Neighbors brace for traffic, crowds ahead of ACL

A no-parking sign just outside of Zilker Park. (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard).
A no-parking sign just outside of Zilker Park. (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard).

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Just a few days ahead of the 2017 Austin City Limits Festival, the people living near Zilker Park anticipate extra crowds and some hassle getting in and out of their neighborhoods.

The changes due to the festival are especially notable for James Frey, who has lived in the house he built on Lund Street near Robert E Lee Road for 50 years. When he moved in, his was one of only a few houses in the area. Now there are blocks upon blocks of houses woven in the neighborhoods behind Zilker.

When ACL comes to town, Frey said his neighborhood transforms. Frey, who is 80 years old, says he doesn’t care for the noise and always heads out of town for the weekends.

“Thousands and thousands of people walking up and down the road, parking up and down the street and trying to get in,” he explained.

He said many people try to exit the festival using his street.

The city has made a few changes in recent years to make their neighborhood safer. Frey explained that they’ve brought police officers to drive up and down the road. They close each end of his road, and police ask drivers to prove they live on the street to enter.

“It’s fun now. It used to be really hectic to where we couldn’t park at our own house. But now the cops block off both sides of the street and it’s more regulated,” said Alexa Elwell, whose family has live near Zilker for 18 years.

She explained that before police officers were stationed on the street, one year during the festival a drunk driver totaled her dad’s prized car that he had been working to restore.

Elwell said she likes having the police officers on her street during the festival and hopes they remain there.

While she enjoys the festival each year, the crowding does slow her down.

“It does affect travel time, but at this point, we’ve lived here so long we’re kind of prepared for it,” she said.

Frey and other neighbors noted that the city temporarily installs no-parking signs so that emergency vehicles can drive up and down the street if a crisis happens.

Despite the signs, Frey said he’s seen people park on that side of the street. He says that causes problems because the street is narrow and having two cars on both sides makes it impassable. He’s seen people get into fights and cause roadblocks over street parking during ACL.

“We worry about emergency vehicles having to come through here,” said Frey. He wonders whether the city could divert traffic away from his street entirely or test out new traffic patterns to make things safer.

Wesley Hopkins, division chief for Austin-Travis County EMS says their agency has never had a neighborhood that was so congested during ACL that they weren’t able to get an emergency vehicle there. Hopkins added that even if something — a fallen tree for example — blocks the road, EMS has other ways of accessing the neighborhood.

Still, he encourages people who see problems on the roads near the festival or illegally parked cars to call 3-1-1 so the city can respond immediately.

ATCEMS works with a number of other city departments to ensure safety during ACL. ATCEMS has a command post at the festival itself as well as roaming officers who drive through the area. ATCEMS adds additional resources at the festival itself that ACL pays for.

Austin Police’s Special Events unit explained that the fenced area which encloses the festival will increase slightly this year across Barton Springs Road. With the new fencing there is one more entrance for attendees than last year. The main east entryway is across from Barton Springs Road west of Robert E. Lee Road. Another entry will be on Barton Springs Road on the west side of the festival, primarily for guests using shuttles.  A third entrance is locate near Stratford and Lou Neff.

Residents and festival goers can find more information about parking and street closures here.

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