Howard Lazarus has a plan. Austin’s Public Works Director recently proposed a $19 million renovation to the vaunted nightlife district’s sidewalks, infrastructure and traffic system.

Lipstick on a pig?

6th Street is a mess. Rolling through downtown two nights ago after listening to Monster Magnet at Red 7, it was easy to see how the area earned the nickname “Dirty 6th.” The sidewalks were filthy, the gutters were strewn with trash, dealers were working the alley near Rowdy’s, hookers were on the stroll across from the homeless center, and in the middle of it all were countless police officers ambling about waiting for a fistfight to break out. Now that’s all about to change.

Or so they’re telling us.

Way back in 1999 we reported on one of the wildest riots we’ve ever been part of. The tale is here

Two years later the scene repeated itself with the now legendary 6th Street Mardi Gras riot of 2001. A street fight went sour as police pepper-sprayed the onlookers who responded by throwing bricks and bottles. Running battles between the law and lawless erupted and 56 people were arrested.

It was a wild scene.

Now Austin’s Comprehensive Planning and Transportation Committee is looking at a facelift for our town’s most famous entertainment zone.

We’re not sure what 18 foot wide sidewalks will accomplish unless someone is subsequently put in charge of cleaning them. The walkways that currently exist are fine; coated in a viscous sludge, and in need of a power-washing, but fine.

If the plan is implemented, the current four lanes of west-bound traffic would be decreased to three with the loss of parking on one side of the street, and parallel parking allowed on the other side during non-rush hour.

No word on what affect that will have on the ability of gangs to engage in shootouts like the one that went down at 6th and Sabine in July of 2012. Four people were shot.

With live music clubs dotting either side of the street, the loss of a parking lane will definitely make it more difficult for musicians to load their equipment into the venues. Austin’s in a running battle with musicians these days so it’s not surprising to see decisions being made that will further erode our claim to being “the live music capitol of the world.”

During the meeting Lazarus did mention that cyclists may get their own lane on the re-imagined 6th Street. This will not be part of the oft-delayed Lance Armstrong Bikeway project that flits into public discourse once or twice a year.

Of course, The Pecan Street Merchants Association submitted their own improvement plan but their wild eyed, pie in the sky proposals stand exactly zero chance of being approved so we’ll head straight to the 900lb gorilla dozing over near the dais where Lazarus spoke.

Crime. Stabbings. Shootings. Beatings.

You can build sidewalks wide enough for Cedric Johnson to drunk drive a tricked out Hummer down all day long, and put the prettiest Azerbaijani pavers that ever existed in place, but when regular folk, over the age of 24 are scared to visit Austin’s most ballyhooed entertainment district, you’ve got a problem that all the infrastructure improvements on earth can’t fix.

That’s how we’ve come to historic Pecan Street being called Dirty 6th and that’s the locus of the quarter’s problem, not street drainage and fanciful re-imaginings of traffic flow.

Watch the video of the Comprehensive Planning and Transportation Committee meeting

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>