Opinion: The Zilker Vision Plan Is Deeply Flawed and Should Be Scrapped
The newly released draft plan is a recipe for how to ruin a park
If you have ever asked yourself, "Should I be worried that a music festival in Zilker Park which charges $5,500 for Platinum Access may lead to bad decisions being made about the park," with the newly unveiled draft Zilker Vision Plan you have an unequivocal answer: Yes. The overarching goal of this plan is clear: to radically transform a public park that is heavily used for commercial events into one that is built to service those events and their wealthier patrons. The plan's ideas for Zilker Park are both devastating and nonsensical.
Where to start? Let's begin with the purely nonsensical. Barton Springs Road, which cuts through Zilker Park, is a major east-west vehicular route, carrying almost 15,000 cars a day. On summer weekends, at rush hour, or when there is an accident on MoPac, the stretch of Barton Springs Road in Zilker Park becomes crowded with cars.
So it is something of a world-class head-scratcher that the Zilker Vision Plan proposes to reduce east-west traffic through the park to one lane and add parallel parking to the roadway. Thus, traffic would be funneled down to a single lane coming in and out, and that single lane would be blocked by cars waiting to parallel park. It does not take a traffic engineer to see that this would create massive bottlenecks. If we want to increase car idling and ozone within Austin city limits this seems like a great way to do that.
While this piece of the plan boggles the mind it does fit in with a central goal of the plan that should be filed under devastating: huge amounts of permanent on-site parking within the park.
The plan calls for an increase in the number of permanent parking spaces in the park by almost 90% to nearly 2,500 spaces. In addition to the abovementioned parallel parking on Barton Springs Road this would be mainly accomplished with the construction of three parking garages on park grounds: one on the site of the South Austin Baseball field on Azie Taylor Morton, one in a giant subterranean parking garage at the site of the polo fields, and one down by MoPac and Stratford Drive. One could have a long discussion about the many logistical question marks raised by these proposed garages. But a philosophical argument here should suffice: Zilker Park is a relatively small main public park for a major city, clocking in at 350 acres. Its space should be maximized for ecology and outdoor activities. The city should not be building concrete temples within the park to provide transitory homes for cars. This is a bad look and bad policy. Taking Zilker Park in the direction of the Austin-Bergstrom Airport is taking it the wrong direction.
Building parking garages in Zilker Park is a surefire way to make it less equitable for Austinites. Those pushing the vision plan argue that the parking garage idea is not novel – Brackenridge Park in San Antonio is often cited here. But a key difference here is that parking at the Brackenridge garages is free. At a recent public meeting park planners made it abundantly clear that parking in the Zilker garages would not be free.
So, Zilker Park would become a place where those who can afford to drive there and pay garage parking fees can enjoy the space. One can only imagine the caste parking system that would be implemented for events like the ACL Festival. Got a $5,500 Platinum Badge? Well shucks, we've got a parking garage spot for your Hummer right across the street from the festival entrance. Yuck.
Let's spend a moment on some devastating park-use losses under this plan. The beloved and heavily used Frisbee golf course would be razed. In another major head-scratcher the plan proposes to build a new sports area at the site of the Frisbee golf course. A major problem here is that this part of the park is hilly. Some major earth and tree removal would have to be done to accomplish this. Not cheap or nature friendly!
There are some simpler ideas buried within the plan that make sense – a land bridge connecting the pool to the Great Lawn sounds great, and more and better restrooms throughout the park seems logical. But the raison d'être for this Zilker Vision Plan – Zilker is broken – and its proposed cure – let's turn Zilker Park into Park Zilker – stinks to high heaven.
Zilker Park is just fine as is. The draft Zilker Vision Plan would ruin this crown jewel of Austin, and it should be roundly rejected.
David Weinberg is a political consultant who lives in Barton Hills.