New Urbanism Comes to East Riverside

Tranforming car-heavy Riverside into a pedestrian-friendly place to live and work

New Urbanism Comes to East Riverside
This is how East Riverside Drive looks today.
This is how East Riverside Drive looks today. (Photo courtesy of City of Austin)

At a public meeting last Thursday, June 25, a rigorous New Urbanist vision was unveiled for the East Riverside Corridor. Comparable to some of the best plans and projects seen at CNU 17 in Denver, the draft master plan hinges on the premise that rail transit will run down Riverside Drive, between I-35 and Ben White, and on out to the airport. Leveraging the transformational powers of transit-oriented development, the corridor plan shows East Riverside losing its car focus (e.g., a blur of parking lots and strip shopping centers) in favor of a people focus (attractive places to walk, recreate, eat, shop, and live). Handsome three-story architecture surrounds transit stops; East Riverside itself features bike lanes, frequent bus service, street trees, shade features, improved pedestrian crossings, landscaped sidewalks, new parks, and creek-front green space and trails.

This is how it could look under the East Riverside Corridor Plan.
This is how it could look under the East Riverside Corridor Plan. (Photo courtesy of City of Austin)

Consultant A. Nelessen Associates Inc. used a visual preferences study – in which Austinites picked photos of good-looking places they liked – to document a strong citizen desire for a New Urbanist redo. Now, how to ensure that the promising plan doesn't remain a pie-in-the-sky vision? The consultant recommends rezoning the area; city planning staff hope to complete that in about a year. (As an immediate fix, City Council will vote soon on rezoning the eastern stretch of East Riverside, making the entire frontage a core transit corridor – which kicks in commercial design standards.) As in Denver's new zoning, the new zoning code would designate six land-use districts, each with context-based and form-based rules. Neighborhood streets wouldn't be allowed any more height, but transit-oriented development would allow commercial districts to rise five to six stories, with optional density bonuses.

Council also will need to provide a funding mechanism, such as tax-increment financing, for the crucial streetscape improvements, pocket parks, and other public investments. And, oh, don't forget that city of Austin rail line! Mayor Lee Leffingwell campaigned on the promise of a transportation bond election next year; he hopes it will fund Austin's long-discussed rail-transit system. If the Riverside segment wins voter approval (even as a future phase), transit-oriented development promises to leave the station years before the actual train.

To review the draft master plan (which goes to council in September) and to comment online, visit

Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 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.

Support the Chronicle  

More East Riverside Corridor
Disappointment After Public Forum on Riverside Mega-Redevelopment
Disappointment After Public Forum on Riverside Mega-Redevelopment
Nobody goes home happy after meeting hits a wall

Michael King, April 5, 2019

More by Katherine Gregor
Climate Protection: City in No Hurry To Cool It
Climate Protection: City in No Hurry To Cool It
Checking in on the Climate Protection Program's progress – or lack thereof

Aug. 6, 2010

Climate Change Crosses County Lines
Climate Change Crosses County Lines
Study predicts how climate change will affect Texas' future water needs

July 30, 2010


East Riverside Corridor, City Council, rail

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle