Robert Svoboda

The Guadalupe Corridor Transportation Project seeks to clean up and redesign Guadalupe Street for transportation. The Austin Transportation Department hopes to hear more from UT students about suggestions for improvements throughout the project.
Photo Credit: Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

As the Austin Transportation Department seeks feedback about improving Guadalupe Street, Student Government’s City Relations agency is working to amplify student voices in the conversation. 

The Guadalupe Corridor Transportation Project is a long-term project focused on making necessary and desired improvements to Guadalupe Street. 

The Austin Transportation Department, which oversees the project, received 783 responses on an online survey it published earlier this month. The survey included questions such as how often individuals used public transportation on Guadalupe Street and whether sidewalks needed improvements.

UT students made up 29 percent of respondents, and that signifies an uptick in student involvement, according to Robert Svoboda, co-director of the SG City Relations agency.

Svoboda, an urban studies and advertising senior, said the agency has been involved with the transportation project since last fall.

“There was a town hall in the fall, and it was open to the public,” Svoboda said. “We tried to make students aware of it once we found out about it. People from the task force [attended], and a lot of architecture students attended. The turnout was not great for students, so we knew we needed to ramp it up.”

Svoboda is part of a task force comprised of SG and Campus Environmental Center representatives, as well as some students from the architecture school.

“We’re focused on improving the Drag itself from an aesthetic standpoint in terms of design and how it looks, including the sidewalks, because, from a student’s standpoint, that’s what’s used the most,” Svoboda said. “We tried to involve ourselves in the process as much as we could. We really just been trying to make sure students had input on the Guadalupe corridor.”

Geography senior Jacob Brackmann helped found My Guadalupe, an organization that focuses on bringing student voices to the Drag’s improvement project.

“Right now, we’re brand new,” Brackmann said. “We just had a couple preliminary meetings to figure out what we wanted to do to make sure student voices in the past were heard and they didn’t come to naught.”

Brackmann said My Guadalupe is trying to make sure past student efforts to bring improvements to Guadalupe Street would be heard during this corridor study.

“Creating an official group and Facebook page and gaining traction among students would help put pressure on the individuals implementing the plan,” Brackmann said. “We’re trying to get an open house with the firm that’s going to be drawing up construction plans for Guadalupe.”

Project manager Alan Hughes said the Austin Transportation Department expects to improve the mobility and safety of the public with the Guadalupe Corridor Transportation Project.

“Improving mobility for all users is the desired outcome,” Hughes said. “What that will look like exactly is what the corridor study will determine. There are representatives from various departments included in the process.”

Hughes said short-term ideas could be implemented right away if there is room in the budget.

“Longer term reconstruction projects may require bond funding [and] would be implemented at a later date once funding is secured,” Hughes said.

Student Government representative Tanner Long talks about the city sound ordinance impacting West Campus on Tuesday.

Photo Credit: Xintong Guo | Daily Texan Staff

Student Government and Interfraternity Council members are working with Austin City Council member Chris Riley to revise the city sound ordinance, which, in its current state, could alter West Campus’ social scene.

The sound ordinance is part of a city plan intended to reduce sound levels in West Campus. The plan requires groups to apply for permits at least 21 days before an event and submit a site plan with specifics of their properties. According to Taral Patel, SG university-wide representative, the maximum sound level allowed by the ordinance is equivalent to a cell phone ringing at its highest volume.

At Tuesday’s SG meeting, the assembly discussed a resolution that voices student concerns with the ordinance. The proposal mirrors a resolution sponsored by Riley to be presented at the City Council meeting Thursday. IFC President Edwin Qian met with Riley on Tuesday to discuss the issue.

“Our focus is really to make sure they know they have a channel through which they can advocate to the city,” said Robert Svoboda, co-director of the SG City Relations Agency. 

The SG assembly sent the resolution to the Legislative Affairs Committee at Tuesday’s meeting.

Both SG’s and Riley’s resolutions do not provide a specific plan of action, but they instead say the sound ordinance poses a problem to students.

“We haven’t really gotten to the point of deciding which things do make sense, but we have [to] acknowledge that what we have on the books doesn’t make sense,”  said Leah Bojo, the policy aide for Riley who spoke at the meeting.

Svoboda said SG is still exploring potential solutions, and that the main area of concern is the extensive permitting process intended for large-scale events.

“The hope is to create some sort of private party category for the permitting, so that it doesn’t change it all the way to commercial or public property,” Svoboda said.

Bojo said the sound ordinance is not new to Austin, but the code will be upheld to a stricter standard in the West Campus area.

“For a long time, these city staffs haven’t really been consistently applying those regulations in West Campus,” Bojo said. “They have been looking the other way and letting some parties happen. Some staffs, particularly the city fire marshall, felt that there were some parties that were getting out of hand and something needed to be done.”

Tanner Long, SG College of Liberal Arts representative, said he and other students fear the ordinance will have a negative effect on the entire student body, including Greek life, co-ops, West Campus residents and student organizations that host events such as tailgates in the area.

“It was the Greek organizations that originally approached us about this,” Long said. “However, those events — for instance Round Up — are attended by people that are not only Greek but also students who attend the University.”

Bojo said Riley realizes the ordinance in its current state is not likely to gain the compliance of students. For that reason, she said Riley is asking for changes to be made to the ordinance. In the meantime, Riley and his staff are requesting that city officials be flexible on the policy.

“We know that there are events in the pipeline,” Bojo said. “And we’re asking staff to have a little flexibility on the parties that are happening between now and when we get the codes in place.”

This article has been updated to clarify the status of the Student Government resolution.

Student Government members are trying to increase student action against a city code change, proposed in November, which may further limit the number of students who can legally live together in a house.

If Austin City Council passes the change, the number of unrelated adults who may live together in duplexes and single-family houses would be reduced from six to four. These high-occupancy houses are also known as “stealth dorms.” The council approved the proposed change on its first reading — though the council must hear the change twice more before it is finalized — but suggested that an economic study be conducted to assess the proposed change’s impact on area housing affordability. The council will hear a second reading of the proposed amendment at its meeting Thursday.

The SG-city relations task force has been developing legislation against the proposal since the beginning of the semester, according to Jordan Metoyer, urban studies and economics senior who founded the task force. According to Metoyer, SG has attempted to educate students about the issue and increase their involvement in the city’s decision-making process. SG will pass a resolution against the change on Tuesday, said Metoyer.

“Students want to have a seat at the table about these decisions and policies that affect students for generations to come,” Metoyer said.

Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole said, because the proposed change has a potentially large impact on students, she will attend the SG meeting Tuesday to give students information and gather more student input.

“I had really felt like students had not had a voice in this discussion, and I thought that they should,” Cole said. 

Advertising senior Robert Svoboda created an online petition against the code change, which had more than 1,100 signatures as of Monday.

“We said that we’re [going to] get students on board with this issue, and there were students involved in this, but there wasn’t a unified media or even a Facebook group that was really capturing all of the stakeholders and voices that are being affected by this problem,” Svoboda said.

Svoboda, who is also part of the SG task force, said he regrets that SG did not garner student involvement earlier.

“This is something that has been talked about for a very long time,” Svoboda said. “It would have been more proactive for students to fight this and advocate on behalf of students earlier in the process because that could have really made a difference. It’s really come down to the last minute.”

Svoboda said he thinks apartment complexes are a better alternative to “stealth dorms” to solve the Austin housing affordability problem.

“Down the road, multi-family housing is probably more vital,” Svoboda said. “Putting more people on a piece of property is going to be more effective long-term.”