City of AustinFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Communications and Public Information Office
Visitors to Rainey Street and the nearby Rainey Street Trailhead at the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail will see increased safety measures.
Visitors to Rainey Street and the nearby Rainey Street Trailhead at the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail this weekend will see increased safety measures in the popular entertainment district, which is adjacent to the trail and Lady Bird Lake.
The Austin Police Department will be patrolling the area and additional park rangers will also be stationed along the trail. The City’s Parks and Recreation Department has already installed a fence barrier in the area between the trail and the lake’s shoreline as well as solar lighting in four locations along the trail between the Rainey Street trailhead and the boat launch adjacent to I-35 on East Avenue. A permanent infrastructure plan for the Rainey Street trailhead area is already in the works, with construction expected to begin this year. The plan includes consideration for hard-wired lighting, cameras, fencing, signage and safety beacon installation.
While the Rainey Street Trailhead Project, in partnership with The Trail Conservancy, has been in the works since 2019 with the goals of expanding recreational options and improving amenities, the sharpened focus on safety is a result of two recent, tragic drowning deaths that occurred this year. Both cases remain under investigation, but at this point in the investigations there is no evidence of foul play. Since 2014, there have been five late night/overnight drownings near the Rainey Street Trailhead area. Three previous drownings that occurred between 2014 and 2018 were fully investigated and ruled accidental. Autopsies are performed by the Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office in each of these types of death investigations. None of these autopsies revealed any trauma consistent with an assault. Based on those autopsy results and the totality of APD's investigation, APD determined there was no indication of foul play.
While the circumstances of the drownings over the past nine years varied, one common theme is the combination of alcohol and access to Lady Bird Lake, which can be difficult to see at night.
“We understand that Rainey Street is a destination for many visitors and Austinites alike, but we urge everyone who visits to take care of themselves and each other,” Interim City Manager Jesús Garza said. “As a City, we recognize we need to do more to keep people safe in this area. We are moving quickly to do so and are reaching out to businesses on Rainey Street and other state agencies to partner with us in this crucially important effort. We also ask visitors to Rainey Street to drink responsibly and stay safe by staying together.”
District 9 City Council Member Zohaib “Zo” Qadri plans to introduce a resolution for City Council approval this month directing the City Manager to provide an interim pedestrian safety plan for the Rainey Street Historic District and provide a status report to Council by April 20. Qadri also wants to see recommendations on increasing the number of HALO cameras in the area and coordination with the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission, Rainey Street bar owners and stakeholders on strategies for curbing over-serving alcohol.
“No night out in our Downtown or on our trail should end in tragedy and trauma. We must use every tool in our toolbox to ensure our public spaces are safe and secure for everyone,” said Qadri. “I am grateful that our interim city manager, my colleagues, and our community share the same sense of urgency I feel when it comes to protecting our residents and visitors from these truly unfortunate episodes of preventable anguish.”