It’s time to reimagine Congress Avenue.
Let’s do it like this.
These Congress Avenue businesses support our plan
Join these businesses and sign our petition
Congress Avenue is Texas’s iconic, historic Main Street.
But with so many empty sidewalks, vacant storefronts, and fast traffic, many people avoid Congress.
We need a BOLD plan to bring people back.
Congress For All
A 4-part plan for reimagining Congress Avenue
Let’s explore this plan
(Don’t forget to play with the sliders)
1. Wide sidewalks & right-sized travel lanes
It’s time to give the people the space they deserve.
Wider sidewalks will provide more space for outdoor seating, street vendors, and protected bike lanes. 3 vehicle lanes will still move as many vehicles as the current 4 lanes.
2. Sidewalk kiosks and vendors
We’ll create over 300 new reasons to visit Congress.
Small kiosks lining the sidewalks will bring hundreds of micro-businesses, artist galleries, performance spaces, public seating, offices, restrooms, and more, creating a more vibrant Congress.
3. A pop-up plaza on 7-11th St
We’ll test Congress between 7th and 11th as a car-free space.
This stretch will be redesigned with always-present gates, allowing us to try out Congress as a car-free event space at any time. If it works, one day the gates can stay down and we’ll have a car-free public space forever.
4. Raised protected bicycle lanes
We’ll create the best bike lanes in Texas.
Raising the protected bike lanes to sidewalk level will make biking and scooting comfortable for all ages and abilities.
Austinites are ready for bold change
55% of Austinites want to get around in a way other than driving. That’s why in 2020 Austin voters approved $billions for public transportation, walking, and bicycling.
And of course there’s all the changes we’ve seen on Congress in recent years.
Protected bike lanes
Car-free street events
And other cities have been transforming their main streets for years
New York City
Now it’s Austin’s time.
This is a once in a generation chance.
Let’s say goodbye to the old Congress Avenue.
Let’s go big.
Are you ready for…
(Drum roll, please…)
Congress For All supporters
Congress Avenue businesses
dwg Landscape Architects
Royal Blue Grocery
Sushi Junai Omakase
Texas Toy Museum
Urban Wine + Liquor
Wild About Music
Austin boards and commissions
Bicycle Advisory Council
Pedestrian Advisory Council
Urban Transportation Commission
Austin Farm Sanctuary
Central Texas Families For Safe Streets
Coalition of Texans with Disabilities
Congress For the New Urbanism (CNU) Central Texas
Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association
Streets For All
Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG)
The Trail Foundation
Vision Zero Austin
Vision Zero Texas
Water To Thrive
Frequently Asked Questions
I. Wide sidewalks and right-sized travel lanes
Congestion is unlikely to get worse. This is because of “induced demand”, a phenomenon where congestion generally stays roughly the same because when we change how much space is given to cars, people adjust how, where, and when they get around. For instance, some people who drive will take other more space-efficient transportation such as bicycling, walking, or public transportation; drive at off-peak times; or take other nearby streets.
If successful, this could be incredible for business. Locals and visitors would flock to Congress to enjoy the people-watching, dining, local businesses, and entertainment and special events. This could be enhanced by a regular entertainment program, such as Friday night music showcases, to constantly draw in new people. There would be more space to allow businesses to spill out onto the street, attracting even more customers. Trucks would continue to make deliveries for businesses. In these kinds of places, loading hours are typically earlier in the morning before the crowds arrive.
A car-free area would make Congress Avenue an international destination, just like San Antonio’s River Walk and other car-free spaces. People are hungry for these places and will fly across the world to spend time there.
All that said, we need to test a car-free Congress to make sure it would work for businesses, using the steps detailed on this website.
II. Sidewalk kiosks and vendors
There would be a community process to decide this. We envision a mix of existing businesses that would like to expand outside their present footprint and new uses such as food vendors, artist galleries, micro-work spaces, and restrooms.
There are only 120 parking spaces on Congress, which represents just 0.2% of all parking downtown.
It would be easy to improve access to downtown, whether you drive or otherwise. The Downtown Austin Alliance’s Parking Strategy recommends that private parking be shared with the public, better signage pointing people to available parking, and improving alternatives to driving, such as public transportation discounts and better sidewalks and bicycle lanes.
Our plan would create more disabled parking spaces and short term loading spaces on cross streets, so that nobody would be more than half a block from their destination.
III. A pop-up plaza between 7th and 11th Street
Our plan uses the pop-up plaza design to allow us to test a car-free space without committing to it. We start with holding short events lasting a few days and gradually hold longer and longer events. If the longer events work then one day we could just keep the gates shut and we’d instantly have our car-free space.
- Always-present barriers at both end of every block: These allow the street to be closed quickly and easily. Options include swing gates and retractable bollards.
- No raised sidewalks: This means that during events there’s more usable space, people can more easily cross the street, and businesses can more easily participate. Curbless streets have other advantages, such as easier loading and disability access.
- Something protecting the pedestrian/bicycling area from traffic: This could be bollards, concrete blocks, or something else.
- Special pavement: Festival streets usually have decorative pavement that encourages slower driving.
See here for a detailed examination of Portland’s Chinatown festival streets.
The plan focuses on 7th to 11th Streets because:
- Congress Avenue is the heart of Austin.
- This stretch connects to iconic destinations, including the Paramount Theater, the Austin Contemporary, and the State Capitol.
- Traffic reduces significantly north of 6th Street.
- There would be no impacts on transit.
- A plaza longer than 4 blocks would greatly increase the challenge of keeping the space lively, although the space could expand in the future if it were successful.
IV. Other questions
No, we are a separate group, although we’ve met those folks and have discussed our ideas with them. The Congress Avenue Urban Design Initiative (CAUDI) is being led by the City of Austin and the Downtown Austin Alliance and also recently made proposals for overhauling Congress.
We think the CAUDI did a great job in starting this conversation and coming up with many excellent ideas. We’re confident that our proposals build upon and are compatible with the CAUDI’s proposals.
“Congress Avenue is…” – David Barrow
“So where is everybody?” – David Barrow
“Congress isn’t for people” – Congress Avenue Urban Design Initiative
Boulder, Colorado (left to right) – Historical source, Adam Greenfield
Charlottesville, Virginia (left to right) – Historical source, White, Beckert and Associates, LLC
New York City – NYC DOT
“And many other places…” (clockwise) – Sangha Studio, Bruce D. Nagel Architect, Balazs Barnucz
“2. Increase parking near Congress”: IP Displays
“3. Widen the sidewalks”: Congress Avenue Urban Design Initiative
“4. Make Congress (7-11th St) a “festival street””: Project For Public Spaces, all other images by Adam Greenfield
FAQ: “What about people with limited mobility?” – Adam Greenfield
FAQ: “Doesn’t Austin get too hot?”: Jill B Jarvis
FAQ: “What about bicycles, scooters, and pedicabs?” – Vienncover
FAQ: “Austin isn’t Boulder…” – Austin Texas Daily Photo
FAQ: “Can you explain more about what a festival street is?” – Ellen Vanderslice
FAQ: “How will drainage work?” – Rockcrete USA