__MAIN_TEXT__
feature-image

Page 1

I MI A 5 SPACE R E I M A G I NR I NE G - 3G5I N A SI NPGU BI -L3I C

Prepared on behalf of the nonprofit RECONNECT AUSTIN and

Black + Vernooy Architecture and Urban Design

November 2020


Reconnect Austin REIMAGINING I-35

East Avenue, 1952 Image credits: Austin Historic Roadway Photos

Reconnect Austin is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in Austin, Texas.


Contents Preface . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

5

Overview . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

7

Study Area . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

9

Austin’s Once in a Lifetime Opportunity

..............................

11

Human Scale . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

13

The Urban Environment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

15

Reimagining the Corridor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

17

New Tax Base and Housing

..............................

19

Comparing Opportunities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

21

Park and Parkway: A Connected Future

..............................

23

The Next 40 Acres . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

25

Congestion, Buses, Rail & Regional Planning

..............................

27

Climate Crisis Mitigation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

29

A Flooding Solution . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

31

Air and Noise Pollution . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

33

Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

35

A Note on Gentrification & Displacement

..............................

36

A Note on Human Mobility and Access

..............................

37

Reference List . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

39

Appendix . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

40


4

RECONNECT AUSTIN

35% A “Best” 31% B “Still Desirable” 8% C “Definitely Declining” 26% D “Hazardous”

Historic Map of Redlining of Austin, Tx. Image credits: Source: TEXLibris


REIMAGINING I-35 AS PUBLIC SPACE

PREFACE

Any discussion of the future of I-35 necessitates acknowledgement of the racist history of this highway. Austin’s 1928 Plan designated East Austin (east of East Avenue) as the neighborhood for African Americans, closing schools and parks in other parts of the city and forcing residents to move to this designated neighborhood.1 With the construction of I-35 in the 1950’s, the East Austin neighborhood was walled off, creating a physical manifestation of forced segregation. Racist federal, state, and local policies, like redlining and zoning re­ strictions, reinforced structural inequities which Austinites continue to live with. Even today, black and brown Austinites suffer disproportionate rates of traffic deaths and serious injuries, in large part because of the historic disinvestment in East Austin.2 East Avenue, which the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) commandeered for I-35 in the 1950’s, was not just a boulevard, but also open space with mature trees and parkland. Many people in East Austin have fond memories of gathering in the East Avenue median and in adjacent parkland before these community resources were destroyed by I-35. To create the interstate, TxDOT claimed not only East Avenue but also homes and businesses in East Austin. Richard Rothstein notes in his book The Color of Law: “In many cases, state and local governments, with federal acquiescence, designed interstate highway routes to destroy urban African American Communities. Highway planners did not hide their racial motivations” (127). Recent Black Lives Matter protests have highlighted this racist past and its effects on black and brown Austinites. As TxDOT, the City of Austin, and the community decide what will replace the current I-35, we must all work to understand the history around this corridor, then work together to create a better future for all Austinites.

5


6

Then Historic East Avenue: the edge of Austin’s original grid.

Now Today’s East Avenue: the I-35 corridor is congested & dangerous.

Future Passeig de Gràcia: The precedent for tomorrow’s humanized boulevard.

RECONNECT AUSTIN

Overview Overview


REIMAGINING I-35 AS PUBLIC SPACE

7

The Reconnect Austin cut-and-cap proposal creates East Avenue Parkway: A new, humanized public space connecting Downtown and East Austin. America once saw massive freeways as the transportation arteries of the future. In the past 70 years, though, we have learned much about their substantial negative impacts. Freeways create physical barriers between neighborhoods, destroying the human scale of walkable urban centers. They encourage people to drive more, promoting auto-oriented development and long-distance commutes. And they degrade our urban environment, increasing pollution, noise, and flooding potential. I-35 slices through Austin’s urban core and prioritizes long-distance commutes over local trips that support economic and social exchange. In 2018, Business Insider ranked Austin as the top economic powerhouse in Texas and third in the U.S. Yet our downtown, which is our economic engine, is severely compromised by the presence of I-35, a barrier more than three times as tall as the Berlin Wall and many times wider. Reconnect Austin proposes to lower the main lanes of I-35 and cover the highway with a cap. This cap would include a surface-level boulevard that reconnects the urban grid and humanizes the city adjacent to this corridor, improving transportation options and freeing up land currently under frontage roads for offices, businesses, and housing.

Enhancing local and regional transportation » Increases throughput capacity and reduces congestion » Reestablishes urban grid, providing connections for all modes of travel » Separates high-speed traffic from human environment » Reduces vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by locating needed housing near jobs Boosting economic development » Ignites development on underutilized parcels, including frontage roads » Generates revenue to offset costs of project » Leverages existing taxpayer investments: UT Austin, UT Dell Medical School, Waller Creek, City of Austin properties, Plaza Saltillo (owned by Capital Metro), and adjacent neighborhoods » Creates valuable tax base from currently non-taxable frontage road land » Creates an opportunity to put affordable housing in the region’s job center Improving quality of life » Rehumanizes a bleak urban corridor with a walkable new district » Reduces traffic fatalities by separating high speed traffic from humanized spaces » Mitigates noise pollution » Adds flood control » Improves air quality by scrubbing vehicle pollutants with ventilation system » Mitigates heat island effect and CO2 emissions by incorporating thousands of new trees


8

RECONNECT AUSTIN

Study Area

I-35

United States of America Mexico Austin, Tx

Texas, USA

Co

lor ad o

Ri ve r Loop 1

I-35

United States of America Mexico Austin, Tx

Austin, Texas

Texas, USA

Texas, USA


REIMAGINING I-35 AS PUBLIC SPACE

Loop 1

9

I-35

SH 290

North Central Neighborhoods

University of Texas at Austin

Downtown

Austin, Texas


10

RECONNECT AUSTIN

5th street at I-35 today

5th street with cut & cap

5th street with new walkable city blocks


REIMAGINING I-35 AS PUBLIC SPACE

Austin’s Once in a Lifetime Opportunity

R

Austin has been working for over eight years to raise awareness about the significant opportunity to improve the Interstate 35 corridor for all people. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) plans to rebuild and expand the freeway soon with only automobiles in mind - a disastrously narrow view. Instead, Reconnect Austin proposes to reimagine I-35 by lowering and capping it with a new, humanized boulevard, creating a public space that knits the city back together while providing diverse transportation options that address congestion responsibly. econnect

As Peter Park notes in Rethinking Highways in American Cities, “Since the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, America has spent billions of tax-dollars building and maintaining the National Highway System’s 220,000 miles (after MAP-21) including 46,726 miles of Interstate Highways. But no urban neighborhood has been improved from these expenditures. Instead, highways that run through cities have divided neighborhoods, de-valued private property, reduced access to and efficiencies of local street networks, induced congestion, and facilitated suburban sprawl.”3 Surely with an $8 billion complete rebuild slated for the ur-

ban core of Austin (Lady Bird Lake to Airport Blvd.), we can do better. As a community nonprofit spearheaded by a strategy team of local leaders, Reconnect Austin has made significant progress in educating the public on alternative possibilities to TxDOT’s proposal and successful people-focused highway redesign precedents around the world. We have engaged a variety of civic, community, and neighborhood groups on numerous occasions, achieving widespread public support for this vision. The Urban Land Institute has awarded Reconnect Austin the “Next Big Idea” award and the Congress for the New Urbanism named I-35 in their influential 2019 Freeways Without Futures report. This is Austin’s once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to achieve a safer, healthier, and more humane I-35 corridor and reconnect our community — but we must act now. The following pages are an overview of some of the most important benefits of the Reconnect Austin vision.

11


12

RECONNECT AUSTIN

Human Scale

Building Places People Love top

I-35 in downtown Austin is a dangerous, uncomfortable barrier with no human scale.

bottom

Image credit: Sinclair Black

A relatively new and all too rare example of human scale in Austin: Second Street. We can learn from our own examples.


REIMAGINING I-35 AS PUBLIC SPACE

H

uman scale is that magical quality found in all great cities — though it’s not a mystery how to create it. When buildings, streets, and public spaces relate to the size and senses of the human body and make it easy to get around on foot, people not only tolerate their urban habitats, they love them.4 Many Americans who live in car-dependent cities travel to other countries — often in Europe — to experience the human scale that is largely absent

13

at home. Urban freeways are out of scale with human existence, and are all too common in the downtown cores of many North American cities. Austin has become a poster child for this problem — but it doesn’t have to be. Reconnect Austin is a chance to recover the human scale in the heart of our city, transforming a highway corridor we love to hate into a place we can love.

Image credit: Google


14

RECONNECT AUSTIN

Satellite images of Barcelona, Spain, and Orvieto, Italy, compared at scale to freeway interchanges Image credits: GoogleEarth


REIMAGINING I-35 AS PUBLIC SPACE

The Urban Environment

Highways in Urban Areas Waste Opportunity in Multiple Ways

F

usually cause more harm than good. While highways are critical connections between cities, carrying long-distance traffic, they are detrimental within cities in multiple ways. reeways

through

urban

areas

The cost to human life is massive and unnecessary. One-fourth of Austin’s over 70 annual traffic deaths occur on the I-35 corridor, making it by far the most dangerous place to drive, bicycle, or walk in Austin’s 325 square miles. In any given year, 40 to 60 percent of these deaths are pedestrians, who are often killed attempting to cross the sea of lanes that divide the city.5 Many of them have no car and no choice but to walk or take transit to meet their daily needs - and I-35 is the most difficult right-of-way to cross on foot, with crossings few and far between and meager, unprotected sidewalks.6

Freeways consume enormous amounts of urban space which was traditionally used by people for local, short-distance trips that promote social and economic exchange. In the images to the left, a European city and town are compared at scale to freeway interchanges. The thriving Italian hill town of Orvieto, with a population of over 20,000 people and countless charming streets, piazzas, churches, and homes, takes up the same space as a single The thoughtful redesign of I-35 is critical if freeway cloverleaf. Austin is to meet its Vision Zero Plan goal of eliminating traffic fatalities and serious injuries Since 1945, the U.S. has become singularly in- by 2025. Reconnect Austin envisions safe, terested in moving cars, using your tax money, comfortable, and pleasant pedestrian, bicycle, while eviscerating the places that define our and automobile connections between downcommunities socially, economically and his- town and East Austin that eliminate the risk of torically. This obsession has led to millions of people encountering high-speed traffic. To do square miles of largely wasted urban space — otherwise - to rebuild I-35 without a serious often taken unjustly from thriving black and surface-level redesign - is nothing less than brown neighborhoods. I-35 is a clear example being complicit in the deaths of thousands of of this injustice. Reconnect Austin proposes people. reimagining the over 136 acres of urban space to create, as in Barcelona and Orvieto, thriving We have a moral imperative to stop the concommunities. tinuing and needless loss of life in this corridor.

15


16

RECONNECT AUSTIN

Holly Street to Airport Boulevard

Amount of Repurposed Acreage Intersection- A

The area is calculated from the center of each intersection.

Intersection- B Airport Blvd.

1

Buildable Land

2

Airport Blvd.

+

Proposed Blvd. ROW (160 ft wide)

=

Total Area

23.4 Acres

12.1 Acres

35.5 Acres

20.5 Acres

16.2 Acres

36.7 Acres

5.3 Acres

7.7 Acres

13 Acres

24.4 Acres

27 Acres

51.4 Acres

Dean Keeton St.

3

4

UT Austin

E MLK Jr Blvd. 5

15th St.

Med. District

6

7

Downtown

8

9

Holly St.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Airport Blvd. 38th 1/2 St. E Dean Keeton St. Manor Rd. E MLK Jr. Blvd. 11th St. & 12th St. 7th St. E. Cesar Chavez St. Holly St. I-35 Highway

N 0

500

2000ft

Total Area

73.6 Acres

63

Acres

136.6 Acres


REIMAGINING I-35 AS PUBLIC SPACE

Reimagining the Corridor 136 + Acres Repurposed

T

he current I-35 corridor right of way, from

Lady Bird Lake to Airport Blvd., represents approximately 136 acres of opportunity. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) plans to completely rebuild this portion of the corridor, demolishing the existing infrastructure and reconstructing highway lanes, frontage roads, and existing bridges.

Reconnect Austin represents a once in a lifetime opportunity to reimagine the corridor as a place that benefits the city and its residents. Land currently covered in concrete that divides Austin neighborhoods from each other could become affordable housing, green spaces, offices, shops, tree-lined streets, and community assets. Imagine a corridor that reconnects downtown Austin to East Austin. Imagine a corridor that reconnects the existing east and west portions of the University of Texas campus to create a seamless university experience. Connected city fabric supports everything from places to live and work, to places to gather for community events, to tree-lined promenades, outdoor recreation, and play areas for children – really anything we can imagine for this new neighborhood.

The planned rebuilding of the corridor is our one chance to create new land in Austin’s urban core. The boulevard at the surface of the proposed cap would connect to every east/west surface street. Imagine the intersection of two city streets at 6th St. and the boulevard, instead of an elevated highway and a dark and noisy underpass. A better connected grid creates a city fabric that encourages people to walk, bike, and use transit, providing opportunities for people living along and near the corridor to access jobs, goods, services, and open space. The boulevard and reconnected corridor would become city fabric at the surface, with the highway lanes hidden below. These types of projects are happening across the U.S. and the world. One example, the Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, Texas, is a similar cap over a freeway. That project has created an active, outdoor, green living space for downtown Dallas and surrounding neighborhoods on just 5 acres. Imagine the possibilities on 136 + acres.

17


18

RECONNECT AUSTIN

Local/Regional Center Running High Capacity Transit

Option For Direct Access to Parking

32’ Sidewalk (Similar to 2nd Street)

CollectorDistributor Lane 80’ To New Property Line (Reclaimed Land)

Now Local Bus

Travel Lanes

Express Lanes

Later: Regional Commuter Rail

Later Street Car

Now: Express Bus Lane

32’ Sidewalk (Similar to 2nd Street)

Express Lanes

Travel Lanes

204’ RIGHT OF WAY Center location for bus and rail corridor Parking, emergency services, and flood bypass below

Over 136 acres of developable land could be reimagined

Option For Direct Access to Parking

CollectorDistributor Lane 80’ To New Property Line (Reclaimed Land)


REIMAGINING I-35 AS PUBLIC SPACE

New Tax Base and Housing

Land Which Currently Generates $0 in Property Taxes Could Become a Place for Austinites to Live and Work

R

Austin brings many benefits to Austin, but one of the most crucial is increasing city tax revenue. The taxable value of land in the wasted right-of-way of I-35 is currently zero (TxDOT pays no taxes to the City of Austin on this land). In addition, the noisy, dangerous freeway has depressed the value of every property within a quarter of a mile. Devalued properties in and near the I-35 corridor mean that other areas of Austin must make up the lost tax revenue. With the understanding that any change in this corridor requires anti-gentrification and anti-displacement strategies to be put in place (see End Notes), this corridor represents a significant opportunity to create tax base right in the heart of one of the most economically productive cities in the U.S. econnect

By reclaiming I-35 as a beautiful boulevard rather than an unpleasant barrier — and creating over 136 acres of new developable land (see the previous page) — Austin could increase taxable property value by billions of dollars over the life of the project; this revenue

would provide funding for schools, libraries, parks, trails, sidewalks, and other public facilities needed in our community. The new boulevard can also pay for itself through tax-increment financing (TIF), which could also provide funding for anti-displacement strategies in nearby vulnerable communities. This new tax base creates a completely new income source for the Austin area, in perpetuity. Affordable housing is a significant priority for the City of Austin and community advocates. Reconnect Austin proposes 4,000 new housing units adjacent to the downtown stretch of I-35. Up to 1,000 of those units could be affordable and would be located within walking distance of our job-creating centers: downtown, the State Capitol complex, Innovation District, the new Dell Medical School, and the University of Texas at Austin. With the right policies in place, families who have been displaced from East Austin potentially could return to this corridor, and enjoy numerous job opportunities nearby.

19


20

RECONNECT AUSTIN

Comparing O

Tax Base, Housing, and Transportation for a Single U

Image credit: Google


REIMAGINING I-35 AS PUBLIC SPACE

21

Opportunities

Use Highway vs. a Multi-Use, Vital, Urban Parkway

above

The existing I-35 corridor is a single purpose highway

below

Passeig de GrĂ cia, Barcelona, illustrates a multi-modal boulevard

Image credit: Google


22

RECONNECT AUSTIN

Imagine the Waterloo Greenway and a parallel humanized boulevard creating a world-class gateway to downtown Austin Image credit: Waterloo Greenway, Reconnect Austin


REIMAGINING I-35 AS PUBLIC SPACE

Park and Parkway: A Connected Future Two Good Ideas = One Great Corridor

W

a human scaled corridor fully reintegrated with downtown Austin, including surrounding public spaces. One of the most important of these is the Waterloo Greenway, a new linear park and trail being created along Waller Creek connecting Lady Bird Lake and U.T.7 The new Waterloo Greenway is inspired by successful linear parks around the country and throughout the world.8 The close proximity of these two projects, combined with the Waller Creek Flood Control Tunnel, which takes valuable land out of the floodplain, creates new opportunities in this part of Austin. e envision

Imagine both urban corridors complementing each other and generating tax revenue to pay for it all: a world-class linear park transforming Waller Creek and a world-class urban boulevard transforming I-35 into a walkable mixeduse district of market-rate and affordable housing, hotels, restaurants, office buildings, grocery stores, and civic uses. These two new corridors would create a seamless east-west connection between downtown and East Austin. At the same time, they would

provide a new north-south link between downtown, Lady Bird Lake, the emerging Innovation District, the new Dell Medical School, the State of Texas capitol complex, and the University of Texas. This dream of a beautiful, prosperous, and connected city is achievable, but only if we seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a better community for future generations. It’s now or never. Imagine living along East Avenue Parkway and being able to walk safely: • Along the parkway on sidewalks like those on 2nd Street • Into East Austin with its rich offerings of culture, food and entertainment • One block west to find yourself exploring Waterloo Greenway • North along the Waterloo Greenway to the medical district, innovation district, and on to the fabulous tree-covered UT Austin campus • South along the Waterloo Greenway to Lady Bird Lake, exploring the 10-mile loop of the Butler Hike and Bike Trail and all of the amenities that can be accessed from that trail

23


24

RECONNECT AUSTIN

I-35

New Red Ri ve rR d.

I-3 5

2

E. De an Ke eto

2

1 A

nS t.

2 d. Manor R

5

3

5

6 5

4 2

8

Existing Buildings 1 LBJ Building 6 Tennis Court Complex 7 UT Garage

5

B

8 7

Jr Blvd E. MLK.

A Pedestrian East-West Linkage B Pedestrian East-West Linkage for Sports Facilities

5

2 3 4 5 8 9

Future/New Construction Public Private Development 1000 Car Garage Sports Arena Graduate Student Housing Hotel Future Building to Replace Erwin Center New Streets New Pedestrian Connection Across Campus

9 0

100 200

400

I-35

A buried and capped I-35 north of downtown would knit the University of Texas back together, creating enormous opportunities for new facilities

800 Feet


REIMAGINING I-35 AS PUBLIC SPACE

The Next 40 Acres

Reconnecting the University of Texas at Austin Campus

T

University of Texas at Austin has a campus of approximately 400 acres, one-third of which is separated from the main campus by the I-35 corridor. Plans for depressing the highway in nearby downtown give us the chance to depress it through campus as well. This would not only bring the university back together — making it safer for students, faculty, and staff to commute by walking or bicycling — but also offer opportunities for campus expansion into the “Next 40 Acres,” including the major sports and events center under construction, additional student housing, classrooms, and hotels to serve existing and new communities. he

Connecting the campus across the I-35 corridor will further enhance the presence and image of our world-class university. North of campus, we have the opportunity to remove the upper decks of I-35, which run through historic, vibrant neighborhoods. The proposal for this two-mile stretch, as in the downtown section, would significantly reduce air and noise pollution and eliminate the barrier created by the highway. The rendering to the left illustrates the proposed cap (with highway lanes below ground) including new street connections, new pedestrian walkways and the potential for new university buildings.

25


RECONNECT AUSTIN

I-35

26

Williamson County

H

S

130 79 SH

Travis County

SH 45

Hays County

SH 2 9 0

SH

SH

45

71

Austin I-35 SH130 (Bypass for Trucks)

I-3 5

Routes Connecting I-35 to SH-130

Implementing high-capacity local and commuter transit on the I-35 corridor is the only way to solve congestion


REIMAGINING I-35 AS PUBLIC SPACE

Congestion, Buses, Rail & Regional Planning Providing access and moving people efficiently

T

a human-scaled environment in the I-35 corridor, we must understand seventy-five years of failed automobile-focused city planning — encouraged by both federal and local policies. Car-oriented low-density development creates pollution, consumes Austin’s hinterland, and is far more expensive to build, maintain, and support with infrastructure than compact, walkable, transit-connected development.9 By continuing to allow such unsustainable growth and investing primarily in more highways, we are guaranteeing that congestion and resultant carbon emissions will continue to increase, no matter how many new lanes we build. o be able to envision

The Congestion Con, a recent report by the nonprofit Transportation for America, highlights that in most American cities, even those with declining populations, congestion still increased when highway lanes were added. This report, which analyzed Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) data in 100 U.S. cities over 24 years, showed that in the Austin region: population grew by 125%, freeway lanes miles grew by 98%, and congestion delay grew by 461%. The reason is that more lanes simply encourage more people to drive private vehicles.10

The uninterrupted centerline of I-35 is the ideal place for new rail transit connecting three counties — Williamson, Travis, and Hays — which would make it easier for commuters to get to central Austin’s 200,000 jobs, parks, health-care centers, sports and higher-education facilities, and other amenities without driving. A new boulevard would also make it safer and more enjoyable to walk and bicycle in and to downtown, allowing residents to have the choice not to drive for daily needs. The best way to reduce congestion is to provide people with more choices for getting around — by building infrastructure that supports walking, bicycling, transit, and compact neighborhoods. A strategy known as the designation switch could also help. In 2011, the I-35 Advisory Committee, appointed by the Texas Transportation Commission, recommended switching the designations of I-35 and SH 130. This would make it free for long-distance traffic, including large trucks, to travel around Austin rather than through it.11 This rerouting will likely happen temporarily while I-35 is being rebuilt, and should be made permanent. The wall of 18-wheelers that we see 24/7 on the I-35 corridor would be gone, and with them the added congestion, increased danger, and pollution they create.

27


28

RECONNECT AUSTIN

34% reduction in transportation emissions necessary by 2030 to meet Austin Climate Equity Plan Goals12


REIMAGINING I-35 AS PUBLIC SPACE

Climate Crisis Mitigation

T

is the most urgent challenge humanity has ever faced. Each city needs to do its part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aggressively. Austin has outlined ambitious climate-change mitigation goals in the Community Climate Plan and Imagine Austin, but continuing to encourage automobile transportation by funding and building wider freeways runs counter to those goals. A new, safe boulevard will encourage active transportation such as walking and bicycling and will provide a new transit corridor, taking cars off the road and reducing carbon emissions. he climate crisis

Capturing the pollution from the underground lanes and filtering it on-site will further reduce direct carbon emissions and will be a major step towards accomplishing our climate goals.13 Furthermore, by planting approximately 4,000 more trees on the boulevard and surrounding streets, and preserving the existing trees in the Waterloo Greenway, Austin can create a new urban forest to sequester CO2 and mitigate the heat island effect.

See Appendix for more information.

29


30

RECONNECT AUSTIN

The intersection at Ninth Street and Lamar after Shoal Creek flooded in 2015

Image credit: Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT


REIMAGINING I-35 AS PUBLIC SPACE

A Flooding Solution

F

in Austin, and it’s getting worse; we’ve had three 100-year floods in the past five years.14 The National Weather Service’s recent rainfall study, Atlas 14, showed that Austin’s flood risk is increasing due to climate change,15 but it’s also a matter of design. Massive amounts of impervious asphalt and concrete on roads and freeways cause dangerous stormwater runoff that threatens lives and ecosystems — as we saw dramatically in Houston during Hurricane Harvey.16 looding has long been a problem

TxDOT has largely ignored the way its projects contribute to flooding problems, and the nearby Waller Creek Tunnel can handle only so much runoff from I-35.17 By implementing increased green space, trees, and bioswales, the Reconnect Austin alternative will absorb far more runoff than the current freeway, reducing flooding in Waller Creek and surrounding neighborhoods. Stormwater could also be collected in holding chambers, filtered, treated, and used for various purposes. These include use in more efficient cooling systems in new buildings, which reduce power consumption and maintenance costs, and could be used to irrigate new trees and landscaping.

See Appendix for more information.

31


32

RECONNECT AUSTIN

A number of environmental health reports now exist which show significantly elevated cardiovascular mortality risk, lung cancer and childhood asthmas for people living near heavily traveled highways18

-Community Assessment of Freeway Exposure and Health (CAFEH)

Image credit: The Olive Press


REIMAGINING I-35 AS PUBLIC SPACE

Air and Noise Pollution

I

-35 is the corridor with the most intense air pollution in the region.19 This has detrimental health effects on thousands of people living and working nearby, including children at the many adjacent schools.20 Nationwide, air pollution continues to worsen,21 and the number of people who die annually from it has ticked above 200,000,22 behind only cancer and heart disease.23 We kill about as many Americans every two years with air pollution as died in World War II. I-35 also produces a significant excess of noise pollution, which, in addition to being a nuisance, is scientifically shown to lead to a wide variety of health conditions, including hearing loss, lower concentration, and high blood pressure.24 By burying and capping I-35, we can drastically reduce the amount of air and noise pollution currently impacting the quality of life for thousands of residents, workers, and students in the heart of Austin.

33


34

RECONNECT AUSTIN

The I-35 corridor with a lowered highway, continuous cap, and possible future development downtown and at Plaza Saltillo


REIMAGINING I-35 AS PUBLIC SPACE

Conclusion

S

of the Federal Highway Act of 1956, communities across North America have suffered as a direct result of highways cutting through their urban fabric. Neighborhoods have been bisected, property devalued, populations segregated, and sprawl and congestion induced.25 ince the introduction

Reconnect Austin seeks to modernize the paradigm of the current national highway system by lowering I-35 between Holly St. and Airport Blvd. and capping the entire stretch with a boulevard designed at the human scale. Communities across the world are choosing to either remove highways or mitigate the damage they do to cities by placing them underground and restoring the surface. A continuous cap will: • • • •

Humanize this corridor at the surface Reconnect the urban grid Improve transportation options Free up land currently under frontage roads for offices, businesses, and housing • Connect people to goods, services, and jobs • Improve quality of the environment for the growing number of people living and breathing near this corridor We are facing a multi-year, multi-billion-dollar full reconstruction of this corridor. That significant investment of resources presents Austin with a once in a lifetime opportunity to get this right.

35


36

RECONNECT AUSTIN

A Note on Gentrification & Displacement

W

of the racist history around I-35 comes the obligation to also acknowledge the impact of gentrification and displacement. East Austin has, over the last several decades, dealt with gentrification and displacement in many historically African American and Latinx communities. A 2019 study by the University of Texas at Austin called The Uprooted Project analyzed gentrification in cities across Texas: how it happened, why it happened, where it’s happening, and what can be done about it. The project “aims to support more equitable and inclusive development in Texas cities” by providing a policy toolkit for local leaders to combat displacement and mitigate the effects of gentrification.26 The Uprooted Project examines how gentrification causes direct displacement, where residents are forced out of their homes due to rising housing costs and property tax bills, as well as cultural displacement, where businesses in the affected area shift to catering to new, wealthier residents and thereby transform the character of the neighborhood.27 ith the recognition

It must be noted that any proposal for I-35, even with the best of intentions, cannot ful-

ly predict the effects of development and therefore cannot promise that the surrounding neighborhood will not suffer gentrification or displacement. We strongly recommend that in implementing any new plan for I-35, the Texas Department of Transportation takes concrete steps towards mitigating the effects of gentrification and displacement in East Austin. It will be absolutely necessary for TxDOT to consult and heed community voices, specifically East Austinites of color, in identifying local needs and priorities. The selected project must also allocate long-term, dedicated anti-displacement funding to allow people to remain in their communities, while also committing to provide ample funding for affordable housing for any who were previously displaced from their homes.28 The Uprooted Project offers a comprehensive set of tools for addressing potential gentrification in local and state projects, and how to implement new developments while mitigating displacement in affected communities. Reconnect Austin endorses the recommendations given in this report, and hopes that TxDOT follows the report’s suggestions closely when implementing any future project for I-35.


REIMAGINING I-35 AS PUBLIC SPACE

A Note on Human Mobility & Access

T

of this paper, the words “walk” and “bike” are referred to repeatedly as examples of transportation choices. In every instance where these two words are used, Reconnect Austin is referring to all modes of walking, biking, and micro-mobility. hroughout the text

In this paper, to “walk” means to walk on two legs, to walk on one or two prosthetic limbs, to use a walker, cane, crutches, or other adaptive mobility devices, to use a wheelchair, and so forth. To “bike” means to use a traditional bicycle, a recumbent bicycle, a tandem bicycle, an electric bicycle, an adaptive mobility bicycle, and so forth. Transportation options are changing rapidly in the 21st Century. Since no one can completely predict future changes in transportation, the same way no one predicted dockless e-scooters, we should be thinking about a flexible design for this corridor, because this massive investment will continue to impact our transportation system 60-70 years after re-construction.

Reconnect Austin’s proposal for I-35 seeks to create a boulevard that supports human mobility of all types, for people of all ages and all abilities. This is why we identify multiple transit solutions for the corridor. Transit moves people efficiently and extends the range of those who are walking and biking. The current I-35 highway corridor is configured only for motor vehicles, but we can do better. When the built environment includes transportation choices - and those choices are safe, comfortable, and useful - more people have will access to goods, services, employment, and educational opportunities. Austin deserves an I-35 corridor that supports access for all of our citizens

37


38

RECONNECT AUSTIN

Reference List Preface 1. Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law, page 126 2. https://medium.com/@TransAlt/repeal-robert-moses-fc9318cfefb4 Austin’s Once in a Lifetime Opportunity 3. Peter Park quote in community vision: https://www.itdp.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/rethinking_highways-cnu.pdf Human Scale 4. Alonso, R. (2017, October 28). Jan Gehl: “In The Last 50 Years, Architects Have Forgotten What a Good Human Scale Is” (A. Pimenta, trans.) ArchDaily, retrieved from https://www.archdaily.com/877602/jangehl-in-thelast-50-years-architects-have-forgotten-what-a-good-human-scale-is The Urban Scale 5. 2018 Austin Police Department Traffic Fatality Data (2019). City of Austin, retrieved from https://data. austintexas.gov/Public-Safety/2018-APD-Traffic-Fatality-Data-021219/9jd4-zjmx 6. Pedestrian Safety Action Plan (2018). City of Austin, retrieved from http://www.austintexas.gov/sites/default/ files/files/Transportation/Pedestrian_Safety_Action_Plan_1-11-18.pdf Climate Crisis Mitigation 7. Widner, C. (2019, August 22). Waterloo Greenway unites vision for Waller Creek revival. Curbed Austin,retrieved from https://austin.curbed.com/2019/8/22/20828257/austin-waterloo-greenway-waller-creekparkplan 8. Barber, M. (2018, July 16). Beyond the High Line: 9 linear parks that have transformed cities. Curbed, retrieved from https://www.curbed.com/2017/6/22/15847062/high-line-urban-linear-park 9. Schmitt, A. (2015, March 5). Sprawl costs the public more than twice as much as compact development.Streetsblog, retrieved from https://usa.streetsblog.org/2015/03/05/sprawl-costs-the-public-more-thantwice-as-much-ascompact-development/ 10. The Congestion Con: How more lanes and more money equals more traffic (2020). Transportation for America, retrieved from http://t4america.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Congestion-Report-2020-FINAL.pdf 11. Bernier, N. (2011, January 28). Panel Calls For Switching I-35 With SH 130 In Central Texas And Increasing Rail Transport. KUT News, retrieved from https://www.kut.org/post/panel-calls-switching-i-35-sh-130-centraltexas-and-increasing-rail-transport 12. Austin Community Climate Plan (2015). City of Austin, retreived from http://austintexas.gov/sites/defaultfiles/ files/Sustainability/OOS_AustinClimatePlan_032915_SinglePages.pdf 13. Yau, C. (2019, January 4). Central-Wan Chai Bypass inspires call for air purification systems across otherhigh-traffic zones in Hong Kong. South China Morning Post, retrieved from https://www.scmp.com A Flooding Solution 14. Gruca, T. (2018, November 20). Central Texas has seen three 100-year floods in 5 years. Now thousands are destined to flood. KVUE, retreived from https://www.kvue.com 15. Flood Risk and Atlas 14: Overview (2020). City of Austin, retrieved from http://www.austintexas.gov/department/flood-risk-and-atlas-14-overview


REIMAGINING I-35 AS PUBLIC SPACE

39

16. Bogost, I. (2017, August 28). Houston’s Flood Is a Design Problem. The Atlantic, retrieved from https://www. theatlantic.com 17. Cross, N. (2018, March 8). New report shows Waller Creek Tunnel was poorly built. KVUE, retrieved from https://www.kvue.com Air and Noise Pollution 18. Community Assessment of Freeway Exposure and Health (CAFEH). (2015). Improving Health in Communities Near Highways Design Solutions from a Charrette. Retrieved from http://sites.tufts.edu/cafeh/ 19.Lu, D. & Popovich, N. (2019, October 10). The Most Detailed Map of Auto Emissions in America. The New York Times, retrieved from http://nytimes.com. 20.Map of Schools (2020). Austin Independent School District, retrieved from https://www.austinisd.org/modules/ custom/schools/maps/schools.html 21. Ingraham, C. (2019, October 23). Air pollution is getting worse, and data show more people are dying. TheWashington Post, retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com 22. Holden, E. (2019, November 20). Tens of thousands of deaths linked to weak US air pollution rules – study.The Guardian, retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com 23. Nichols, H. and Tavella, V. J. (2019, July 4). What are the leading causes of death in the US? Retrieved fromhttps://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/282929 24. Souza, E. (2020, May 29). What Are Decibels? (Or How Noises Affect Our Health). ArchDaily, retrieved from https://www.archdaily.com/939848/what-are-decibels-or-how-noises-affect-our-health Conclusion 25. Peter Park quote in community vision: https://www.itdp.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/rethinking_highways-cnu.pdf A Note on Gentrification and Displacement 26. The University of Texas at Austin. (2019). About. The Uprooted Project. Retrieved from https://sites.utexas. edu/gentrificationproject/about/ 27. Way, H. K., Mueller, E., & Wegmann, J. (2019). (publication). Texas Anti-Displacement Toolkit: A Guide to Help Texas Communities Combat Residential Displacement in Gentrifying Neighborhoods (The Uprooted Project) (pp. 1–88). Austin, TX: The University of Texas at Austin. 28. Ibid Appendix Tree planting position and count reference : https://www.austintexas.gov/department/great-streets-program https://www.usgs.gov/special-topic/water-science-school/science/rain-and-precipitation?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration http://austintexas.gov/sites/default/files/files/Planning/Rules/backup03_18.pdf


40

RECONNECT AUSTIN

Appendix

The map on the right shows the selected study area of I-35 highway from Holly Street to just north of MLK Jr. Boulevard. The length of this corridor is divided into a total of 24 blocks. The area, length, and width of each block remain the same; however, due to change in the function, are further categorized into two types: Block-A or Block-B. All the proposed Block A medians will have flexible open spaces that could be used to design various recreational activities. However; the three proposed Block-B medians will have a designated function, i.e., a transit station for easy local and regional connectivity of city/ region within Austin’s downtown. Block A

Sidewalk

Vehicular Lane

Multiple Recreation Activities

Vehicular Lane

Sidewalk

Sidewalk

Vehicular Lane

Multiple Recreation Activities

Vehicular Lane

Sidewalk

Sidewalk

Vehicular Lane

Transit Station

Vehicular Lane

Sidewalk

Sidewalk

Vehicular Lane

Transit Station

Vehicular Lane

Sidewalk

Block B

In the following pages, these 24 blocks are used to calculate the number of proposed new trees and total stormwater runoff (in cubic feet), respectively. These detailed calculations are a few of the many results that our team worked on to help understand that Reconnect Austin’s vision has the potential to enhance the livability, safety, social inclusion, vibrancy, and sustainability of Austin’s downtown.


REIMAGINING I-35 AS PUBLIC SPACE

41

Towards Williamson County

I-35

24 23 MLK

Martin Luther King Jr

22 18th

21

18th 15th

17th

20

13th 15th

19

2,581 ft

18

12th

14th

17

13th

16

Olive

11th

14

9th

9th

8th

8th

7th

7th

D

5th 4th

696 ft

4th

B

9th

12 8th

11 7th

9

5th

8 4th

7 3rd

3rd

6

1,067 ft

2nd

2nd

5

A

E Cesar Chavez

10th

6th

C

5th

13th

10

361 ft

6th

6th

8089 ft 1.53 Miles

13 1,426 ft

14th

11th

E

10th

10th

15th

15

532 ft

11th

16th

12th

F

12th

17th

Cesar Chavez

4

Willow

Willow

3 Spence

1,435 ft

2 Taylor

ke La ird yB

La d

1

Holly Lambie

Holly

N

Block Type - A Block Type- B Median with Transit Station

5 I-3

Existing DowntownEast Connection Plaza Saltillo complex

Towards Hays County

Waller Creek


Trees 204 ft

Block type- A Side Walk for a typical block type- A Proposed trees: 17 x 2 = 34

L

h

h

Median for a typical block type- A Proposed trees = 20

276 ft

h

Opportu Grow more T

h

Total no. of type-A blocks = 21

h

TOTAL = 1,134 Trees

(34 x 21) + (20 x 21) = 714 + 420

h

h

Recreation area

Sidewalk

Sidewalk

Transit station

Block type- B Side Walk for a typical block type- B Proposed trees: 17 x 2 = 34

Ceder Elm

Median for a typical block type- B Proposed trees = 16

276 ft

ar Chavez

M e d i a n

Low Speed Road

h

Low Speed Road

h

ow

nce

Total no. of type-B blocks = 3

or

TOTAL = 150 Trees

y

(34 x 3) + (16 x 3) = 102 + 48

Cypress

204 ft

The total Number of Trees in

The estimated total number of trees in this study are

: 1,284

this study are:

1,284

Live Oaks

The total estimated number of trees in I-35 corridor + Trees in I-35 any streets that cross this corridor Total Number: of 4,000

corridor:

4,000

Spanish Oa


204 ft

Block type- A Typical block type- A Area: 56,304 sq ft

Side Walk for a typical block type- A 276 ft

Area: Impervious cover For 1 inch rain

= 18,768 sq ft =1,230 cu ft

Vehicular St. for a typical block type- A Area: Semi impervious cover For 1 inch rain

= 17,664 sq ft =1,436 cu ft

Median for a typical block type- A Total pervious cover For 1 inch rain

= 19,872 sq ft =1,220 cu ft

Total no. of type-A blocks = 21

Low Speed Road

M e d i a n

TOTAL = 81,631.9 cu ft Stormwater Runoff with the Reconnect Austin design Sidewalk

Sidewalk

21 x (1,230 + 1,436 + 1,220) = (21 x 3,887.2)

Low Speed Road

Block type- B Typical block size Area: 276ft x 204ft

= 56,304 sq ft

Side Walk for a typical block type- B Area: Impervious cover For 1 inch rain

= 18,768 sq ft =1,230 cu ft

Vehicular St. for a typical block type- B Area: Semi impervious cover For 1 inch rain

= 17,664 sq ft =1,436 cu ft

Median for a typical block type- B Total impervious cover Total pervious cover For 1 inch rain

276 ft

ez

Stormwater

= 12,420 sq ft = 7,452 sq ft =1,467 cu ft

Total no. of type-B blocks = 3

3 x (1,230 + 1,436 + 1467) = 3 x 4,133

Total= 12,403.8 cu ft Stormwater Runoff with the Reconnect Austin design 204 ft

Total Runoff Totalrunoff Stormwater Runoff Total Stormwater Runoff The Stormwater estimated total stormwater in if Reconnect 24 blocks have if all 24 blocks have : 94,494 Cubicwith ft. the Austin scenario Natural land cover Impervious land cover Reconnect design By providing significant areas of green spaces and pervious cover, the Reconnect Austin scenario will 82,996.5 cu ft 109,912.8 cu ft 12,403.8+ 81,631.9= 94,494.9 cu ft significantly reduce the total stormwater runoff compared to the existing I-35 corridor and TxDOT’s proposed highway expansion.


RE - 3L 5I C S P A C E REIMAGIN I NI M G AI -G3I5NAI N S GP UI B

Reconnect Austin is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in Austin, Texas. Email: reconnectaustin@gmail.com Website: www.reconnectaustin.com @reconnectaustin

Profile for reconnectaustin

Reconnect Austin: Reclaiming I-35 as Public Space  

The Reconnect Austin cut-and-cap proposal creates East Avenue Parkway: a new, civilized public space connecting Downtown and East Austin. Th...

Reconnect Austin: Reclaiming I-35 as Public Space  

The Reconnect Austin cut-and-cap proposal creates East Avenue Parkway: a new, civilized public space connecting Downtown and East Austin. Th...

Advertisement