Archives for November 2010

FOCUS ON: Austin’s Homeless

Elroy Morales, Isaiah Thomas, Gary Matthews… These names are among the 158 homeless people who lost their lives last year in Austin.

“They may have been invisible to many people in their lives on the streets but today they are NOT invisible,” said city council member Laura Morrison at the Homeless Memorial Ceremony.

More than 9800 people in Austin are homeless. As city manager Marc Ott watched the proceedings, he reflected on his own decision to experience this life first-hand.

“For me it was eye-opening,” city manager Marc Ott said. “I mean I was struck by things like the idleness… simply having nothing to do all day. I was struck by when I first got there that morning, when I got downtown the reaction of people to me.”

Ott says he is still digesting from his experience.

“While housing first in my humble opinion, housing alone is not enough,” Ott said.

The Austin City council passed a resolution calling for 350 units of supportive housing, but other key factors must be addressed including mental health and job training.

“Beyond that a job would provide that same sort of aha, right on, work yes let’s go John Q citizen again rather than a reptile sitting on a dang gazebo,” Charles, who is homeless, said.

Charles and his wife, Alice, were left homeless after Hurricane Katrina.

“We’re a family. I’m a family man without so much the house,” Charles said.

They haven’t had much luck weathering the job market.

“People think we’re out here drinking… yeah I wish!” Charles said.

“People say, ‘why are they waiting around?’ Well, there are 3,000 people waiting to get into public housing, there’s a waiting list for case management, there’s a waiting list for the health clinic, there’s a waiting list for everything. So that at some point what else are they going to do,” said Dawn Perkins, the Director of Communications for Front Steps.

Life on the streets is waiting game… some wait to die. Others hope for a hand up rather than a handout.

– Nicole

Cap Metro Closes Downtown Bus Stops (Congress Avenue)

Showing the Changes to Bus Stops on Congress Ave.

A little late writing about this, but thought it important to the Downtown Austin community that I post anyway.  On November 6, 2010, Cap Metro closed down several of the bus stops on Congress Avenue, citing traffic and safety issues under the old system, which had a bus stop at every block of one of Downtown Austin’s main downtown thoroughfares.

I talked with John-Michael Cortez, the Interim Manager of Community Involvement at Cap Metro.  He explained that these changes have been discussed for years, but the recent construction on Brazos Street and the subsequent detours routing extra busses to Congress stops have exacerbated congestion and traffic accident issues and has pushed the Agency to close some stops on Congress now.

He says these stop closures are the short-term solution, and that next steps will include gathering feedback, giving a preliminary report to Cap Metro Planning and Operations committee in early December, then giving a detailed, quantitative report on the outcomes to the Cap Metro Board in January.  If the bus stop closures are deemed to be successful in decreasing congestion / traffic problems while maintaining customer and stakeholder satisfaction, Cap Metro will most likely decide to close additional stops on Congress to have only 3 NB and 3 SB stops total.  THEN, if all goes according to service plan 2020 (which Mr. Cortez was quick to say was not set in stone), all Congress bus stops will be relocated to Lavaca / Guadalupe “transit corridors.”

Mr. Cortez said that, to his knowledge, the changes have only received a positive response.  However, some stakeholders may have the concern that by closing down bus stops will only increase the crowds at the remaining stops, thereby inhibiting pedestrian traffic to and from their space.  Also, at least at 6th and Congress, there seems to be an awful lot of people hanging out at that bus stop that have no intention of riding the bus – to where will that element relocate?  (I bet you that Keepers is pumped about the closure there.)  And lastly, those that use the Congress Avenue bus stops as transfer points may be seriously affected, to the tune of perhaps missing a tight transfer because they have to walk 1 or 2 blocks further.  Which means serious delays.

Mr. Cortez says that Cap Metro will actively be reaching out to the community to get feedback regarding these concerns, among others.  While he says they will be proactive in their attempt to talk with stakeholders about the impact of these closures, it never hurts to reach out to them if you have an opinion.  You can contact Community Involvement Coordinator Alissa Schram at or John-Michael Cortez directly at with your thoughts on this decision.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Not a turkey – but possibly being eaten on Thanksgiving anyway.

Downtown Austin Blog wishes our readers a Happy Thanksgiving!

And by the way, this turkey guinea fowl really has been running around Rainey Street for quite awhile.  I hope whoever is keeping it doesn’t plan to eat it. 🙁

The Quarter-Billion Dollar Street

View Rainey Street District in a larger map

At last night’s Downtown Commission, the commissioners heard from representatives of Rainey Street’s high-rise HOA boards. The most salient concerns were: 1) pedestrian safety (there’s no sidewalks), 2) outdoor music venue permits (compatibility), and 3) parking (there’s not much) in the burgeoning Rainey Street District.

In seven years, the city has generated nearly a quarter-BILLION dollars in tax basis through the upzoning of Rainey Street.  Andre Suissa with American Realty Corp helped me assemble some interesting data.

Rainey Street Facts:
Number of Residential High Rises = 5
Number of Residential High Rise Doors = 857
Total Value of Residential High Rise (aka. ‘condos’) Tax Base = $238,586,516 (!!!)
Total Value of Other Privately Owned Property = $56,831,501
Total Value of City Owned Property = $70,111,541
Total Tax Base of Rainey Street District = $365,529,558

The most recent draft of the Downtown Austin Plan(released yesterday) devotes two pages to priority uses for the district.  While it is brief, the message is clear and on-the-money.  Rainey Street is not one of downtown’s two entertainment districts.  Two highlights of the DAP as it pertains to RSD: 1) Encourage new residential uses that can complement the existing, quiet neighborhood character.  2) Limit the number of cocktail uses allowed.

I’ve been devoting a lot of blog space to RSD, and there’s good reason: No other area in Austin parallels Rainey Street’s activity, specifically the type of growth we’re observing. It’s the wild west with big CBD zoning guns, feral cats, no plan, and few laws in place to keep things orderly.

Lax parking requirements for bars in CBD are precisely why you are seeing a surge in bars in RSD over other commercial uses.  [The same is true for “bar creep” we’re seeing on Congress Ave] . There was a lengthy discussion on the DC about replacing parking from the west side of Rainey Street with a pedestrian/bike safety zone.  Currently, arriving and departing customers are literally forced to walk in the middle of the street where it is a foregone conclusion that someone is going to get hurt.  Seems like a pedestrian/bicycle/handicap refuge is good idea.