The pilot program, which will run between Dec. 5 and March 8, 2020, has been long considered and in the works for months. The explosive growth of the Rainey Street District in recent years—a once modest single-family neighborhood—has raised safety and mobility concerns among elected leaders, city officials and neighbors. The concerns reached a fever pitch over the summer after a pedestrian was struck by a car and critically injured while crossing the street.
Beginning Thursday, Dec. 5, cars will not be allowed to enter Rainey Street between Davis and River streets between 9 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. Although automobiles will not be allowed, bikes, scooters, pedicabs and electric low-speed vehicles—such as the electric white shuttles that often seen on Rainey Street—will be permitted.
The pilot will also create designated drop-off and pick-up areas for cars and ride-sharing vehicles. These will be located toward the north on Davis Street between Rainey and Red River Street, and on Driskill Street between Red River and Rainey. Toward the south of Rainey, loading areas will be designated along River Street and at the entrance of the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican-American Cultural Center.
City Council Member Kathie Tovo, whose district surrounds Rainey, has publicly supported the street closure in calling for solutions to what she called a “constant tension” between cars and pedestrian.
Not everyone is excited by the plan, however. Several neighbors have come out in opposition to the street closure. The central gripe, according to resident Michael Abelson, is the ill comparison to Sixth Street. Abelson said, unlike Sixth, thousands of people actually live on Rainey and to shut down the street could cause access issues.
Rainey has seen some of the most dramatic growth within the city of Austin since City Council voted to rezone the single-family neighborhood to downtown zoning, opening the door for bars, high-rise apartments and hotels to enter the neighborhood. According to a Community Impact Newspaper analysis, the Rainey District is currently home to 3,565 hotel or residential units, with more than 3,600 proposed or approved for construction. Since 2010, the number of businesses serving alcohol on Rainey Street has jumped from one to 19, according to data from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
In a memo to City Council in late-November, city staff said they could adjust or suspend the pilot program depending on public feedback. Community Impact Newspaper published an extensive report on the proposed closure and the district's need for a development plan over the summer.