Changes to Trail of Lights helping traffic, visitors say



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Posted on December 18, 2013 at 11:14 PM

Updated Wednesday, Dec 18 at 11:20 PM

AUSTIN -- This year, a few things are different at Austin's Trail of Lights: the event runs longer, and visitors have to pre-pay online for parking. Both changes are designed to cut down on the crowd and the traffic nightmare.

The Trail of Lights is a holiday maze of bright lights and music with the Austin skyline for a backdrop.

"It's a tradition. We love it," said Tron Womack.

"It's really fun, of course, seeing the kids and the families," said Zilker Neighborhood Association's David King.

King can walk to the Trail of Lights from his house, where he's lived for 20 years.

"It's been growing every year, and this year it's as big as ever," he said.

It now spans 15 days, compared to eight last year. Organizers said that change along with pre-paid parking has cut down on congestion.

"In the grand scheme of things, that's tenfold better than what it was last year," said Trail of Lights Foundation Executive Director James Russell.

Visitors tended to agree.

"Last year, we sat out there for about an hour, snaking our way in. This year was great. We came right in," Womack said.

"They've done a good job cordoning off the streets and directing traffic, so it went very smoothly," said Shawn Mccallum.

However, visitors said it still wasn't perfect.

"This is a dense area. People coming to downtown, leaving downtown," Russell said.

Closing roads at 5:45 p.m. on a weeknight makes for a trail of brake lights on MoPac and areas surrounding King's neighborhood.

"That's an issue during the peak hours like 5 p.m., 6 p.m. traffic time, and later at night, when people are trying to get back into the neighborhood," King said.

The 1100 pre-paid spots sell out early. Visitors can also take a shuttle to the entrance.

"So, we've really been able to avoid some kind of MoPac-alypse type situation of MoPac just not moving at all," Russell said. 

This year, organizers put up signs to keep people from parking in King's neighborhood, and residents received free access to the event's wrap-up party at the trail this weekend.

"We're guests in this city's park, and these neighbors that live here, obviously, year-round, we're guests in their neighborhood," Russell said.

While some of the improvements are debatable, neighbors say it's a give and take for this Christmas tradition.

"It's really a good holiday event," King said.

Russell said he expects especially large crowds for the final weekend, and there will be extra shuttles each night. But if you plan on paying to park, he suggests you do that now. When it's all said and done, organizers estimate close to 500,000 people will have walked the Trail of Lights this year.


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