City Council votes 5-2 to leave out unwanted sidewalks from southwest Austin road project

Published 11:05 am Wednesday, February 21, 2024

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Council members express interest in revisiting Complete Streets Policy


From a full council chambers, the Austin City Council approved four upcoming street projects for this year during its meeting Tuesday night.

But it was just one of those projects that drew the most attention, as councilmembers approved the Ninth Street SW and 12th Street SW, but without the inclusion of a connection to 12th Street from 19th Avenue SW and new sidewalks, the latter of which being a sticking point and the reason for the larger number of residents attending Tuesday night’s meeting.

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The council voted 5-2 on advancing the project without adding sidewalks, with council members Laura Helle and Paul Fischer supporting the addition of the sidewalks.

“In 25 years that could be a neighborhood with a lot of new residents and children who may appreciate a sidewalk,” Fischer said. “I think we need to look ahead at that. I don’t feel a council should vote on a person’s street or not.” 

Currently, there are no sidewalks on Ninth Street between 17th Avenue to 22nd Avenue SW, however, initial plans for the road and infrastructure work would have called for the addition of sidewalks as guided by the city’s Complete Streets Policy.

Residents have significantly pushed back on the idea of adding sidewalks arguing that it would play against the aesthetics of the neighborhood, require more trees to be taken down in the area due to the construction, and that things like irrigation units and landscaping in people’s yards would have to be altered.

“It’s going to be detrimental to the continued appearance and structure and character of the street,” resident Charles Mills told the council Tuesday. 

Speaking at length, council member Geoff Baker argued against the blanket guidance of the Complete Streets Policy and that there is a cost aspect that should be considered.

He told the council and those in attendance that with 47 miles of streets in Austin that don’t have sidewalks, it would cost around $20 million in the coming years to put them in when street improvements called for them.

Instead, he suggested that there were better ways to spend that money rather than putting in sidewalks where people don’t want them.

“Where do we have real risks?” Baker asked. “Focus on that stuff, not just putting sidewalks where we are currently working on the streets.” 

He also advocated for more studies in the future that could better clarify if sidewalks were necessary..

At the same time, Helle wondered about the fairness of Tuesday night’s decision and pointed out that it should be a city decision to put in sidewalks when necessary.

“My neighbors come and say to me, ‘we have to do it, we did it … now what’s the difference?’” said Helle, who represents Ward 1 in northwest Austin. “Why is the southwest the exception?”

At-Large council member Jeff Austin, who voted against keeping the sidewalks in the plans, said that the Complete Streets Policy shouldn’t dictate when work is automatically done.

“To say the council should be voting on these things … I think that’s exactly what a council is for,” he said.

However, Tuesday night’s hearing also led to a conversation on the policy itself, with some wondering if the policy doesn’t deserve another look.

It was something Mills originally pointed out in his address before the council.

“You make a policy and then the first thing you do is make a waiver,” he said. “Each waiver weakens the policy. The right way to do it is under ordinance.”

Council member Joyce Poshusta agreed.

“We’ve been forced to look at the sidewalks on a case-by-case basis, which has taken away from our Complete Streets Policy,” she said. 

Mike Postma, who along with Jason Baskin, represents Austin’s Ward 2 where the work is slated to take place, said he was an advocate for the policy, but also lamented about repeating the same conversations each time a project comes up.

“I am in favor of Complete Streets,” he said. “I still very much am, but I’ve taken a hard look. I don’t like how this meeting goes every year. I would like to take a look at the Complete Streets Policy and use this money to put in sidewalks where we have a greater need for it.”

Regarding the connection to 12th Street SW, the council voted 7-0 to leave that aspect out of the plans after both residents and council members brought up safety concerns the increased traffic could result in.

City Engineer Steven Lang said that both ideas were included in a previous project in the area 15 years ago and at that time the council also voted against both parts of the plan.

The overall project will be done in two phases with the first phase, including Ninth Street SW, beginning in early May and the second phase including 12th Street (17th Avenue to 21st Avenue SW) beginning in July. Estimated completion of both phases is September. 

Along with street and infrastructure work, the city will also be removing a total of 12 trees either due to the fact they are ash trees or are unhealthy.

Total estimated cost for the project is $1,725,000.

For more detailed information about each of the four projects, visit: