The Great Streets Plan envisions Downtown as the heart of Austin and downtown streets as the primary signal of thriving urban life, vitality and vibrance. Essential to achieving this vision is curating a pedestrian experience that makes the streets become places for interaction and spending time, not just for passing through. The Greats Streets Program aims to enhance the livability, safety, and aesthetics of Austin’s downtown streets by creating “streets for people” via a more equitable balance of space between the roadway and the sidewalk zones and the implementation of enhanced streetscape standards. The City’s transportation mode hierarchy gives highest priority to pedestrian travel, then transit use, bicycle use, and lastly automobile use. Important to remember is that all users, regardless of mode, become pedestrians at some point.

Download the Great Streets Plan here (Link).

Downtown Austin street

Great Streets Plan Objectives

The Great Streets Plan outlines a few simple but profound objectives:

  • Change the space and scale of the street to create a “sense of place” that elevates the human experience in public spaces.
  • Create an environment that is safe, generous enough for multi-purpose use, and sheltered from the elements.
  • Traffic calming through pedestrian prioritization, traffic management in a two-way street system, and rigorous enforcement of traffic lanes to promote pedestrian safety.
  • Redistribute the usage of the Right-of-Way (R.O.W.) from its current distribution of 75% roads and 25% sidewalks to 55% roads and 45% sidewalks.
  • Provide an array of elements such as shade trees, lights, benches, bike racks, trash receptacles, local public art and other amenities that enhance the pedestrian realm.
  • Encourage businesses to utilize and activate the sidewalk with cafes, kiosks, and other pedestrian-oriented activities.
  • Accommodate automobile traffic to downtown but discourage traffic through downtown.
Benefits of Great Streets
Benefits of Great Streets
Program Funding

Initially, Great Streets projects were implemented through the 1998 bond funding and the Smart Growth Matrix process, which offered fee waivers for development projects that incorporated desired improvements. In 2003, City Council established the Great Streets Parking Meter Fund which sets aside 30% of the revenues collected from downtown parking meters within the program’s boundaries. The fund generates approximately $728,000/year and is the primary source of on-going funds for Great Streets. These funds are used to implement the Great Streets standards by supplementing City CIP projects as well as cost-sharing with private developments via the Great Streets Development Program (GSDP). The City also leverages private development dollars by cost-sharing with private developments via the Great Streets Development Program (GSDP) and requiring Great Streets to be implemented by any project seeking increased density and entitlements via the Downtown Density Bonus Program (DDBP).

Urban Design Division Services

The Urban Design Division team consists of highly talented members with extensive technical experience and professional backgrounds in the areas of architecture, landscape architecture, planning, and urban design. This team is available to collaborate with City staff or applicant design teams in seeking not just a solution, but the best solution for both public and private projects.

Service Areas

The Urban Design Division strives to promote quality public spaces that are designed for people, through consultation services in the areas of:

  • Planning: advance City and community goals through plans, regulations, and guidelines.
  • Design: apply design knowledge and tools to improve the function of public spaces for people.
  • Advocacy: build stories that elevate the importance of great urban design and share knowledge about the benefits of excellence in urban design.
  • Activation: bring design solutions to life through implementation and partnering with the community, peer departments, and external stakeholders.
  • Review: review site development plans for compliance with urban design and Great Streets Standards.

For City Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) the Urban Design Division can participate in collaborations with internal and external stakeholders to advocate for Great Streets in public projects.

For private projects that are going through the City’s approval processes, the Urban Design Division acts in an official review role, but we are also available to design teams to use as a resource and seek opportunities to bring value to the design and review process.

Great Street project

Project Implementation

The Great Streets initiative is the primary source for new shade trees, benches, bike racks, and trash receptacles in downtown. Since 2003, the implementation of Great Streets has occurred in three principal ways: by the private sector in exchange for increased entitlements via the Downtown Density Bonus Program (DDBP), cost-sharing between the City and private developers through the Great Streets Development Program (GSDP), and via City capital improvements projects (CIP). To date, Great Streets improvements have been implemented along approximately 211 block faces in downtown Austin.

Downtown Density Bonus Program (DDBP)

The installation of Great Streets is a gatekeeper requirement for the Downtown Density Bonus Program (DDBP), meaning any development project that wishes to seek an increase in density through this program must meet the Great Streets standards on their frontages. These projects are not eligible for reimbursement through the Great Streets Development Program. See this link for more information (DDBP Link).

Great Streets Development Program (GSDP)

  • The Great Streets Development Program (GSDP) is an incentive program that reimburses private developers for a portion of the costs associated with implementing Great Streets standards with their projects. The program is mutually beneficial, allowing the City and developers to share the costs of implementing the standards with emerging downtown projects. The City gets much needed above and below ground streetscape improvements and the development gets frontages with enhanced function, quality, and aesthetics.
  • In order to be eligible for reimbursement, projects must:
    • Be within the program boundaries of 11th Street to the north, Cesar Chavez Street to the south, I-35 to the east, and Lamar Boulevard to the west.
    • Be implementing Great Streets voluntarily, meaning the project is not already required to implement Great Streets as a part of their participation in the Downtown Density Bonus Program.
  • Once deemed eligible for participation in the program a per square foot reimbursement cap, ranging between $10-$18/SF, is established based on the project’s location on High, Medium, or Low pedestrian corridors.
  • See this link for more information (GSDP Info Packet Link)

City Capital Improvement Projects (CIP)

  • The Urban Design Division works closely with other City Departments to build Great Streets through Capital Improvement Projects being done in the downtown area.
  • For downtown CIP projects interested in utilizing the Urban Design Division’s technical consulting and/or accessing Great Streets funds, please contact the Great Streets Program Manager, Caitlin Admire, at caitlin.admire@austintexas.gov.

Technical Resources

For more information on Great Streets standards, please reference these materials:

  • Great Streets Plan (Link)
  • Great Streets Info Packet (Link)
  • Great Streets Review Manual
Program History
Great Streets timeline

Project Examples

Cesar Chavez Street

Cesar Chavez Promenade: conversion of Cesar Chavez, a major east-west street in downtown Austin, to a two-way boulevard bordered by a 32 feet wide pedestrian promenade with trees, furnishings, and other urban design elements that overlooks the banks of Lady Bird Lake.

 

Cesar Chavez Street

Second Street: The Second Street Retail District is a pedestrian-oriented street where all building frontages are required to have active ground floor uses and a unique 32-foot-wide sidewalk on the north side allows for generous sidewalk cafes. This project included the extension of the Lance Armstrong Bikeway through downtown Austin.