AUSTIN, Texas — The City of Austin is adding temporary solar lighting to part of the trail around Lady Bird Lake by Friday.
In a new memo from the City, the Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) said it will be installing temporary solar lighting at four different locations "along the trail between the Rainey Street trailhead and the trail-side boat launch adjacent to I-35 on East Avenue."
In a statement to KVUE on Friday, officials with PARD said this is a temporary solution in an effort to help bring more lighting to the trail:
"Safe access to this recreational amenity is important to the City of Austin. Multiple City Departments and City partners are carefully listening to the community feedback and intends to consider the recent feedback and the extensive community engagement recommendations as it works to develop a plan for improved safety outcomes."
City Councilmember Zo Qadri pointed to the death of Jason John and other families who have suffered the same fate.
John drowned in Lady Bird Lake in February after he fell in. Officials said he was leaving Rainey Street on the trail and disappeared until police found him in the lake.
Since then, his family and the family of others who have suffered the same fate have been calling for lights and cameras to be installed across that section of the trail.
"We don’t want this to ever happen again," Rinju John, Jason John's brother, told KVUE in February. "That entire path needs lights and a public camera system set up."
Qadri said he has been in constant contact with the John family and hopes this temporary fix will help, especially with South by Southwest coming into town.
"In the past, we've seen and I've read many stories of folks, you know, falling into Lady Bird Lake. And I think, unfortunately, there are pleas and cries for help that went on deaf ears," he said. "My concern was South by Southwest is coming up. I didn't want to, you know, let alone going into year three or four not having a solution."
In addition to the lighting fixtures, the City will be increasing the number of Austin police officers patrolling in the area. Additional park rangers will also be in the area to ensure safety is maintained.
Installation of the temporary lighting will be completed by Friday, March 10, which is the first day of the 10-day South by Southwest Festival. There will be signs that have directional instructions and other safety signage around Rainey Street – something that will be considered and integrated for the permanent plan later.
The PARD will be coordinating with contractors and other City departments to create a plan for digging, pouring concrete foundations and installing poles and lighting. The temporary lighting is both wildlife-friendly and complies with "dark sky guidelines."
The temporary project is costing $45,000 in labor, site prep and installation, according to the Parks Department.
The Trail Conservancy (TTC) is working alongside the City on the project.
On Friday, officials with the group released a statement:
"We are working closely with the Austin Parks & Recreation Department regarding interim safety measures around Rainey Street. We appreciate the need to improve safety outcomes in this area, especially with the Spring Festival Season quickly approaching. As always, our primary concern is the safety and experience of all users along the Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail."
Due to the temporary lighting being solar-powered, the PARD will need to install a split rail fence between the lake's shoreline and the trail. This fence helps maximize the amount of solar energy the lights receive due to the thick tree canopies that cover the trail. If the PARD is unable to have a contractor install the fence by Friday, an alternative barrier will be installed in the short-term.
The permanent lighting plan will still be solar-powered, but it will also include a kiosk, more lighting and other additions. The plan is made to "prioritze amenity reliability by considering and recommending hard-wired lighting options, cameras installation, fencing options, signage and safety beacon installation," according to the memo.
Originally, the planning process began in September 2019. A project plan for the trail space between the future Rainey Street trailhead and the I-35 overpass is expected in June 2023.
Construction is set to begin in the fall of 2023.