Planning continues for Sixth Street safety initiatives six months after deadly shooting

Sixth Street
The mid-June East Sixth Street shooting has prompted responses from city police, EMS and government officials. (Community Impact Newspaper)

The mid-June East Sixth Street shooting has prompted responses from city police, EMS and government officials. (Community Impact Newspaper)

On Dec. 27, Austin Police Department Chief Joseph Chacon released an update on safety measures for the Sixth Street area, six months after a deadly shooting—killing one and injuring dozens—led to calls for public safety updates.

These measures are part of a resolution approved by City Council in July.



Based on the memo, two of the tasks laid out in the resolution have been completed: establishing a working group with representatives from the Austin Entertainment Services Group, Austin Police Department, Austin Transportation Department, Austin Energy, Austin Fire Department, Austin/Travis County Emergency Medical Services, Austin Code and the Historic Preservation Office; and updating lighting in the area.

Many of the other asks in the resolution, including considering how to encourage new uses for the area and considering ways to provide more safety training for businesses and their employees, are still in the planning stage, according to the memo.


Rethinking the space

One of the action items the group is tasked with is considering alternative ways businesses could utilize street parking space to create a wider space for pedestrians, including cafe seating.

The group is looking at two different plans: one that would allow pop-up barriers on the 200 and 500 blocks of Sixth and another that would allow it on parts of Sabine Street and Sixth.

Going forward, the group will establish application criteria for the programs and rules, such as hours, then seek council approval, according to the memo.

The interdepartmental group also considered a broader effort to revamp how Austinites use the space. One of the group’s goals laid out in the memo is to encourage daytime uses in the area, including live music, sports and other nondrinking activities.

EMS presence

The group is working on a plan for a dedicated staging area for emergency responders. The plan, which is in progress, according to the release, will allow medics and firefighters to respond to calls in the entertainment district accompanied by Austin Police Department officers when needed to access patients faster, according to the memo.

Lighting

Going forward, the group will conduct a lighting audit to identify further needs, contact business owners to encourage installation of lighting in alleys where street lighting would be challenging and recommend that future lighting projects in the area are designed for pedestrians instead of traditional streetlights, the release said.

Reopening Sixth street during the weekend

The resolution tasked the team with considering reopening Sixth to cars during the weekend hours—11:30 p.m.-2:30 a.m. Thursday through Sunday. However, according to the memo, the group does not recommend moving forward with that change. It said the streets are too narrow and pedestrian traffic is too high during those peak hours. However, if Sixth is rebuilt to have wider, more pedestrian-friendly sidewalks, or if daytime use of the area picks up and use of the area is spread more evenly throughout the day, the group might re-examine the issue.

Updating permit requirements

One of the tasks the team considered is creating a permitting process that would require training for staff and businesses in the area. The memo recommends that the permit could be used to create door policies and establish procedures to handle underage individuals, crowd control, preventing overcrowding and other safety concerns. These permitting requirements could be included in the annual entertainment permit. The memo also lays out a vision for these permit holders to communicate with each other, the city, and for the city to offer training such as active shooter and de-escalation classes.