Vote on your favorite redesign of Congress Avenue!

We decided to hold a contest to let people have their say on a vision for what Congress Ave could look like. Today is the day you can help determine the winner, who will receive a gift certificate generously donated by Popbar. Here are the entrants!

#1 Jon Brewer

Jon’s Congress Avenue has center-running bus lanes with benches to wait for the bus, as well as room for sidewalks, bikes, parked and driving cars.

#2 Chris “Kaz” Wojtewicz

Kaz’s Congress Avenue has a more walking-oriented vision, with a generous sidewalk in the median. [EDIT: Kaz adds: “my vision includes a capped subway that StreetMix was unable to show.”]

#3 Mateo Barnstone (#1)

Mateo’s Congress Avenue has 8 (!!) rows of street trees, still with room for walking, driving, and parking for both cars and bicycles.

#4 Mateo Barnstone (#2)

Mateo’s other Congress Avenue has given up some street trees and median sidewalks for a pair of center-running tram lanes.

#5 Dan Hennessey

Dan’s Congress Avenue is our first asymmetric entry, with sidewalks, street maps, three rows of trees, transit, separated bike lanes, and transit shelters.

#6 Stefan Aleo

Stefan’s Congress Avenue has street maps, a bus lane, bike lane, driving lanes, turning lanes, parking lanes, and sidewalks, capped with a nice row of palm trees down the median.

#7 Ryan Young

Ryan has foregone car parking in favor of center-running transit lanes and edge-running bike lanes.

#8 Jacob Barett

Jacob’s Congress Avenue features transit, bikes, trees and sidewalks — including a bench-and-tree-lined median sidewalk — but no lanes for cars.

#9 Rocket Man John Dawson

John Dawson of Rocket Electrics has produced a bold vision for a Congress Ave with a wide median sidewalk, bike lanes (presumably including electrics!), and transit on the edge.

That’s it! Please step back, imagine yourself on each of these visions for Congress Ave and vote for your favorites.  Make sure to scroll down and click “Vote.” And while you’re at it, take the time to think of all the possibilities not only for Congress, but all of our streets. We get around on foot, bike, car, bus, train, scooter, and however else. And sometimes we don’t get around at all, but we just sit outside and enjoy the ambiance. But what we do is affected an awful lot by the environment we live in, so let’s dream for the best streets we can get!

Create your own user feedback survey

Contest: What’s your Congress Ave like?

We have a contest for you! With prizes including a $25 gift certificate generously donated by Pop Bar, offering ice cream bars at 247 W 3rd Street downtown starting Friday January 26th. Read to the bottom for details on how to enter!

One of the great forces in shaping Downtown Austin is its capitol view corridors. As we speak, downtown Austin is being made over in their image, with Austin’s signature architectural feature becoming the corner-cut tower. Capitol view corridors are a relatively recent phenomenon, passed into law in 1983 on the initiative of then-Texas State Senator Lloyd Doggett. But the granddaddy capitol view of them all, the terminating vista along Congress Ave, has been baked into Austin’s DNA since 1839 when Judge Edwin Waller laid out the street grid of the Republic of Texas’ brand new capital city. Congress Ave has undergone many changes through the years. James Rambin did a fantastic rundown on those changes at sister site, so I’ll just do a quick picture recap here.

Here is Congress Ave in the 1880s (via KUT), when Austin had no cars except mule-pulled streetcars.

Congress Avenue looking north at the state capitol in the 1880s. Image courtesy of the Austin History Center, via KUT.

By 1913, the street had been paved and the streetcar electrified, but streetcars, carriages, and pedestrians still ruled the day:

Congress Avenue and 6th Street, via the Austin History Center.

By the 1930s, the personal automobile had overtaken streetcars and carriages as the dominant use of the Avenue.

Ellison Photo Co. South Congress Avenue looking north, photograph, 1930/1939; via University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, and the Austin History Center.

A 1976 proposal that never got adopted included a vision for a Texas makeover of Congress Ave intersections. The last major shakeup to actually happen was in 2014, when Cap Metro’s bus network shifted its major downtown spine off Congress Ave to Guadalupe and Lavaca Streets. But there may be a new shakeup coming soon! The city of Austin has undertaken an initiative to redesign Congress Ave and has already begun the process of testing out ideas.

Well, recently I took a trip to Mexico City, where I stayed on Avenue Mazatlan in the Condesa neighborhood, a street the same width as Congress Avenue, but configured entirely differently, with a tree-lined pedestrian/bicycle/dog/rollerblade shared-use path running down the center of the street (top two pictures in the first tweet):

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This inspired to me to get out the Streetmix tool and put together a vision for how Congress Ave could look with an emphasis on giving people access to the terminal vista of the Capitol while walking or on their bikes:

Other twitter users have imagined alternative visions:

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So, Austin on Your Feet and have decided to give everybody a chance to design their own version of Congress Avenue and vote for their favorites. You can remix my Streetmix or start your own. The rules are: submit a design from streetmix by tweeting with the hashtag #CongressTowers by February 8 or emailing to The street must be exactly 120′ wide. We will select the best entrants and give readers a chance to vote for their favorite alternative. The entrant with the most votes will receive a $25 gift certificate to Pop Bar and sunglasses. So get out there and get designing!

6 things to like in California’s proposed transit housing law, illustrated by surfing

On January 4, California felt two earthquakes. The first was a conventional and thankfully weak earthquake in Berkeley:

The second was a political earthquake, emanating from across the bay in San Francisco:

So, here are six things to like about the transit-oriented development bill that’s making waves in state politics:

1 It acknowledges the state has an interest in land use

Many decisions are better made by cities than states. Where will the next branch library go? Should this park have a splash pad or a lawn? But some problems are too big for one city alone, like intercity transportation. If Austin and San Antonio decide to be connected by a train, Buda, Kyle, San Marcos, or New Braunfels should have input (as the train would go through these cities), but they shouldn’t be given a flat veto. It is up to the state government to help manage this process so that local interests in one city don’t hurt local interests everywhere else.

In California and some other states, housing and land use have become problems with statewide and national implications. Housing prices aren’t just high in San Francisco or Los Angeles or even Berkeley; people unable to find housing in those cities are spilling over to suburbs and exurbs all across the state. Whole companies are looking to other states to set up offices because their workers can’t afford California rents. The greenhouse gases from long commutes affect every person on the planet. When a problem is widespread, the solution needs to be widespread too; cities rules by local interests just doesn’t cut it.

When one city’s rules starts to affect not just themselves but others, it can be time for the state to set in and make rules.

2 It creates fair and impartial rules

Laws made at the local level can take into account local context better than statewide rules can be. But laws made at the state level can better take into account the statewide context. In a drought, we need fair rules so that everybody does their part to conserve water and everybody has access to the water they need. In a statewide housing drought, we need fair rules so that everybody does their part to build housing.

Everybody has to play by the same rules.

3 It forges a link between transit and density

In the sphere of YIMBY and placemaking, the problem in California is a very YIMBYish problem: there aren’t enough homes to go around for all the people who want to live in California’s cities. But the solution that Wiener proposes isn’t just focused on getting people into homes anywhere. By proposing rules for allowing more homes near transit, it creates the chance for cities to use this as an opportunity to make great places for the future, where high-capacity transportation solutions are matched with high-capacity housing solutions.

Transit is great because everybody can ride together.

4 It acknowledges how parking rules can hurt housing

One type of land use rule that’s particularly pernicious is the minimum parking regulation. These rules not only incentivize car use by forcing everybody to pay the price of car storage whether they drive or not, they also cut into the budget (both financially and physically) of new housing. This legislation will stop cities from using these pernicious rules near transit stops and opens the possibility for people to find new ways to live cheaper while using less parking.

Not everywhere is perfect for parking.

5 It helps bridge the gap between people and jobs

The problems of California’s cities aren’t their problems alone. Vast swathes of the state are home to unique industries, from Silicon Valley’s tech economy to Hollywood’s movie industry. Sure, tech jobs exists outside Silicon Valley and movies are filmed all over the world. But place has, if anything, grown more important over the last decades, not less. Young workers looking to break into an industry would do well to show up where the jobs are, and new companies looking to start up would do well to show up where the workers are. Today, though, many people are shut out of these engines of prosperity because they can’t afford to live in Palo Alto, San Francisco, or Los Angeles while they lean the trade. Who knows what great technology or film talent we may cherish tomorrow if only we make room for them today?

Some folks in California’s economy find good jobs and places to live while others are simply couch surfing.

6 It might just save humanity

With the United States federal government oriented away from action against climate change, individual states badly need to step up their game. While trying not to overstate the importance of this bill, the fate of the entire human race might depends on our ability to transition the United States and our high-emission society into one in which we can get around more efficiently.

If we don’t address climate change, there’s a wave heading our way that California — and humanity — might not be able to ride out.

So congratulations to Senator Scott Wiener! You brought a proposal that deals with the scale of the problems your state and this country are experiencing, and you may have changed the conversation on housing for good.

Words by Dan Keshet. Gif selection by Susan Somers.

Convention Center Bombshell

Previously, I have been skeptical of a convention center expansion. As a member of the Visitor Impact Task Force, I came around to a positive recommendation after the Task Force recommended ways to make expansion a positive for the city:

  • Incorporating expansion as part of a larger tower to share costs and add activity when the convention center isn’t being used.
  • Keeping the convention center expansion on the tax base.
  • Keeping the street grid, the long-term source of value in the downtown district.

For background on the convention center and its surrounding environment, check out coverage from TOWERS.

On August 29, city of Austin staff casually dropped a bombshell that gives the possibility of multiplying these benefits many times over: building a Convention Center expansion may open the possibility of redeveloping the existing Convention Center. The possibility seems remote but it would be an enormous development so let’s step through it.

What is there to gain from redeveloping the area?

The Frost Bank Tower paid $7.5M in property taxes in 2017. Expanding that out to the Convention Center’s six blocks, that’s about $45m in potential tax revenue from the Convention Center’s 6 blocks! That’s almost as much as the city spends on the repaying Convention Center construction loans and operations put together!

These taxes represent the real benefits to Austinites that onsite towers could provide: homes, workplaces, shops, restaurants, etc. Today, way more people wish they could live downtown than live there, as evidenced by the record prices people are paying for downtown condos and apartments. Building more offices and homes will allow more of the people who want to live and/or work downtown to do so. According to the staff presentation, there could be up to 4 million square feet of buildable space there. That could be enough housing for 4,000 households, enough office space for 20,000 jobs, or some combination thereof.

Artist’s rendition of the Southeastern Quadrant downtown map with a re-stitched street grid.

Lastly, the convention center doesn’t just occupy land that could be used for other purposes, but it also occupies the streets and sidewalks that people would otherwise use to get around. Returning that land to be used as streets would make it easier for people to get around, making all of the land around it more valuable. For example, the City of Austin and Waller Creek Conservancy are currently investing large resources in renovating Palm Park on 3rd Street, but few people downtown use that park in part because it’s hard to get to! It may even provide traffic relief by providing alternative means to get to destinations on opposite sides of the convention center.

Why does redeveloping the Convention Center depend on expansion?

Designing a vertical convention center is difficult; one of the most important aspects of convention center space is beam-free space ― enormous wide-open rooms without any vertical supports to obstruct views. Designing spaces to be beam-free is difficult as part of larger tower structures which require vertical supports. Convention centers are not generally built vertically for this reason and the Austin Convention Center was definitely not built with vertical expansion in mind.

The beam-free space is large enough to hold a Roller Derby track and stands. Photo by Steve Dement photography via Texas Roller Girls.

Without expansion, redeveloping the convention center for more square footage in place would entail years of foregoing hosting large conventions in Austin. While Austin is a hot convention market today, taking such a dramatic step would risk crippling the future convention industry in Austin. Skills and connections would rust as convention bookers would lose touch with Austin, convention center staff find other jobs, and convention-oriented businesses like the JW Marriott or Fairmont Hotel would need to reorient.

The Convention Center redeveloping could therefore only be approached out of strength or serious weakness: with the strength of new modern facilities in place to accept conventions or the weakness of a rapid decline in Convention Center fortunes forcing a desperation move. We are nowhere near the latter―Austin has been moving up the ranks, not down the ranks, as a Convention destination.

What are the next steps?

The possibility of a redevelopment of the existing Convention Center changes the ideas for expansion dramatically. While the expansion has focused more on meeting space and ballrooms, if it is to serve as an interim or permanent replacement for some or all of the existing Convention Center, it would necessarily include more exhibit space and an area for trucks to unload into it. For the city, therefore, the next step would be to include information about potential for redevelopment of the existing Convention Center in any Request for Proposals it releases.

For the Austin urban design and architectural communities, the next step is to develop ideas and visions that can inspire stakeholders and the whole city to believe that a megaproject like this could make sense for the Convention Center, for other downtown business, for transportation, and for the city and its finances. So architects, designers, placemakers, enthusiasts: do you have thoughts about how this could happen? A phased approach to redeveloping the southeastern corner of downtown? Please send them to and let me know if I can share them with my readers!

3 lessons for buses, from Uber, illustrated by presidential candidates

Every form of transportation has some unique considerations. Car drivers worry a great deal about parking near their destination–a consideration bus riders don’t need to think about. But, as transit consultant Jarrett Walker has written about, some considerations are universal. As Uber and Lyft have added carpool services, some people have noted that they can learn from traditional transit:

But what lessons go in the opposite direction? What can transit learn from Uber?  Continue reading

5 Reasons Uber has leverage in Austin (or, How Austin made taking taxis awful)

Austin is in election season. City Council passed a new set of rules for Uber and Lyft, and the companies have funded an initative to repeal and replace those rules with rules more similar to the ones previously in place. On May 7, the issue will be decided by voters. This election has been heated, with charges that Uber pays its drivers too little and its campaign workers too much and countercharges that City Council members are in the pocket of Big Taxi. For many people I know, the referendum poses an awkward choice: they think the new rules the City Council passed are reasonable but they don’t want to see Uber and Lyft leave.

How is that when two young, money-losing startup companies contemplate stopping service here, that possibility gives them so much leverage? Mostly, the answer is that Austinites remember getting rides prior to Uber and Lyft, it was awful–and nothing has been done to fix the underlying problems.

1 The city (still) limits the number of taxis

Finding a taxi in Austin when you needed one was hard. At 2:00 AM on Friday and Saturday nights (closing time for bars), throngs of downtown revelers used to line up desperately searching for cabs. Many folks had to wait until the first wave of cabs had already driven to the suburbs and back. Others gave up and either drove home intoxicated, took unpaid rides from strangers, or hired unlicensed cabs. Since Uber and Lyft have arrived, the number of people offering rides for money and the number of paid rides have both risen dramatically, showing that the demand was always there, but couldn’t be provided for with the limited number of taxis the city permitted.

2 The city (still) forbids taxis from pricing appropriately

Uber and Lyft vary their prices for a variety of reasons. They use sales and first-ride discounts to promote their services; they use temporary price hikes to motivate drivers to get on the road at times of high demand. Given the city-mandated taxi shortage, taxi companies could have used similar tactics to build ridership at down times and motivate all their drivers to drive at times of highest demand. Except the city doesn’t allow taxicabs to change their prices except by act of City Council. The tools that Uber uses to provide reliable service aren’t available to taxis.

3 The city (still) limits the number of taxi companies

Ever wonder why, when riders and drivers both complain vigorously about the existing taxi companies, no other company came into existence and tried to lure drivers away to work for them instead? After all, Uber and Lyft are constantly fighting for each others’ drivers. The city only grants franchise agreements to three companies and limits the number of drivers for each, so they have no incentive to compete for drivers. As a member of my neighborhood association, I’ve met with people looking to start a new taxi company. Unfortunately, all their time was spent on the politics of convincing City Council members to allow them to serve customers rather than the actual logistics of serving customers. Starting a business is hard enough; starting a business that requires political approval before you are allowed to operate is a step too far for most people.

4 The city (still) forbids other companies from offering anything that even vaguely resembles a taxi ride

With the city-mandated taxi shortage, you might expect people to get more rides from slightly differentiated services like prearranged ride companies (called limousine service, but not limited to stretch limos). However, the city code includes many rules with no conceivable consumer benefit. For example, limo services are forbidden from charging less than $55/hour, must wait half an hour before providing service, and must keep trip tickets proving both of those facts.

5 Uber and Lyft provide better services than traditional taxis

Even acknowledging reasons 1-4, Uber and Lyft probably wouldn’t have as much leverage as they do if they merely provided another option on par with what existed before. But they really have managed to use digital technology to provide much better service for passengers. Just some of the Lyft features I’ve personally used recently:

  • Texted my driver before he arrived to okay bringing my cat along.
  • Waited upstairs until GPS showed my ride was a minute away.
  • Automatically matched for carpool with people I didn’t know.
  • Texted my friends a link to a map tracking my ride’s current progress.
  • Paid and tipped my drivers via credit card on file without driver interaction.

In addition to these flourishes, they’re better at the basics of requesting and dispatching cars. This is a point that gets acknowledged repeatedly at City Council. In one debate, Ellen Troxclair argued passengers already have a choice of fingerprinted drivers (taxis) vs. non-fingerprinted drives (Uber/Lyft), and Mayor Adler said it wasn’t realistic to expect passengers to choose taxis given their inferior service.

What next?

Uber and Lyft currently have superior technology and regulations that allow them to put as many drivers as they need on the streets and price rides based on the conditions they face. With the possibility that those companies will be unwilling to continue service under Austin’s new regulations, voters face a choice between having access to convenient, reliable paid rides and the regulations which at least some of them prefer.

Uber and Lyft’s tenure in Austin has exposed the massive gap between the ride services we had and the ride services we want. Whatever the outcome of the election on Proposition 1, I hope that City Council realizes that, as long as it forbids taxi drivers from collectively meeting the number of rides needed, they will always be providing a massive amount of leverage to non-taxi companies who want to meet that demand.

Residential Permit Parking: for residents to park or so nobody else can?

Residential Permit Parking is ostensibly to allow residents to find street spaces near home in areas where parking is super competitive. In practice, though, few residents park onstreet during restricted hours and most of the parking goes unused.

It’s a phenomenon very easy to spot near the South Congress commercial strip:

But it happens all over the city, wherever we create resident-only zones. Clay Avenue off Burnet:

A few blocks west of that, Montview Avenue, also off Burnet:

Credit Kevin Miller

On Fortview, near Manchaca. Note how the unused parking starts where the residential zone starts.

Credit: Tyler Stowell

On Daniel Drive, one street over from Barton Springs Rd:

Credit: Rob Daniel

Some RPP zones in Mueller (all via Mateo Barnstone):

And near South 1st (again via Mateo Barnstone):

Do you have pictures of street parking going largely unused once designated as residents-only? Tag them with #NoParkingInRPP on twitter or add them to the discussion on the Austin on Your Feet facebook page.

UberAccess Expands Mobility

I’m honored to have today’s guest post from friend-of-the-blog Boone Blocker. Boone is an active citizen in the transportation field, having served on the city’s Urban Transportation Commission and CapMetro’s Access Advisory Committee. Boone was Rider Zero for UberACCESS; he brings his user’s perspective on the new service that provides mobility for people with mobility challenges:

Around the world and in our own community of Austin, people with mobility challenges have been and continue to be left behind by the current antiquated taxi system. These rides are unreliable at best and exclusionary at worst. Under the model which exists today, drivers frequently break off from trips and paying customers are left stranded with no idea if their driver is actually coming or in what timeframe they might be arriving. As an answer to this very real problem, an innovative alternative to the old tired system recently arrived on the local scene: UberACCESS.

UberACCESS is a first of its kind, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, on-demand, fully wheelchair accessible service. Instantaneously upon successfully requesting the ride, the passenger is alerted with the driver’s name and picture and additionally the type, color and picture of the vehicle. The passenger is also provided with the driver’s contact information if they need to relay any trip information and can carefully monitor the pick-up vehicle’s block-by-block movement and ETA as it approaches the pick-up location.

UberACCESS is empowerment in the face of hopelessness. It provides freedom and independence from the tyranny of transportation on someone else’s terms. It allows everyone to fully participate in all facets of our vibrant culture. We all see the world from different points of view and when a broader cross-section of our community is represented, we are able to forge new ideas together to break through the malignant status quo.

As we travel together in this brave new world of transportation, the inclusion of innovative companies and an engaged citizenry are imperative. This free-thinking environment produces solutions to problems which once seemed impassible. It’s equally as vital to have a flexible regulatory framework provided by the City, which affords companies the space to create and the citizens a clear conduit to provide our feedback for the necessary on-the-ground refinement of the products. We find ourselves on the precipice of a long overdue transportation revolution and we must do our utmost to ensure it benefits us all, not just the entrenched few.

Delia Garza and Don Zimmerman debate density vs. sprawl

In this video, Council Member Delia Garza argues that downtown density is better for congestion than suburban sprawl, and Council Member Don Zimmerman argues the opposite. I call the argument for Council Member Garza. Here’s why:

Downtown, destinations are closer, reducing travel distance

CM Zimmerman is right that one reason suburban development causes more congestion than downtown development is that suburban residents tend to drive into downtown. Austin is a downtown-centered city. More people from the suburbs come into downtown for work, business, and entertainment than vice-versa. Placing them near these destinations reduces travel distance.

But even if downtown residents stay downtown and people on the fringes stay on the fringes, the dense development pattern downtown results in less distance spent on the roads. I spent the last weekend up on the edge of Austin, in CM Zimmerman’s district. When I stay at home downtown, there are dozens, maybe hundreds of restaurants within two miles of where I live. When I stay in District 6, traveling 10 miles for a simple night out seems normal and 2.5 miles is super close. This isn’t only about coming into downtown; even staying within the suburbs, trips are longer.

Downtown, destinations are closer, allowing more people to walk, bike, and bus

Reducing average trip distance from 20 miles to 10 miles halves the distance that somebody needs to drive. But reducing it from 10 miles to 5 miles doesn’t just halve the distance; it makes it possible for many people to bike instead of drive, using less space on the road. Reducing trips from 5 miles to 1 mile allows even more to bike and some to walk, using even less space. Bus trips are manageable where they’re short and well-served by transit. Downtown, people can choose to do without a car altogether, using very little transportation infrastructure; in the suburbs, this is practically impossible. Even for those who continue to drive cars downtown, some trips can be made on bike, on foot, or on the bus.

Downtown, uses are mixed, reducing travel distance

Downtown is denser: more buildings, more residents, more offices, more storefronts. But it isn’t only denser, it’s also more mixed. Whereas in some places in District 6, one would literally have to walk miles to get outside of a residential zone; in downtown, picking up the things you need is often as simple as going downstairs or around the block.

Downtown, uses are mixed, which mixes travel times

If you don’t live downtown and merely drive in and out at peak times, it’s easy to believe that streets downtown are hopelessly gridlocked. The truth is, though, that this is more of a function of people entering and exiting the area at peak hours. The Congress Ave bridge is congested northbound in the morning. South Lamar leaving downtown is congested southbound at night. But even the most congested downtown streets are often lightly traveled at other times of the day and many streets internal to downtown are almost never congested. While adding new residents in the Austonian is likely to add more people to the streets, it’s unlikely they’ll be driving into downtown at 8:30 on weekday mornings or out of it at 5. Instead, they may use their cars for errands or entertainment at times of light traffic.

This argument was framed as dowtown vs. fringe development but those aren’t the only two options

In this discussion, CM Garza and CM Zimmerman were only comparing dense downtown development to greenfield development on the fringes of the city. But those aren’t the only options. Moderately dense central city infill development poses many of the same benefits that high density downtown development does.

If you plan for everyone to drive cars, they will

On June 18, City Council took its first look at an ordinance to make it easier to build granny flats, also known as ADUs or backhouses. A granny flat is a small home on the same lot as a single-family home. They have traditionally been used to keep multi-generational families together or as an affordable option for rental housing. Very few new ones have been built in Austin lately, in part because rules make it hard. But this column isn’t about granny flats. It’s about one comment Council Member Leslie Pool made, about the requirement that each new granny flat be paired with an off-street parking space:

I want to acknowledge that while we’re moving in other transit-oriented directions, which I support, the reality is that people in Austin still drive cars, which is why we have the requirement for at least one [off-street] spot for a car to park.

In the past, CM Pool has showed vision toward what she calls “other transit-oriented directions” by signing AURA’s pledge to make a transit-oriented Austin. So I’d like to challenge her and any others thinking along these lines to think bigger about how they as Councilmembers can shape our city.

Off-Street Parking Doesn’t Just Reflect Our Driving Reality, it Drives Our Reality

Not every new household in Austin must bring or buy a car. I get around without a car and it’s getting easier all the time. But many people will weigh whether to own a car and decide that, as things stand, they’d be better off with one. Some of the people who decide to own a car are actually close to choosing not to have one, but are ultimately swayed by the particulars of their situation.

Our parking requirements are one of the prime reasons driving the decision to own a car:

  • Some potential ADUs in older, central neighborhoods, won’t get built because a legal parking space can’t fit on the lot or the homeowner doesn’t want to pave  their little paradise to provide a parking space.  Potential residents who would’ve chosen to live in an affordable, small, central home are forced to live further on the periphery and drive in.
  • Instead of some ADUs being built with a nice garden and no car parking, and others with a small or non-existent garden but a parking space, all will have the parking space. Deprived of the potential benefits of doing without parking, residents may as well make use of the space.

Requiring parking drives the reality of people choosing to own cars. It’s important for policymakers to not just react to life as it is now, but to be move us towards a future where people have the practical freedom to live with whatever transportation mode they choose.

How it works downtown

The city council ended parking requirements downtown a few years ago. The result has not been a parkingpocalypse of car-drivers unable to move downtown because they can’t find parking. Most new projects that have gotten built since then have included parking. This shouldn’t be surprising: downtown is mostly a high-end market and people who can afford to spend a lot of money on housing can afford cars as well. New apartment and condo complexes like Fifth and West, the Seven, or the Bowie include parking as an amenity.

But some projects are getting built with less or no parking. A new office building on Guadalupe was built completely without parking to lower rents; it advertises availability at a garage a couple blocks over. The JW Marriott hotel was built with limited parking. Some employees take public transit in; others park at a leased parking lot a few blocks away. Conference guests are encouraged to take public transit or use spaces at the convention center garage. The Aloft hotel is going to be built using a valet-only model that shifts cars to existing underutilized garages. There’s even rumors of new apartments planned for downtown without parking for a much lower price point than typical downtown living. Even though downtown is the most accessible place to live in the city without a car, the transition has been slow and gentle.

From here to there

If Council Members fear the consequences of allowing ADUS without parking, there are half-measures they could take that would get most of the benefit. One example would be to allow no-parking ADUs only near high-frequency bus lines that can support carless mobility. This would let the city continue to dip its toes into accommodating folks like me who get around without a car, while maintaining the vast majority of the city for guaranteed parking.

Other Policies

ADU parking requirements are really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how policy makes it impractical for most people to live in Austin without a car. Off the top of my head, some other ideas:

  • Dedicated transit lanes.  About half of those who travel down the Drag do so in buses, packed efficiently into only 6% of the vehicles. If one street lane were allocated for buses to zoom by, like the transit priority lanes downtown, this could benefit half of the street’s users in a stroke.
  • Mixing uses. The city maintains a fairly rigid separation of residential space from commercial space. This has some advantages, but the disadvantages for people getting around without a car are obvious: they have to go further from their homes to reach convenient places to work, shop, and dine.
  • Allow more residents in transit-accessible places.  There’s a limited number of places in the city that are already convenient to live without a car: downtown, West Campus, and other inner-city neighborhoods.  Building new transit-accessible places is a time-consuming and sometimes expensive process. The simplest way to allow more people the freedom to live without a car is to allow more people to live in the places that are already transit-accessible.


The reality is, Austin can’t wait until an imagined transit-oriented future before we give more people the practical freedom to choose whether to own a car. We must forge that future for ourselves. Every day that we delay, the hole we’ve dug for ourselves gets bigger. As I write, there are construction crews building subdivisions in District 6 that will be pretty much impossible to live in without a car for decades to come. Other construction crews are spending tax dollars widening MoPac so that the residents of the new subdivisions can drive into downtown. Shouldn’t we also be building places where people who choose to live a transit-oriented life can do so without paying for parking?