November 30, 2015 By Madeline Hollern, Kimya Kavehkar, Erin Quinn-Kong, and Sarah Thurmond

Outdoor Excursion: Violet Crown Trail
After 15 years of planning by the Hill Country Conservancy, the first 6 miles of the Violet Crown Trail—which starts along Highway 290 near Brodie Lane and heads north to Zilker Park—opened in August. The trail through the Barton Creek Wilderness Park is popular with hikers, who can rest on handmade stone benches, and bikers, who are fans of the hilly, rocky areas and jumps. Once the entire trail system is completed in 2018, it will extend 30 miles and lead all the way into Hays County.

Most Exciting Road Sighting: Google Car
Call it “road thrill.” Google’s self-driving cars began appearing on city streets in July after the Internet search engine company announced it was making Austin its second test site for the vehicles. With special cameras attached, the cars mapped out roadways in parts north of downtown, recording lights, curbs and other conditions along the routes. When operational, the cars’ sensors will be able to detect everything from pedestrians to plastic bags from a distance of two football fields away. Google says the vehicles will be available to the general public by 2020, but just catching sight of one on the street this past year was quite exciting for drivers. Fortunately, no accidents were reported.

Most Controversial Addition to the Skyline: The Independent
When The Independent, a 58-story tower that will be the largest residential building in the city—and west of the Mississippi—was announced in April, it didn’t get the warmest reception. Immediately anointed the “Jenga Tower,” the building was to many residents all that is wrong with the ever-growing Austin. Despite the uproar, 90 percent of the condos were reserved by July. And two big financiers, one from Los Angeles and one from Dubai, have signed on to fund the project. At press time, construction was set to begin any day.

City Initiative: Don’t Block the Box
In the city’s never-ending struggle to reduce traffic congestion, this new initiative may be one good solution. The “Don’t Block the Box” campaign, which started in April, was launched to get drivers to stop blocking oncoming traffic lanes and pedestrian pathways at intersections. In the first two weeks of the program, more than 800 tickets were handed out by police officers (fines could be as high as $500), providing evidence that the city has a blocker problem. By August, the campaign had expanded to other parts of the city, including William Cannon at Brodie Lane and Parmer Lane at Lamar Boulevard. So check for “Don’t Block the Box” signs at lights, or else you might find yourself getting stopped—not by traffic, but by a cop.

Public Service: SafePlace’s Eloise House
In August, domestic abuse shelter SafePlace opened Eloise House, the region’s only 24/7 facility where sexual assault victims can get a free forensic exam, support and advocacy. The nonprofit hired 17 full-time nurses and has administered more than 200 tests thus far. With nearly 900 cases of sexual assault reported each year in Travis County, it’s a needed service for residents who are going through a traumatic time. In related news, Travis County received $100,000 in federal funding in September to test backlogged rape kits.

Viral Sensation: @Austin_Cobra
These days, when opportunity knocks, you create a Twitter parody account. That was the case in July when news broke that an 18-year-old Temple man had died from a poisonous snakebite and that the suspected culprit had gone missing. Within hours, Twitter parody account @Austin_Cobra appeared. Joking about everything from the line at Franklin clearing for him to Austin’s no-kill pet policy, the prankster developed a big following quickly. To his credit, the creator told KEYE he didn’t mean for the account to be insensitive to a death but a way to make fun of Austin’s quirks.

Most Important City Survey: Music Census
What’s really happening in the Live Music Capital of the World? The city was determined to find out when it conducted the “Austin Music Census” online in November 2014. About 4,000 musicians, venue owners, artist managers and other industry professionals answered the questionnaire, and the results, which came out in the spring, were alarming. The most unsettling finding was that one-third of the musicians who took the survey said they make less than $15,000 a year. With rising rents and living expenses, the concern became quantifiably apparent that the people who make music—the city’s greatest attraction and export—are suffering.

The Year of the Hotel
Checking in, or just checking out the scene? This year, Austin’s hotel industry flourished, attracting both out-of-towners who travel to the capital city for events like SXSW and ACL Fest and locals in search of cool new hangout and staycation spots. Here are five buzzworthy hotels that debuted in 2015.

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