, we still confront this same institutional dysfunction with the 7th St. Gateway project, Mexican American Cultural Center, and sadly un-accomplished circulation improvements that were requested at the Triangle project.

Future Town Lake Park improvements identified include:

  • separate off-street 12 ft westbound bike lane from at least east of traffic circle to West Bouldin Creek
  • separate 12-16 ft bridge over West Bouldin Creek for Town Lake Trail, allowing existing West Bouldin Creek bridge-deck to primarily serve west-bound cyclists
  • new sidewalk on south side of Riverside Drive from Lee Barton Drive to West Bouldin Creek bridge and TLP "central spine trail?
  • Town Lake Park "loop trail" creating off-street bikeway from 1st St./Drake Bridge to Bouldin and Dawson

To orient yourself, see this schematic pertaining to roadway improvements:

TLP phase II improvements depicted on Austin Chronicle download:

On to the next challenge!, and remember Pfluger Bridge extension project "center arm alignment" to be considered by City Council on Thursday, Feb. 2.

Eric Anderson

From: Larry Akers
Subject: Town Lake Park funding and construction contract resolutions -- passed by City Council!!
Date: Mon, 16 Jan 2006 15:53:23 -0600

I am very pleased to announce that last Thursday City Council passed resolutions to fully fund Town Lake Park Phase Two construction and to issue the construction contract. All the add items were funded, including plant up-sizing, the water intake structure (from Town Lake), and pedestrian features around the pond, all of which were up in the air for a while.

At the meeting I expressed my thanks to staff and Council for assembling and supporting the entire package. The mayor gave special thanks to Ranger Excavation for their donation of a half million dollars of in-kind work to the project, that being the excavation of the wet pond and construction of the observation hill already on the site.

My understanding is that all the elements of the interim bike plan that we hammered out last fall, and that were not already implemented in the Riverside roadwork contract, were funded and will be part of the Phase Two construction contract. Kudos to everyone who was involved in that effort.

This day has been a long time coming. Construction itself should commence within six weeks and be completed in Spring of 2007. It will be beautiful.

Well done, everyone.

Larry Akers
Friends of the Parks Stakeholder Representative
Town Lake Community Park Project


Historical Info

Some historical info about this project:

Appeal for support of Town Lake Park vis a vis DAMP study


July 2002 

* (affilliated with Friends of the Parks)
 Tel: (512) 451-1050 ext. 205 (office) | 443-1036 (home) | (512) 451-1622 (fax)
 2311 Ridgeview Austin, Texas 78704

The long-awaited staff report on the Downtown Access and Mobility Plan study is scheduled to be presented to City Council at its July 18 meeting. The staff recommendations propose as an interim measure to retain Riverside Drive as a two-lane, two-way commuter roadway through the heart of Town Lake Park. Removing this roadway between the north entrance to the new Palmer Events Center and the railroad bridge to the west is a cornerstone of the Town Lake Park Master Plan and was the enabling compromise that allowed the site of the new Palmer Events Center and parking garage to be used without destroying the viability of our new central park on Town Lake. Now that the buildings are complete, staff has avoided studying what measures would enable the road to be closed with minimal impact, and in the absense of this analysis are proposing to renege on the compromise by retaining Riverside as a two-lane, two-way road.
Project stakeholders concerned about the park now appeal to you to help us save Town Lake Park.
As you are probably aware, the Town Lake Park Master Plan was developed by professional planners with input from hundreds of citizens, endorsed by all stakeholder groups, and adopted by Council in 2000 as the site development plan for the district encompassing the new Palmer Events Center, Long Center for the Performing Arts, Town Lake Park, and the on-site parking garage. The park will include a rich variety of features, including a splendid children's garden, a major interactive water feature, a trail system interconnected with other trails in the area, picnic grounds, peaceful pecan groves, a great meadow, a wildflower hill, ponds and other water features, a great many trees and other plantings, informal gathering and performance spaces, and a rich tapestry of artwork establishing the area as a cultural park and relating well to the new facilities in the area as well as the Daugherty Arts Center.
The plan requires closing the portion of Riverside Drive through the heart of the park to create a pedestrian-friendly, recreation-friendly park environment. Removing the road removes the barrier separating parkland north and south of Riverside adjacent to Auditorium Shores and allows a unified design for the park. Retaining the road not only disrupts the design, but it consumes a vast amount of park space. This includes not only the right-of-way, but also a large band along the road that becomes inhospitable for recreational use. (How many people do you see enjoying Zilker Park within 50 yards of Barton Springs Road? Town Lake Park does not have the luxury of Zilker's abundant acreage.) Furthermore, exposing park users and pedestrian and bicycle commuters to motor commuter traffic in the heart of the park is a clear public safety hazard. Casualties are inevitable.
The Riverside closure and related issues should be of particular significance to bicycle commuters. Not only does the park's trail system cross the path of Riverside, it does so as the trails converge on the southern Pfluger Bridge approach. The bridge would certainly be safer and more pleasant if it didn't land on a commuter road. Furthermore (see below) constructing the new Cesar Chavez flyover would relieve a significant traffic delay on Cesar Chavez caused by lengthy red cycles at B.R. Reynolds that are necessary to accommodate pedestrian crossings. Relieving this problem would create nearly enough additional westbound traffic lane capacity to offset the loss of Riverside Drive. There is symbiosis all over the place!
Closing Riverside Drive will not be a traffic management calamity. Previous traffic studies establish that closing the road can occur under current traffic loads with no significant impact. The DAMP study itself shows that closing the road to eastbound through traffic improves access time to downtown. Future additional westbound traffic loads, which are the only justification for retaining the road at all, could be accommodated by other improvements in the area. Most of these improvements would be less costly than what staff proposes ($2.2 million for Riverside renovation), and pursuing these instead would allow the park to be unified as designed.
Various mitigating measures have been suggested to the City that the stakeholders believe will more than offset the loss of Riverside for westbound commuting. These include lane capacity improvements (some very inexpensive) at the westbound approach to Lamar along Barton Springs Road, a more efficient pedestrian crossing of Cesar Chavez at B. R. Reynolds (inexpensive), completing the Pfluger Bridge flyover across Cesar Chavez, allowing a westbound left turn off Drake Bride onto Cesar Chavez (moderately inexpensive), and one of several inexpensive measures for streamlining flow through the Barton Springs Road/South First intersection. A creative staff could identify other mitigating measures if they chose to.
But under political pressure from a few downtown business interests, staff has so far resisted studying these mitigating measures. To date, they have not given proper weight to the tremendous value to the city of creating Town Lake Park as envisioned. Staff has bent over backward to find and study mitigating measures to partly offset the significant delays that would be caused by implementing the Great Streets proposal downtown. They need to give the same consideration to our new central park. Closing Riverside for our park would not increase traffic loads any more than any of the major new downtown development projects. Where are our municipal priorities?
But all is not lost. The City Manager has now recognized the park has been ill served in the DAMP study effort and has pledged to perform the requested modeling (although unfortunately delaying the work until after the study is submitted to Council). Phase Two of the Town Lake Park development, which encompasses the parkland between Barton Springs Road and Riverside west of the new Palmer center, has been designed and will proceed into construction this fall and next year. Modifications to Riverside have been accepted by staff that will allow this phase of the park to be developed more or less as it would be if the critical stretch of Riverside were being removed. This will allow staff the time to perform the modeling of mitigation measures that should justify the removal of the roadway and to identify alternative road improvements that will absorb the redirected traffic as the demand ramps up. We should be able to remove the remaining lanes through the park as part of the Phase Three park development north of Riverside.
But getting this accomplished requires a statement of political will from the Council now, and we need to supply some fuel. Ask the Council to do the following:
1) Recognize and communicate to staff the value to the city of creating a new central park on Town Lake rather than a scenic backdrop for a commuter road,
2) Recognize that a commuter road through the heart of an intensely used park is a public safety hazard, and that closing the road is crucial to the viability of the park,
3) Insist that the current recommendation to retain Riverside Drive as a two-way commuter road as embodied in the Phase Two park design is a short-term measure only, and that closing this short stretch of Riverside in time for Phase Three park development is the only acceptable resolution,
4) Recognize that Riverside Drive is only one solution to the marginal westbound road capacity problem envisioned in the Town Lake area in the DAMP study, and that it is not the best one. It is a ridiculously costly alternative, coming with a $2.2 million capital expense, the even more costly loss of world class parkland, and its danger to public safety. Some other satisfactory solutions would be less costly. Others would have extra benefits of their own. We do not need to sacrifice our central park to remedy a marginal lane capacity problem.
5) Direct staff to quickly identify alternative traffic management measures so that Riverside can be closed by the time Phase Two of the park is complete.
6) Direct staff to immediately implement traffic calming measures along Riverside Drive through the park. Designating this stretch of roadway as a Park Road will satisfy guidelines for implementing traffic calming and a lower speed limit.
If you cannot speak at the City Council presentation, please contact your Councilmembers to deliver this message.
City Council and City staff supported and adopted the closure of Riverside in the master plan, when they needed it to get public support for their new event center site. They now need to honor that commitment. It is unfortunate that Austin has no great central park. It would be shameful to turn away from the opportunity to create one on Town Lake now. Doing so does not require traffic delays, and even if it did, it would be worthwhile.
We often use Portland as a model for urban design. Portland spent hundreds of millions to destroy a interstate highway along its river so that a riverfront park could be created. Austin needs only tear up a short stretch of a secondary roadway to achieve the goal of a great central park on Town Lake. If we can't manage that, we do not deserve consideration as a decent city, much less a great one.
Town Lake Park will make a major statement about our Austin and its values, no matter how we develop it. We can choose to create a great park that we will enjoy for many generations, a place we can call the heart of our City, a place that will yield benefit for the city far beyond the investment we make in it. Or we can state for all time that shaving a few seconds off our commuting time is what we value most highly in our urban environment and what we demand of our collective efforts at civic achievement. The truth about our City will be reflected and magnified in whatever choice we make.
Larry Akers
Friends of the Parks Stakeholder
Town Lake Community Park Project

writes on July 19, 2002

Why on earth do cyclists need to cross this street anyway? There is nothing to go over to? Nothing a crosswalk couldn't take care of. What good would it do for events (except reduce events over time) as trucks and stage equipment would have to invade regular park space, where as the wide street acts as it's throughway. Marathons and the like would have as much space as an airline seat area.
While rerouting thousands of autos (spelled "auto safety") for 5 bicycle crossings a day may be your wet dream, or a vendetta, it is a nightmare for thousands of legitimate drivers.
If those lanes were narrowed it would make it UNSAFE. The traffic would turn congested on an otherwise sane route. The line of cars backed up would extend back into the park area. Un-responsible drivers would be more apt to beat lights, or gun for position.
Your mindset has been so distorted from the incessant congestion in the last few years that a normal roadway to you seems barren and un-needed. The fact is that that intersection and roadway are one of the last remaining properly functioning right-of-ways in town. Why do want to destroy the last remaining "peace" of roadway on Earth?

writes on Nov, 2002:

"Many Austinites contributed to the development of the Town Lake Park Masterplan (including many bicyclists), but final plans demonstrate that the needs of transportation bicyclists were not incorporated into that plan!" (see the full article this quote come from)

, Parks Board Member, writes on Dec. 16, 2002

I want to thank Eric for his comments on the funding and implementation of bicycle projects. However, I was surprised to see his assertion that the Town Lake Park Master Plan did not serve the needs of transportation cyclists. I have worked with PARD staff and the park designer to provide for transportation cyclists, principally by ensuring a connection between South 5th/West Bouldin Creek Trail and the Town Lake Trail/Pfluger Bridge. What further transportation concerns need to be addressed?

writes on Dec. 16, 2002:

What Jeb says may be true, but I have heard little and seen nothing regarding accommodations for bicycles. I have not yet heard from Town Lake Park designer Earl Broussard, of TBG Partners, in response to a January 2002 community meeting regarding these Town Lake Park concerns.

The single accomodation I can point to are curb-cuts at Bouldin installed after the fact thanks to Tommy Eden and the UTC.

The facts are these:

* After considerable input from bicyclists into the Town Lake Park Masterplan, the final plan does NOT contain the provisions Jeb referred to.

* Revisions may have been made since, but I am aware of no plan, timeline, funding schedule, etc.

* In 2000, Bouldin St. is vacated between Riverside and Barton Springs for construction of the Community Events Center and the 1200 car garage.

* In spite of vacating a critical bike route (Drake Bridge to Bouldin), these projects, landscaping, and roadways are being completed with NO accommodation to bicyclists.

* Any future accomodation has not been communicated to our community.

I belabor this point because it demonstrates the institutional failure of our city to accomodate bicycle transportation. My short list (included in the original post): delayed Boggy Creek Greenbelt, IH35 crossing at 4th St., and Pleasant Valley bike lanes; unrepaired Lake Austin Blvd bike lanes; Pfluger Bridge redesign delays; and Shoal Creek Blvd.

My point is simply this: though our goals seem to be articulated, accomodation of bicycle transportation is provided as a matter of convenience and influence rather than policy.

So what else is new?

writes on Dec. 16, 02

 HA HA HA. I'm laughing my ass off. This is EXACTLY what I said would happen. They suckered the support from the bike community only to help support and carry out their own agenda. A one lane Riverside SUCKS. The park is a TBG $scam. ~Golden Gate Park give me a break.

(Nothing personal Eric and Jeb -- thanks for the update. Good job Tommy.) :-)

writes on Aug 29, 2003

Dear bike friends:

Please peruse this Action Alert (pasted up below) Submitted by Larry Akers/ Friends of the Parks: Action Alert: Why Town Lake Park will never be built. My comments first:
It appears that a wonderfully masterplanned Town Lake Park has now gone from bad to worse. Bad was January of 2002 when it became clear that accomodation of bicycles in the Town Lake Park design, and constuction plans was simply FORGOTTEN, ommitted!
Meeting with Earl Broussard in January 2002, Landscape Architect in charge of overall design implementation, assured adjacent stakeholders, council members, and parks board members that bicycles were to be accomodated at some point in the future (but not now). This despite the vacating of the most heavily traveled bike route (Bouldin - between Barton Springs and Riverside) in South Austin.
Town Lake Park is an example of a very good plan, but somehow the word BIKE got erased from the masterplan.
The question I would also ask is this: How did one of Austins most heavily used bike routes get vacated, with no provision for an alternate route, and no provision for its replacement within Town Lake Park phase I build-out.
So we wait for Phase II, and a - hard edge - bike route linking Drake Bridge, Bouldin, Dawson, future Bouldin Creek Bikeway, and Pfluger Bridge: a future Town Lake Park loop trail (which could have been easily built as a interim crushed granite trail during phase I; at a fraction of the cost of that nice canopied walk(bike)way. Silly, Silly, Silly!).
Now: Worse is hearing that that - future - will never come.
Time for some squeaky wheels? Be sure to bookmark this COA web-page: group email form to send your message to the whole council.
writes in Aug. 2003
Town Lake Park was to be our new central park, adjacent to the Palmer Events Center and Town Lake.
Proposition 11 in 1998 authorized a dedicated rental car tax to fund CONSTRUCTION of the park and the events center and garage in a venue district.
But staff is redirecting all future park construction funding to underwrite the events center operations and maintenance.
The First Broken Promise: Timely Park Construction
In 2000, staff convinced project stakeholders to divert $8.3 million of park construction money to fund unanticipated civic center construction costs. In exchange, $18.5 million in park construction funding would be made available by 2006.
Now, aside from Phase One, the civic center landscaping, staff proposes to make not a single dollar available before 2006, and likely beyond.
The Second Broken Promise: Phases Three and Four (north of Riverside)
This spring, staff took Phases Three and Four completely out of the financial plan for the venue project. The money is diverted to underwrite events center operations and create a capital account for events center renovations.
Neither Proposition 11 nor its supporting literature mentioned events center O&M or renovation. "Construction" was what the voters approved.
The Third Broken Promise: Phase Two (south of Riverside, west of Palmer)
The current project account and accepted donations can easily fund Phase Two. Bids for construction were taken and came in well under budget.
But staff first ordered the Phase Two contract to be rebid, and then before this could be accomplished, the City Manager's budget placed the project on hold for at least two years. During this time, the money that was to fund Phase Two will be used to cover the events center's negative cash flow. In two years, the park will cost more to build than it would have to build now and maintain, but no matter: the project account will be reduced to where it can no longer fund the park construction.
Fiscal Crisis?
While human services, libraries, and parks are suffering enormous staff reductions and increased demand, the Convention Center Department loses 1.7% of its staff despite reduced bookings for the Convention Center and Palmer.
How do they manage?
By subsidizing their operation with diverted park construction money.
How do they justify it?
. By citing a budget priority document that was developed and adopted without consulting or notifying the project stakeholders. . By lumping the park with other deferred CIP projects, even though it is funded through a dedicated, non-CIP revenue stream. . By exaggerating the interim park maintenance projections with one-time items.
Who says what to whom?
All the park's fiscal questions are directed to Convention Center staff.
Does it make sense? Palmer and Town Lake Park were to be symbiotic, to bring visitors and events to each other. Palmer attendance is down partly because the park does not complete the attendance experience. And we continue to be a major city without a central park. How well that supports our public health and economic development!
So ask your City Council why Town Lake Park will never be built.

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