City officials look at plans for bike paths, storm tunnel

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An underground tunnel project designed to reduce Waller Creek flooding could lead to improved bike paths between UT and downtown and a river walk, said city officials.

The Waller Creek Tunnel Project is a large, mile-long storm tunnel being built 70 feet under the last mile of Waller Creek, stretching from Waterloo Park to Lady Bird Lake. The tunnel project would regulate flood water in the mile stretch of Waller Creek between 12th and Red River streets. The city broke ground on the project on April 8.

When the tunnel project is finished, the city will begin to work to improve pedestrian bike lanes around and between Lady Bird Lake, UT and downtown, said public works department spokeswoman Carolyn Perez.

“What has to happen first is getting the flooding under control,” she said. “After that, improving those lanes is one of the goals that the city has.”

Step one of the plan is building the tunnel itself and step two, which is much farther down the road, is building a river walk downtown, Perez said.

“I think it’s important to differentiate,” she said. “A lot of people think we’re just turning downtown into a river walk, and that’s something that will happen in the future, but we’re not building one right now. And it’s not going to be a carbon copy of the one in San Antonio, it’s going to be very uniquely Austin.”

The plan would primarily affect the area south of 15th Street, but the project would increase connectivity to major destinations on campus, such as the Erwin Center and Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, said architect Jim Robertson, manager of the Urban Design division of the Planning and Development Review Department.

“Our hope is that the campus and major destinations within the campus would become more closely connected and better accessible to and from the Waller Creek improvements at Waterloo Park and South Austin,” he said.

While the tunnel will mostly affect Eastern downtown, it would still positively impact pedestrian and bike travel between downtown and campus along with other areas of the city, Robertson said.
“Our hope is that the benefits will extend beyond just that area,” he said. “The community’s vision is of a true ‘destination’ type experience that would be of benefit to not only the broad Austin community but also an attraction for visitors.”

Many problems currently face bikers riding downtown from UT’s campus, including streetlights that favor motorists and unfriendly drivers, said radio-television-film sophomore Demi Adejuyigbe who frequently bikes downtown.

“I’d love better bike lanes,” he said. “The bike lanes right now aren’t terrible but they could use some renovation and improvement. Better bike lanes would definitely be good to have.”