Welcome to Austin. You're Screwed.

Can you get there from here? In downtown Austin, the answer is no.

Welcome to Austin. You're Screwed.
By Doug Potter

Among the many city problems to catch the attention of Texas Monthly Publisher Mike Levy -- homicide rates, the city budget, fatal car crashes -- perhaps the most visible is the city's ineptly titled "Downtown Jam." For the last month or so, the prolific publisher has been jamming inboxes around the city with e-mails harshly criticizing the city's decision to shut off nearly 40 blocks downtown for the benefit of a handful of private construction projects -- including the apparently defunct Intel complex -- without providing a contingency plan for the thousands of commuters, diners, and clubgoers who visit our central city every day. Although we've butted heads with Levy, sometimes vehemently, in the past, for once we're in complete agreement: The Downtown Scam has got to end.

The city of Austin says only about 38 spaces in the Central Business District (roughly from MLK to the river, and Lamar to I-35) are reserved for valet parkers. However, an informal count by the <i>Chronicle</i> found almost 60 such spaces in downtown alone -- some of them in spots marked for commercial use only, or not marked at all.
The city of Austin says only about 38 spaces in the Central Business District (roughly from MLK to the river, and Lamar to I-35) are reserved for valet parkers. However, an informal count by the Chronicle found almost 60 such spaces in downtown alone -- some of them in spots marked "for commercial use" only, or not marked at all. (Photo By John Anderson)

Try driving downtown and you'll experience firsthand the dumb policy being carried out in the name of "Smart Growth." And with South by Southwest around the corner, it's only going to get uglier. Next week, thousands of visiting revelers, bands, and other downtown denizens will fight their way through the maze of street closures, one-way streets, and sudden traffic turnarounds, in search of one of 12,000 rumored parking spaces. Our advice? Walk. Wherever you're coming from -- just walk.

Other cities don't do it this way. Los Angeles built a subway system and closed one street. The Empire State Building was built without shutting down a single road. In Austin, downtown might as well be closed for business. If you're driving, you can't get there from here. Take Mike, for instance, who's depicted here, trying to make it from the Monthly offices at Seventh and Brazos to the Iron Works Barbecue at Cesar Chavez and Red River to pick up some ribs for out-of-town guests. From there, he's headed to the Austin Music Hall, at Second and Nueces, where Lucinda Williams is playing at midnight. Can he make it?

The slogan for the city's Downtown Jam campaign is Mixing It Up for a Better Austin. But we think the campaign needs a new, more truthful name: Call it the Downtown Scam.
The slogan for the city's "Downtown Jam" campaign is "Mixing It Up for a Better Austin." But we think the campaign needs a new, more truthful name: Call it the Downtown Scam. (Photo By John Anderson)

Mike's first obstacle will be the construction at the Convention Center, where an expansion has nine blocks fully or partially closed from Fifth Street to the river, and from San Jacinto to Red River. If he makes it around those roadblocks to the Ironworks, he'd better avoid the direct route to the Music Hall down Second Street, which is closed starting at Colorado. Diverted onto Third Street -- at last, an open road! -- Mike will be quickly frustrated, as Third is shut off starting at San Antonio -- tantalizingly close to his final destination. (An alternate route, down Fourth Street, leads to a traffic nightmare -- a four-way stop sign at Fourth and Colorado, with no turnarounds permitted -- and another traffic closure, this one between Lavaca and San Antonio.) Forced to turn south onto one-way San Antonio, a bewildered Mike finds himself jettisoned west onto four-lane Cesar Chavez, which he must follow around all the way to Lamar and then turn back down one-way Fifth Street, where he finally, miraculously, finds a parking space a mere four blocks from the Music Hall. Cold barbecue in tow, Mike hoofs it to the Hall just in time for the headlining act, a mere hour and a half later than expected. (If only you could be so lucky.)

For a full list of lane closures and shutdowns, go to the city's Web site at www.downtownjam.com.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Downtown Jam, Mike Levy, downtown traffic, street closures

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