Early Project Connect designs tease ‘pedestrian dominant’ 4th Street

AUSTIN (KXAN) — During a preliminary design workshop on Tuesday, Project Connect program officials outlined a vision for a pedestrian-centric Fourth Street corridor as part of the upcoming Blue Line light rail transit.

In 2019, about 24% of residents walked, biked, took public transit, or took other non-singular public transportation options to get to work. City leaders have set a goal for 50% of residents to use multimodal transit options by 2039.

With that goal comes the need for more equitable and expanded options for residents, officials said Tuesday.

Surrounded by Republic and Brush Squares and topped by the Texas Capitol grounds to the north, preliminary design concepts for Fourth Street announced Tuesday envisioned a promenade-like streetscape with outdoor cafe seating, sidewalks and lanes for pedestrians and cyclists, as well as space for buses. on the road.

(Courtesy: Austin Transit Partnership, Capital Metro, City of Austin)

Dubbed by program officials a “pedestrian-dominated” corridor, the revitalization of Fourth Street is one component of the $7.1 billion transit overhaul through Project Connect. The transit program and subsequent design proposals are part of a city-led push toward multimodal transit options.

Sources of inspiration included downtown Charlottesville, Virginia, Denver’s 16th Street Transit Mall, and present-day elements of Austin’s Second Street.

What design elements are considered?

With a focus on multimodal access to the roadway beyond traditional vehicular traffic, early design features mentioned included:

  • Extended sidewalks and cobblestones in the center of the traditional street to accommodate escalators, elevators and stairs to the light rail platform
  • Additional outdoor seating for cafes, restaurants and stores with frontage on Fourth Street
  • Vehicle circulation centered on buses, with some transit accesses for company loading areas and garages along the facade
  • Authorization to close streets for events, scheduled municipal activities
  • Natural lighting elements for the metro hall
  • Retail kiosks along the streets
  • Locally produced public art along the street

Although some form of traffic management is likely implemented, businesses along Fourth Street that require vehicle access include the Zaza Hotel, 301 Congress Parking Lot, Frost Bank Tower Garage, and the Courtyard Marriot’s valet parking system.

During peak hours, about 500 vehicles pass along Fourth Street, according to data compiled by city officials. By comparison, Cesar Chavez Street sees around 2,000 vehicle trips during peak hours.

(Courtesy: Austin Transit Partnership, Capital Metro, City of Austin)
(Courtesy: Austin Transit Partnership, Capital Metro, City of Austin)

The ideal vision for the Fourth Street Corridor in the initial designs is to envision it as the “green spine” intertwining the two plazas with the Texas Capitol and the rest of the downtown corridor. Peter Mullan, chief of architecture and urban design for the Austin Transit Partnership, said a focus on accessibility and mobility via multimodal transportation options will be an integral part of the plan.

“We want it to be a place where people come to relax and make sure it’s a quiet street,” he said.

“It’s not just about movement, it’s about creating a place where people – who have an identity,” he later added. “Has a singular identity and is recognizable and legible, and I think the short distance between Brush Square and Republic Square gives us the opportunity to create that along Fourth Street.”

An aerial concept sketch of the
An aerial concept sketch of the “green spine,” connecting the two plazas, the Texas Capitol grounds, and the rest of the downtown corridor via Fourth Street. (Courtesy: Austin Transit Partnership, Capital Metro, City of Austin)

What is the history of Fourth Street in Austin?

Fourth Street runs nine blocks from Shoal Creek to the Downtown station near Trinity Street. Historically, the area was a warehouse district that housed freight rails and related industrial uses.

In the 1980s, it transformed into a key entertainment district in the city and is a central hub for Austin’s historic legacy and LGBTQ+ community.

Jana McCann, architect and urban designer working on the project, said it was important to consider these historical legacies of the area when establishing a design and sense of place for its future uses.

What are the next steps ?

Officials dubbed Fourth Street as Austin’s “”new “main pedestrian high street” that would combine upcoming light rail stations with a revitalized above-ground appearance.

As of Tuesday, around 15% of designs had been completed for the project. Officials are currently entering the 30% design phase and will consider feedback in the 30% phase as well as an upcoming environmental impact statement.

These factors, along with initial cost estimates, are expected to be compiled in the spring.

“It all has to work together,” Mullan said. “This is a comprehensive and holistic mobility infrastructure program.”

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