How to get around during South by Southwest
Welcome, visitors, to South by Southwest. Please join us locals in a wailing rendition of the Austin Traffic Mess Blues. The first verse moans about the lack of parking downtown. The second verse howls the terror of backing into a parking space on South Congress Avenue. And don't forget the bridge ... as in, if you're in a car, you'll eventually wind up sitting in nonmoving traffic on a bridge.
During SXSW, it's madness to try to get anywhere in a car. About 250,000 extra people are likely to infest Austin through March 18 if last year's numbers are any indication (a lot of these folks don't have wristbands or badges; they're just here for the free events). Boosting the excitement of this year's discombobulation derby: a lot more back-in angle parking, especially on South Congress. Add the fact that you'll probably want a beverage or two while you're out, and it become obvious that the best way to get around Austin during SXSW is to let somebody else drive. Here are some options:
Shuttles: SXSW official shuttles can help you get to festival events. Go to SXSW's transportation page, sxsw.com/attend/getting_around/overview to learn about free shuttles for Interactive and Film parts of the festival, complete with maps. There's a hotel shuttle service to and from more than 50 hotels, as well as the paid R&R Limousine & Bus shuttle service (five-day pass for $70, nine-day pass for $110, single ride $20) throughout the festival to and from official venues outside downtown. Read more on that at rrlimobus.com/sxsw-hotel-shuttle.
Cabs: This is not New York. Don't expect to be able to walk out in the road, stick your arm up and watch a cab screech to the curb. There are only 675 taxis in Austin, and March is the busiest month by far, said Ed Kargbo, general manager of Yellow Cab, which owns 455 of those cabs. It's in no way illegal to hail a cab. It just usually doesn't work, because any cab you see probably already has somebody in it. Your best bet is to keep your favorite cab company's number handy in your phone and call ahead for a cab. Kargbo said a taxi can usually get to you in 10 or fewer minutes. But right after a big show lets out and it's raining, well, all bets are off (as they are in New York, too, for that matter).
City buses: These can be handy, especially the 3, which starts downtown and will take you down South Lamar Boulevard to places such as the Alamo South Lamar and Saxon Pub, and the 1L, which runs up and down South Congress Avenue. BUT: Those buses stop running shortly after midnight on most days and shortly after 10 p.m. on Sunday, so you might need to find another way home. Check the schedules at capmetro.org. There are Night Owl buses that run from midnight to 3 a.m., and Capital Metro is adding more of these during SXSW. These are the 481, which goes north from Sixth Street and Congress Avenue up Guadalupe Street to North Lamar Boulevard, and the 484, which makes a rectangle down South Lamar Boulevard to William Cannon to South First Street (just a few blocks west of South Congress). However, even these don't run on Sunday nights.
The good news for smart phone holders: Bus stop signs now have QR codes you can scan to find out when the next bus is coming. A single ride is $1; a day pass is $2.
City trains: Austin is the proud owner of one whole train line, and the only time it might be useful to visitors would be if you want to go to East Austin's Hotel Vegas or GypsyLounge for music, in which case you'd take the train to the Saltillo Plaza stop. Catch it at the Convention Center. You'll pay $1 each way. Aside from that, you're most likely to ride the train if you're staying on a friend's couch in Leander. The last train pulls out about midnight most nights. On Sundays, there are no trains.
Pedicabs: More than 300 of these will be pedaling around town, and they're a fun option if you don't have to be anywhere fast and want to immerse yourself in Austin along the way. Drivers work for tips. Typically, the driver will suggest $5 a person, although during SXSW that number often rises to $10. Capital Pedicab owner Greg Foulkes said he thinks $20 is usually enough for a short ride regardless of the number of people, but you should kick in more for long or uphill rides (say, up South Congress).
Bikes: Those of you attending Interactive or Film fests or who have those precious platinum or gold badges will be able to take advantage of this year's SXcycles bike-sharing program through Tuesday. (Sorry, Music folks, no bikes for you.) Tern Folding Bicycles will bring bikes, helmets, locks, lights and commute bags to 513 E. Cesar Chavez St. across from the Austin Convention Center. While supplies last, they're yours to use and return.
Austin has more designated bike lanes than it had last year, but you should be aware that these lanes sometimes disappear without notice. Regular car lanes that have a bicycle painted on them are not bike lanes. They're car lanes. The bikes are painted there to let cars know that bikes might be there and drivers should be aware.
Bicyclists are supposed to obey the same traffic regulations and lights that cars are subject to — for example, stopping at red lights rather than suddenly declaring yourself a pedestrian and riding on across the street. You're highly unlikely to get a ticket in any event, but obeying traffic laws could decrease your likelihood of being flattened.
Contact Helen Anders at 912-2590
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to clarify there is no train on Sundays.