City plans new parking meters to combat Zilker Park parking congestion

Forrest Milburn

With her two friends lying and swaying in adjacent hammocks hung from a leafless tree, architecture freshman Stephanie Wiesehuegel spent Wednesday afternoon at Zilker Park, a much-needed sunny escape from midterm stress. 

With the park being the usual getaway destination of sorts for the group, the often congested parking lots during the high season — which runs from the first weekend in March and ends after Labor Day — have sometimes caused her to think twice.

“Since it’s really early in the day, it wasn’t too bad,” Wiesehuegel said. “Normally though, like later in the season, it’s definitely much harder.”

Last week, the Austin Parks and Recreation Department announced a plan to combat parking issues by installing 30 new parking pay stations throughout areas in and around Zilker.

While the new parking meters will go into effect on March 5, the park has charged for parking in the past, and the fees will stay the same. For each car, people will still pay a $5 parking fee on weekends and holidays during the during the spring and summer seasons, department officials said. 

“We’re just looking for ways to be efficient and save the city money,” said Tony Arnold, Parks and Recreation Department projects manager. “It’ll probably be able to provide more money back into the parks through this process.”

Popular parking areas, such as Barton Springs Pool and Zilker’s Great Lawn, will still be free during the low season. 

The department usually employs 12 to 15 workers during the season to take money from park visitors as they enter the park in their cars. With the new stations, costs associated with staff training and funding would be able to go to other projects, freeing up time for staffers to monitor the park instead of manning kiosks.

According to the department, none of the staff who are usually stationed at kiosks will be laid off as a result of the new pay stations, with the extra efforts going towards improvements like mowing and maintaining the park area. 

Shelley Parks, Parks and Recreation department public information specialist, said when park visitors come to enjoy the outside, the new meters will accept both credit and debit cards as well as coins when collecting the $5 fee, and then visitors will place a tag on
their windshield.

“People won’t be stopped waiting for someone to pay, they’d be able to go in and see if there are any pay stations available,” Parks said. “In the past if you paid and left and then came back later in the day, you’d have to pay again. With this, once you pay at the [station] you can leave and come back [without paying again].”

Installation of the parking pay stations will finish by the end of February and then will start operating as March begins. Parks said once the installation is complete the department will only need to employ two staffers during the high season to monitor and enforce parking.

“It’s nice to see that they’re taking the small steps in trying to get there,” Wiesehuegel said. “It’ll definitely be a lot easier to come out here and do things, for sure.”