Project Connect envisions The Drag, West Fourth Street for bikes, pedestrians, transit

Image of The Drag design options
One option put forth by the Austin Transit Partnership would remove car traffic from The Drag. (Courtesy Austin Transit Partnership)

One option put forth by the Austin Transit Partnership would remove car traffic from The Drag. (Courtesy Austin Transit Partnership)

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Project Connect designs show a West Fourth without car traffic. (Courtesy Austin Transit Partnership)
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The Austin Transit Partnership is considering options for a pedestrian crossing on North Lamar. (Courtesy Austin Transit Partnership)
Through light rails and expanded bus routes, Project Connect aims to bolster transit options in Austin. However, recent options presented by the Austin Transit Partnership, the local government corporation overseeing Project Connect, reveal how it could also impact pedestrians and bicyclists.

During a Dec. 15 ATP board meeting, officials presented options for Guadalupe Street near The University of Texas campus, also known as The Drag; West Fourth Street; and the North Lamar Transit Center, which it shared at community workshops earlier in December. Designs are progressing toward 30% completion by summer 2022.

The Drag with no cars

Peter Mullan, the ATP chief of architecture and urban design, presented two options to the public for how The Drag might look with the MetroRail’s Blue and Orange lines cutting through it.

In one option, traffic would be reduced to one lane, which could be for cars and buses or buses only. In the other option, car traffic would be eliminated from the stretch with the exception of possible lanes for buses, creating a “transit mall.”

“This may be the busiest pedestrian area in the entire city,” Mullan said.

During the meeting, some board members requested more information about the options' impact on local businesses but noted examples of carless streets having a positive impact in other cities.

“I think what would be helpful when we go to the community with these types of things that we be proactive, and we have the studies; we have the information and the ammunition to be able to go to the community and say, ‘We've done some analysis, and this is what the impact’s going to be,’” board member Tony Elkins said. “In other cities like Denver where they’ve found this has worked very well.”

‘A New Great Street’

West Fourth Street is another stretch that ATP officials see as an opportunity to create more spaces for pedestrians and bicyclists by removing car traffic.

The street stretches nine blocks through downtown and could be dotted with MetroRail stops at Republic Square and Congress Avenue, as well as the existing stop at Austin Convention Center.

Mullan said because the street is so short, traffic is already light on the street.

“The more you study it, the more interesting it becomes,” Mullan said. “It’s one of the unique streets in the city of Austin. It’s very short.”

During a July 14 meeting, Mullan said the ATP was considering three levels for West Fourth, including the street level, a concourse one level below ground and the light rail two levels below ground.

North Lamar pedestrian bridge

Mullan said the ATP is considering building a light rail station in the middle of North Lamar Boulevard.

Officials will need to determine if the final design includes a pedestrian crossing over North Lamar or a bridge that requires crossing the North Lamar frontage road.

According to ATP documents, both options would include ground-level access to Powell Lane.
By Benton Graham

Metro Reporter, Austin

Benton joined Community Impact Newspaper as a metro reporter covering transportation in Central Texas in June 2021. Benton's writing has appeared in Vox, The Austin Chronicle, Austonia and Reporting Texas. Originally from Minneapolis, Benton graduated from William & Mary and eventually moved to Austin in 2018.