SXSW Survival Guide: Austin Street Closures, Tips, Apps And More

AUSTIN, TX — Brace yourselves, residents. It’s that time of year again when SXSW rolls into town, bringing with it a mass of humanity creating the most congested days of the year as a global audience descends upon the city to enjoy the music and arts festival — so congested, in fact, that the city has proclaimed Friday as ATX Detour Day.

Friday, you see, is the festival’s opening day. Tens of thousands will will arrive en masse looking to check into their hotels, scrambling to retrieve their coveted event passes, scurrying to the first panel discussion or concerts, ambling down the city’s entertainment sectors for a much-needed, post-travel cocktail, etc.

In short, it’ll be something of a madhouse. It always is, and yet the city is suffused with an energy other municipalities would covet: Music of dizzying variety fills the air; the sound of people’s laughter wafts through the ether; aromas of food invade every crevice; the roar of collected humanity crammed into venues alerts not to our differences, but our commonalities.

It’s magical. But make no mistake: It will be congested. To ameliorate the madness, city officials, police, mass transit and other entities offer tips to ensure residents and visitors alike can navigate the festival as smoothly as possible while staying safe.

The first day of SXSW starts this Friday, March 9, and runs through Saturday, March 17.


City Declares ATX Detour Day

To ameliorate the musical madness, ATX Detour Day is meant to encourage employers and workers (especially those downtown, or ground zero of SXSW) to think of alternative commute options for Friday and into the festival’s two-week run.

Some of the options suggested may be more feasible, depending on conditions and demands of work and home life, city officials explain. It’s best to choose what suits your lifestyle best and ask your employer what options are available, officials added.

Detour from your routine work time or location:

Telework. Work from an alternative worksite, such as home or a nearby library, to reduce your commute. Doing so even one day a week makes a positive difference to your health, the environment, traffic and productivity.Flex work hours. If your employment situation allows it, work a non-traditional schedule, such as 7 a.m.-4 p.m. instead of 8 a.m.-5 p.m., so you can avoid the most congested hours.Compress your work week. Cut your commute by working fewer days with more hours, such as four 10-hour days instead of five eight-hour days.

Detour with an active commute:

Bike. Knock out multiple goals at once by incorporating exercise into your commute. Be sure to take advantage of Austin’s growing bikeway network and bike-share system with Austin B-cycle.Take public transit. Ride the bus or train to work. Your mind and hands are freed up to spend time with a book, music or podcasts. Refer to Capital Metro’s schedules and trip planner for more information. You can even buy tickets from the Capital Metro app.Walk. Find ways to add some legwork to your trip if you can.

Detour from a lonely commute:

Carpool. Ride together with coworkers who live along the way to work. To join a carpool available in the Austin area, sign up for myCommuteSolutions and find a trip match.Vanpool. For groups of five or more people, vanpools are a great shared transportation option. Capital Metro’s MetroRideShare program offers a month-to-month lease option for vanpool groups. To start or join a vanpool, register with Enterprise or call 512-477-7433 (RIDE).Bikepool. Join a cycling group to make your commute more social and active. Riding in a group also brings safety and fun in numbers.

"Even if you cannot change up your routine commute, support those who can; they’ll be one less vehicle you’re sharing the road with," city officials wrote in an advisory. To spread the word on social media, use the hashtag#ATXDetourDay.

Austin Police Department Wants You To Be Safe

For the Austin Police Department, your safety is their primary concern. Earlier this week, the department urged residents to download their free apps designed to help navigate through the massive conference and stay safe.

"Stay informed and have direct access to important APD services such as station locations, crime prevention information, news updates and the ability to file certain police reports directly from the app," police wrote in a press advisory.

Users can also send us tips anonymously, and tipsters can use their GPS location, text, photos and have a secure two-way chat with officers should the situation arise. Additionally, APD sends out important messages and alerts to users via the app.

You can download the Austin PD mobile app in a couple of ways, either: Austin PD for iOS or Austin PD for Android.

To get the most out of your experience download the SXSW GO app here:

For iOS – or click here.

For Android – or click here.

Know Your Street Closures

For those well familiar with this time of year — the cognoscenti, the street-wise, the SXSW savvy, the natives, the hardened and world-weary masses — avoiding the streets typically closed off is a reflexive move born of some sort of Austin-DNA-encoded neural pathway designed to ensure the firing up of a survival instinct.

Conversely, for the unfamiliar — the hapless tourist unaware of the incoming throngs, visitors, the aloof paying little mind to the confines of calendar-confined notions of time — frustration ensues in approaching streets only to find them inaccessible to traffic.

Whatever camp you’re in, it’s always a good idea to make a note (mental or written, whatever best suit you) of the streets to be closed. To refresh everyone’s memory, full street closures through the duration of SXSW are:

6th Street from Congress Avenue to Interstate 35.Brazos Street from 5th to 7th streets.Red River Street from 5th to 10th streets.Sabine Street from 5th to 7th streets.Trinity Street from 5th to 6th streets and from 4th to Cesar Chavez streets.San Jacinto Boulevard from 5th to 6th streets.Rainey Street from Driskill to Cummings streets.

Bear in mind that other, partial closures are planned on roads throughout the downtown area. For maps, click here.

Mass Transit Yields Hassle-Free Alternative

Have you ever thought of mass transportation? Not as a thing that exits in the world, but as a viable option to get around town, particularly in times of gridlock (what we here at Patch like to intermittently call Carpocalypse or Carmaggedon because we’re funny that way).

Seriously, though, mass transit offers a good alternative to having to be negotiate the crowded streets on your own or, worse finding a parking spot when those little slots suddenly become the cit’s most coveted pieces of real estate during the two weeks of SXSW given the rarity of an open space.

Capital Metro is doing its part, offering extended hours and increased service during the festival’s run. Moreover, Capital Metro will double the number of Night Owl lines, running most nights of the two-week festival run. Similarly, MetroRapid service will be extended to 2:30 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and until 10:30 p.m. on Sundays. MetroRail service als will be extended on a daily basis: Saturdays from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. and on Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to midnight.

In addition to its utilitarian virtues, mass transit offers one the fulfillment that only comes with the knowledge that one has effectively reduced one’s carbon footprint. It’s a nice feeling to know you’re helping the environment in that way. Plus, you can read a newspaper or magazine (people still do that, you know) or catch up on your texting or emails via your smart phones and gadgets without the need to keep your eyes on the road.

It’s cheap travel too. A one-way ticket costs just $1.25 with a day pass costing double that amount. With the latter, you’re able to use your same pass until the time you initially took the bus the previous day. But be sure to have the exact amount, as bus operators aren’t able to make change. You could avoid the need for tangible currency with the bus app or with extended passes you can buy at the downtown Capital Metro office or selected retail stores. Regular commuter buses make more stops, but those red accordion-looking ones are faster with fewer stops.

Those wanting to take public transportation to and from the airport should be aware that the city’s only commuter train doesn’t travel to the hub. But Capital Metro does via the 100—Airport Flyer connecting the airport and downtown, and the 350—Airport Boulevard linking the airport and North Austin.

For more information about hours and schedules visit Cap Metro’s website or check out the app. You’ll find information galore including details on late-night service and special SXSW shuttles, free for attendees. For those routes, periodically check the SXSW transportation page.

Rideshare Companies Eager To Serve

For the city’s ride-hailing companies, SXSW might as well be Christmas. For rideshare operators, the massive crowds are the mother lode with the sum of their parts representing fish in a barrel yielding the easiest of pickings. Forgive the mixed metaphors, but you know what we mean.

There are a few firms to choose from, each with it own user-friendly app. Naturally, Uber and Lyft both operate within the city again (they left for a while, long story involving dispute with city over fingerprinting, just Google it if you’re unfamiliar). Lyft happens to be an officials SXSW partner, and customers can get $5 off their first ride using the code SXRIDE18.

As an alternative to those behemoths boasting of ginormous market valuation, you might consider the local nonprofit Ride|Austin that distinguishes itself in the industry by donating a portion of your fare. Additionally, there’s Fasten, and Wingz, specializing in airport transportation with advance scheduling options available. There’s also zTrip providing customers the choice of a 10/10 Taxi ($10 flat rate for any trip under five miles, $2 for each additional mile) or black car/sedan, on demand or scheduled ahead of time.

Yes, the variety is rather dizzying and each business model slightly different from the other. To get a handle on it, you might try the RideGuru app that aggregates ride-hailing and taxi availability in your area, estimates trip costs and provides other key bits of information.

Car Rental Options Abound

You’ll find the array of car rental options at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, but bear in mind that Enterprise is offering a discount during the festival’s run. Book online or call (800-261-7331) with rental code L65SXSW (PIN: SXS). Check the ABIA site for a definitive list of rental, limousine, and private charter services.

So there you have it. Not a definitive survival guide, mind you, but a primer on how to navigate the bustling streets of Austin peopled like never before this time of year. Relax, have fun and stay save. Happy SXSW!

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