Austin’s 6th Street is both loved and hated by locals. Sometimes referred to derisively as “Dirty 6th,” the downtown entertainment district remains one of the best places to go if your primary goals for the evening are: drinking, dancing, and listening to live music. Most of the bars occupy a stretch of 6th Street between I-35 and South Congress. For the most part, it’s a safe area, but keep the following tips in mind.
If you’re not staying within walking distance, the best way to get to 6th Street is by cab. The main taxi service in Austin is Yellow Cab, but there are several smaller companies that also serve downtown. In 2016, Uber and Lyft were kicked out of Austin for not agreeing to the city's background-check rules, but the state legislature overruled Austin a few months later and let them back in.
After Uber and Lyft briefly left Austin, several other ride-hailing services popped up. The most popular are Fasten and Ride Austin. Fasten claims to be the cheapest while passing along the largest percentage of the fare to the driver. Ride Austin is actually a nonprofit created specifically in response to the departure of Uber and Lyft. The organization supports several charities in the Austin area by donating a percentage of the fares to various causes. The newcomers are struggling to survive now that Uber and Lyft have returned. While the new companies placed a strong emphasis on safety, sadly, a Ride Austin driver was recently accused of sexual assault (even though all drivers have to pass a rigorous background check). All the companies are looking for new ways to keep passengers safe, such as apps that allow you to check in with friends and the ability to request same-sex drivers.
Those who are driving should, of course, have a designated driver. The Littlefield Garage at 508 Brazos Street is centrally located and offers round-the-clock security, but the ever-changing fees can be a little steep.
There is a lower-priced lot under the I-35 overpass at the east end of 6th Street. However, the portion of 6th Street that’s closest to I-35 has also been the site of many a drunken brawl in the last few years. The large size of the lot means that many intoxicated people will descend on it at closing time, and that is sometimes a recipe for violence. If you can afford to pay a little more, park in a well-supervised garage.
If your destination is more than a block or two away, consider hailing a pedicab. They’re an affordable, safe way to see more of downtown. And the men and women driving them are often some of Austin’s most interesting people, from budding musicians to aspiring architects.
Like many mid-size cities, Austin has a large population of homeless people, and they often congregate downtown at night. Most are harmless folks who are simply down on their luck, but there have been a few violent incidents perpetrated by homeless people in downtown. Just keep your distance and watch out for any erratic behavior. Austin Police—some on horseback—are usually not far away if you run into trouble.
Avoid the Corner of Neches and 7th Street
The Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH) is located at 500 East 7th Street near the corner of Neches and 7th. The organization provides valuable services to Austin’s homeless population, from helping them find mental health care to locating temporary housing. Unfortunately, the building is located only a block from 6th Street in a bustling nightlife area. This means that the convergence of intoxicated people and those who might be down on their luck or mentally ill occasionally leads to conflicts and/or uncomfortable situations. Homeless people will often sleep on the streets surrounding the center in anticipation of getting help there in the near future. Regardless of how concerned you may be about the city’s homeless population, your best bet is to simply avoid the area at night. It’s often difficult to tell the difference between someone going through a short-term problem and an individual with more serious problems.
College Kids Gone Wild
At closing time, young men who seem to be upstanding citizens by day sometimes turn into drunken idiots. Most brawls break out on the way back to remote parking lots, so this is another good reason to either take a cab or park in a garage with 24-hour security. Also, it’s a good idea to leave well before 2 a.m. to avoid the intoxicated buffoon stampede.
As long as you avoid the few bad seeds, you’ll find that most Austinites are welcoming, fun-loving and helpful. Have fun and welcome to Austin!