KUT 90.5 | By Sangita Menon | Published March 6, 2023 at 4:53 PM CST
Thousands of people are expected to come to Austin this week for the official start of South by Southwest. City leaders said they’ve been preparing for the influx of people, but want Austinites to plan to be safe, too – whether that’s driving safely through detours or just getting home in one piece after events.
Austin Mayor Kirk Watson said large events – like SXSW, Rodeo Austin, the World Golf Championship Dell Technologies Match Play and the ABC Kite Festival – add to the city’s vibrancy and bolster the local economy, but they also strain local resources.
“Traffic congestion increases and there are potential travel delays that these large events can create,” Watson said at a news conference Monday. “And there is a need for heightened vigilance when it comes to safety and security.”
Assistant Police Chief Jeff Greenwalt said the department wants people to enjoy events like SXSW, but in a safe and responsible manner.
“There will be a lot of barricades and closed streets … in and around the downtown area for the entire week of South by Southwest,” he said. “We ask that people …comply with any signs or barricades that they might see.”
Fifth Street, for example, will run only eastbound between Brazos and I-35 starting Friday. In general, daily road closures will go from 2 p.m. until 3 a.m. from Friday through next Sunday.
But that can change. APD recommends using an app like Google Maps or Waze to plan routes. Current planned closures can be found here.
Parking lots may also be closed. Greenwalt warned against parking on neighborhood streets, which require a permit. Check for signs before you park.
While the department has had staffing issues throughout the year, Greenwalt said APD will be “all hands on deck” during the festival. Officers and 911 dispatchers are being offered overtime pay to cover the additional needs, and detectives will be working patrols.
APD will be looking for minors in possession of alcohol and anyone so intoxicated that they might be a danger to themselves or others. Greenwalt said people should drink responsibly and have a safe plan for getting home.
“We do have a no-refusal initiative through the entire week,” he said. “So, if somebody is arrested for DWI, we will be taking a blood draw to use that as evidence against them.”
The city has a “Get Home Safe” program for people who drove to a venue but can’t safely drive home.
“Make the responsible choice to leave your car and take that safe ride home,” Jim Dale, assistant director for the Austin Transportation Department, said at the news conference. “If you get a parking ticket, you may be eligible to have that ticket waived, just save the receipt.”
Capital Metro is extending rail service Friday and Saturday until 2:30 a.m. and until 12:30 a.m. on weekdays. You can find details for all CapMetro services here.
Overall, Mayor Watson said, the city is prepared.
“We ask for the patience and partnerships of our residents as we navigate the byproduct of these wonderful festivals and these tremendous events,” he said.