Council to honor OG of Austin urbanism

Chris Riley championed radical ideas that have since gone mainstream.

Tomorrow at 1 p.m. City Council will approve naming a section of the Shoal Creek Trail in honor of former Council Member Chris Riley, who not only played a key role in supporting the development of that trail, but has been one of the most vocal champions of pedestrian and bike infrastructure in Austin.

“Chris Riley Bend" is a visually stunning segment of the trail between West Avenue and 5th Street that was completed a few years ago. The blend of city life and greenery is a fitting tribute to Riley, whose urbanism has always been rooted in a love for the environment.

The ordinance is sponsored by CM Ryan Alter (whose aide Ben Leffler once worked for Riley) and co-sponsored by Paige Ellis, Zo Qadri and Chito Vela.

I happened to speak with Riley recently, hoping to gain insight into how politics in Austin has evolved since be first got involved in the 1990's. I'll revisit our full conversation at a later date, but the big theme is that it wasn't too long ago that Riley was a very lonely advocate for positions that have since become mainstream on the Council dais.

He recalled, for instance, giving a copy of Donald Shoup's The High Cost of Free Parking to all six of his colleagues on the at-large Council. It felt like an exercise in futility –– he couldn't even get the wonky, data-driven Bill Spelman on board for eliminating parking requirements for micro-units on transit corridors.

A little more than a decade later, and the City Council in Austin voted 9-2 to eliminate parking requirements entirely.

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