Navigating SXSW with Capital Metro

Since moving to Austin in 2008, I have become well aware of the problems that face our city. To me, public transportation will be the the most important factor in determining Austin’s ability to adapt to future changes. In the past year, I have been helping the MetroAmbassadors and the Alliance for Public Transportation educate and engage the public on local transportation issues.

With the endless lines of people on the road and at events during SXSW this past week, Austin began to resemble a theme park more than an actual city. This year, I have noticed that more people left Austin’s famous music, film and interactive technology conference with a Texas-sized traffic hangover than ever before. My quest was to gain a street-level perspective into how people overcame this massive transportation headache. Whether people were using a “bus, bike and brains” method or taking advantage of the MetroRail’s extended weekend service hours, public transit seemed to be the most effective way to get around.

Evan Olsen at the Austin Convention Center

One person I ran into outside of the Austin Convention Center was Evan Olsen, an ACC film student and frequent MetroRail rider. He uses a bike and rail combo to extend his reach beyond a normal walking distance.

“I use the MetroRail to get from the Lakeline Station to Downtown. It’s really nice having the late night services for SXSW. There’s a lot of drinking going on this week, so it’s good for those people to have a safe form of transportation.”

Hear more about Evan’s story:

Preliminary ridership numbers show that many people took full advantage of the MetroRail’s extended Friday and Saturday night services. In fact, the only real concern I received about the service extension is that people want more of it; especially on weekday nights.

Deanna Cluck and a friend at the Downtown MetroRail Station

Among the chorus of people saying “we want more” was Deanna Cluck. Deanna, a North Austin resident and SXSW volunteer who had to trade in a MetroRail pass for her keys during the weekdays, said that “it would be great if the train was running late during weekdays.”

Hear what else Deanna had to say:

When it comes down to it, Austin’s transportation network is already hard pressed to keep up with local demand. Taking on the +200,000 SXSW visitors last week only made this problem more apparent. By the end of the week, many people (including me) decided to stay home in order to save their sanity from the onslaught of people, cars and trash. Some bloggers have even claimed that SXSW has grown too large for Austin. I am not so sure that is the case. Austin is, in many ways, at a crossroads from being just a small state capital to becoming a key global economic power. The increasingly complex problems that come with rapid change need increasingly complex and innovative solutions. Capital Metro, in conjunction with the City of Austin, could invest in a number of transit solutions that would alleviate downtown traffic and ensure the future success of SXSW events. SXSW has always been a breeding ground for innovation in music, film and technology. With a little creativity, dedication and skill–attributes that exemplify the SXSW spirit–public transportation can surely be added to the growing list of industries that benefit from our great festival.