Author of Blog: Daniel Day

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Streetcar Part III, No Need for Streetcars Down Broadway.

Sorry for the wait, but as usual my life has been busy.  Since I got a new job and my hours have change, I'll be changing the publishing day to Monday or Tuesday every week and I'm still committed to publishing every week.

Also, I'll be creating two new pages, one, of important meetings that cyclist or concern citizens should attend to make San Antonio a real place, and two, one of bicycling related events that are taking place in San Antonio.  

Streetcar Part III, No Need for Streetcars Down Broadway.

Now lets get one thing strait, I was a streetcar supporter.  Why you ask, because even this slow, lousy system would be a plus to our transit system that sucks. It would have gotten some political supporters that "choice users" bring to the transit discussion that San Antonio currently lacks, and most of all, I wouldn't have to worry about a bike rack being full especially on a rainy day for I would be able to take my bicycle aboard and not just the minimum three allowed and most of all, maybe a chance to actually get a protected bike lane on Broadway.  I also felt that this was a scheme in Via's long range plan from the former CEO, Keith Parker, now in charge of Atlanta, GA MARTA in which he said, that once you build it, the people are going to change their tune from the current "rail sucks" to "when are you going to bring it to my neighborhood."  I felt that after they build it, they would have eventually either expanded the system to include more of the city like out to Loop 410 with faster speeds, or put light rail back on the ballot like back in 2000.

The more and more I heard about the development results of the streetcar, the more I felt that the goal of the Streetcar was based on the McKinney Ave Streetcar (Image 19-1, 19-2) in the Uptown neighborhood in Dallas which to me seems to be a place a lot like La Cantera. It was the dream of Mayor Hardberger to connect the Pearl with the rest of Downtown and the streetcar would have done that.

Back in September 2013, I went to Dallas to see the new transit service to the largest city that lacks transit service, Arlington, TX; although, what I found was disappointing, I also wanted to ride with the Dallas Critical Mass to get their opinion on how they deal with McKinney Ave Streetcar tracks for which they said they treat it like any other street with lots of pot holes.

That night as we rode, they took me to a place called the Truck Yard just off of Greenville Ave, and there I discovered a place that was the pinnacle of what good urbanism brings out, a First Friday every night, or at least every weekend.  For those of you who don't know what First Friday is, well think of the Pearl Farmers Market is every Saturday morning.  It was after that that I finally realize that we don't really need a streetcar to achieve development goal of what the Streetcar promised,(Image 19-3) but what we really need to do is create the foundation of a neighborhood that creates the conditions that makes a really happening place.

To create that foundation of development that was sought with the Streetcar, we need to fix the problem that is currently found on Broadway or for that matter, the entire downtown where the Streetcar was planned to travel down.

Before the big sidewalks were added, Greenville was much like Broadway is currently. A stroad with fast moving, many lanes of traffic and nothing happening along it.  Today, Greenville Ave is a place is much like South Alamo but with super size sidewalks.  Even though S Alamo lacks the big sidewalks, the concept is virtually the same, two lanes of slow moving traffic with sidewalks protected by plants or parked vehicles, and a community that is allowed to reinvent itself.  Broadway is the opposite of that with fast moving cars, multiple lanes of traffic and tiny sidewalks with no protection from traffic full of obstacles like this bus stop at Fourth and Broadway.(Image 19-4)  It's a Stroad in every sense, every space for cars, not much for anything else. We also need to fix the zoning when it comes to new development and make it more flexible, such as no parking minimums with new development.  


You can tell just by looking at the area around Greenville Ave that it's a happening place and not just by the dancing frogs on top of the Taco Cabana.(Image 19-5)  The sidewalks that are here use to be vehicle lanes (Image 19-6) and because there's a space for parking the cars along the street, it provides that barrier between the moving vehicle traffic and the pedestrian activity.  Here's my 6 minute video of the place across the street from the Trader Joes.  In this video you'll see what is making Greenville Ave a great place and what is missing from Broadway, Slow moving Traffic and good sidewalks.  

For this purpose, I'm only going to focus on Broadway and not other stroads that the Streetcar would have went down.  Now the Streetcar was planning to go as far north as Josephine St, but for our purposes, we can actually include the part of Broadway as far north as Hildebrand due to the fact that my fixes won't cost $270 million and the fact that the stroad scape is the same.  I've divided Broadway into three parts, (Image 19-7) the first part is the Broadway that has 7 lanes, 6 travel and one center turn lane is the Midtown Section.  The part goes underneath the freeway I call the 281 section, and finally, the Downtown Section from Jones to Martin, where we have useless sharrows, narrow sidewalks and to the rest of the general public, abandon buildings.  (Image 19-22)

Also for the examples, I'll be using cross sections illustrations like the one below which is how Broadway is pretty much designed today.(Image 19-8) All cross sections illustrations will face north and all lanes have been measured by me on the actual stroad in this case, Broadway. Through these cross section illustrations, I'll be demonstrating the possibilities for Broadway and use this same form for other stroads in future posts.  In this cross section illustration(Image 19-8) you see the term "bus lane."  For our purposes, this is a regular drive lane where you're most likely to see the bus traveling in.

Midtown Section

The Midtown section starts from Hildebrand Rd and goes to Casa Blanca.  I written about this section before in other blogs such as Two accidents that didn't need to happen, and #sasidewalkssuck. Here you have 1 center turn lane, and 6 drive lanes.  Much of the 5ft sidewalks in this section live up to the hashtag #sasidewalkssuck.  The Streetcar would have made the sidewalks wider along this part of Broadway, at least to Josephine, and perhaps added some parking in what is now that right 10ft lane. To improve Broadway, the cheapest thing we could do to improve this stroad is to turn that right 10ft drive lane into a buffered bike lane or a protected bike lane by poles. (Image 19-9)  By doing this we make it feel a little safer to walk and bicycle along by removing the fast moving traffic that is now next to the sidewalk.


The Problem with this design comes when we get to the bus stop.  You see, currently if a Via bus wishes to stop along Broadway with the Cheapest concept in place, it will have to invade the buffered bike lane.  So lets add a small bus stop island (Image 19-10) so the cyclist can keep cycling and the bus can stop without having to worry about running over a cyclist. 

But lets face it, if we are to really improve Broadway, the way the streetcar would have done, we're going to have to remove that center turn lane and put down some on street parking.  Here (Image 19-11) is what the city should be proposing to this part of Broadway.  I call this the "Ideally Concept" where I reduce the number of drive lanes from Current (Image 19-8) six lanes to four lanes.  I remove the center turn lane and put that space for parking on the west side of Broadway and made the sidewalks bigger.  Now remember, your always looking north on my cross sections illustrations and the reason why I put the parking on the west side, (the Witte Museum side) is because that's the side on which you'll find Brackenridge Park and businesses without on street parking for the most part.  I did my measurements for the Midtown Section in front of the Tuk Tuk Taproom, so all measurements are to that area, however, the Right Of Way, that's the Government property part of Broadway, gets a little bit bigger as you go further north so these things could be widen a bit.   
 Now to put in the bus stops with the "Ideally Concept," I put in two different versions.  On the west side of Broadway, we remove the parking lane and put in a bus stop island with Shelter.  (Image 19-12)  For the east side, since the bus stops aren't as big like the current bus stop at Lions Field park, I've decided to go  with the bus stop island being about 4ft wide.(Image 19-13)  This way, no matter what side your on, you'll always have a protected bike lane without having to worry about a bus making a stop in the bike lane.


Now Traffic flow is important for this Stroad is a major thoroughfare.  But we need less of the stroad and more of a famed Boulevard (BLVD) design.  So reducing the number of driving lanes from six to four, we reduces the current scene of cars trying to out run each other.   By reducing the travel lanes from 6 to 4 and removing the center turn lane, we also reduce the amount of distance a person on foot has to cover when they do cross Broadway from 74ft (Image 19-8) to 44ft (Image 19-12).  And with the protected bike lanes, we create a safe place for both person on foot and on bike.

281 Section
 This section as indicated in Image 19-7, is between Casa Blanca and Jones.  It's also the section underneath the interchange of I-37/US 281and I-35.  In this section, (Image 19-14) you currently have a 5ft bike lane, four 11ft drive lanes and one 10ft center turn lane.  Not much improvement needs to be done to this section, for the 5ft bicycle lanes does provide some type of barrier between the traffic and the sidewalk.  We could use some wider sidewalks, but as a cyclist, I don't want to give up on my bike lanes.  So to do this, we need to remove that 10ft center turn lane and put that 10 ft to the sidewalks and a barrier to make a protected bike lane.  We can also put in some Bus Stop Islands with out having to reduce the driving lane width and not having to reduce the walkability.

Now We've done our improvements to this Section to the street scape, we now have to figure out how to use all this green space underneath the bridges.  Has anyone ever thought as this space as a city park?  Up until about mid August 2014, there was a small pond that formed underneath one of the bridges (Images 19-17, 19-18) and across the stroad, you'll see a dog park (Image 19-16).  Here's my question, why can't we have a bigger dog park that  takes advantage of the shade that this exit ramp from I-35N to I-37S  bridge produces? And this rain water created pond, back in June and July, I saw several species of birds including a pair of Black Belly Whistling ducks with a family of duckings as well as a Green Heron gorging on tadpoles, and other bug aquatic life. (Image 19-17).  Currently the pond has dried up, but given another big rainstorm, it will be back.


City Parks and open space for that matter has been known for years helps with making people happier and healthier.  It's that touch of nature that makes city living better.  When we lack green spaces in the form of city parks, gardens and trails, we make our communities just a little bit of a dimmer place to be in and take it from me, San Antonio lacks a lot of parks for people to play and relax in. 

Downtown Section

 This is where the Streetcar would have served the entire section.  It is also the section where even though we are pretty much in downtown, we have a bunch of abandoned buildings, or at lest to the general public, they are abandoned.(Image 19-21)  It's also the section where we would have seen most of the development that the streetcar promised to delivered.(Image 19-3)  But look at what is wrong with it right now, you have an abandoned street scape with narrow sidewalks, useless sharrows (Image 19-22) with places that nobody goes to unless they work there. It's pretty much a dump even though it's like two blocks from the Riverwalk Museum Reach. Now the cheapest thing we could do to improve this section of Broadway is to remove that god awful 16ft lane with the useless sharrow/parking lane (Image 19-20) and bring back the bicycle lane, but that would make it somewhat safer for us cyclist, but that's it. (Image 19-23) And this stretch of Broadway use to have bike lanes, but somebody thought that parking was more valuable, but go there on any day of the week, and tell me, who in the hell is parking on Broadway because for the most part, I barely see two vehicles, maybe three.  If Spock from Star Trek said that "the needs of the many, outweigh the needs, of the few," wouldn't a painted bike lanes serve more people instead of just three or four individuals with parking spaces for a car?
Now I don't know what the street scape was going to look like with a streetcar, but my general feeling it would have looked something like this, with improved wider sidewalks.(Image 19-23)

Now we just don't need Improved sidewalks, we also need a zoning ordinances that will encourage the type of development that the streetcar would have brought, but before we play with the zoning ordinances, we need to make it a more comfortable place to be walking. 

We have 76ft to play with, and we could do a whole bunch of designs, but this is where I cannot decide what is the best choice for the Downtown Section of Broadway.  So the question should be asked, do you want Broadway to have flowing traffic, or do you want it to be like Greenville Ave in Dallas?  You have to remember, Broadway is one of those important corridors for the city for it is sandwich between a freeway, and a military base.  Now in all of my Cross Sections, I have a protected bicycle lane and that's simply because protected bike lanes bring out cyclist and reduce injury risk by 90% and from my experience of riding the one in Austin on Guadalupe St, it's way nicer than riding in traffic with useless sharrows.

The reason why they took out those bike lane in the first place back in 2011, was because there was no on street parking.  Well if parking is really that necessary, then this is how The Downtown Section of Broadway should be designed.  It should be designed with a Center Turn lane, two drive lanes and two parking lanes on both sides, but this design keeps the sidewalks living up to the hashtag #sasidewalkssuck.

Now here's the question, do we need parking for both sides of Broadway?  If we do, then the concept you see above (Image 19-25) is what we're going to get, but if we want wider sidewalks and keep the traffic flowing, we're going to need to keep the center turn lane, and we're going to need to remove a parking lane from one side of the street.  The question is, which side should that be on?  For my suggestion, lets put it on the east side of Broadway and add that space that we've taken away from the parking, to the bike lanes and sidewalks.  And because we've added space to the sidewalks, lets plant some trees which are lacking right now on this part of Broadway.(Image 19-26)
For the Bus stops, let's add the 4 ft bus stop islands on either side, only this time when we put it on the east side, we put the bus parking place where the parking lane is.  On the West side, I simply added a bus stop island allowing for vehicles to pass in the center turn lane like they do currently on S Flores where the city council voted to remove the lanes.(Image 19-27)  We don't want to switch the traffic lanes from one side to the other block by block for that would create some confusion on where to drive and it will create some bad politics that we've experience like before with S Flores.

I've just showed you how we could improve Broadway with simply changes the way we lay out the street design for Broadway.  Now remember, this isn't enough, we also have to change the zoning ordinances so we can allow the development to come from the ground up and we also have to leave room for traffic flow.  This is possible, but as long as we have an unwillingness to allow transformation, slowing down vehicle speeds, and putting people on foot and bicycles first over personal motor vehicles, we'll never see a great place that could be Broadway.

19-1:  McKinney Ave Streetcar Stop in front of the Starbucks at 3699 McKinney Ave looking Southeast
19-2:  McKinney Ave Streetcar Cityplace Station looking west.
19-3:  Via Metropolitan Transit Streetcar advertisement claiming about the streetcar developments it would have brought to Downtown.
19-4:  Via Metropolitan Transit Bus Stop at the corner of Broadway and Fourth looking north. 
19-5: The Taco Cabana at 1827 Greenville Ave, Dallas Texas looking South
19-6:  The View of the large Sidewalks on Greenville Ave at Prospect Ave looking south.  
19-7:  Google Satellite View of Broadway with illustrations showing the different sections of Broadway.
19-8:  Cross Section Illustration viewing North on Broadway that is between Casa Blanca and Hildebrand
19-9:   Cross Section Illustration viewing North on Broadway having the right drive lane turned into a buffered bicycle lane (Right) or a protected bike lane (Left)
19-10:  Cross Section Illustration viewing North on Broadway with a bus stop island being placed over the Buffered Bicycle lane. 
19-11:  Cross Section Illustration Viewing North on Broadway.  The Ideally Concept with 4 lanes of traffic, 1 parking lane, two 6ft protected bicycle lane and 7 1/2 ft of sidewalks on either side.
19-12:  Cross Section Illustration Viewing North on Broadway.  The Ideally Concept with the Bus stop island on the west side of Broadway.
19-13:  Cross Section Illustration Viewing North on Broadway.  The Ideally Concept with the bus stop on the East Side of Broadway.
19-14:  Cross Section Illustration Viewing North on Broadway that is between Casa Blanca and Jones.
19-15:  Cross Section Illustration Viewing North on Broadway.  The Ideally Concept with Protected bicycle lanes and bus stop islands. 
19-16:  The Dog Park at the corner of Broadway and Roy Smith St looking Northwest. 
19-17:  The Pond During July underneath the bridge with a family of Black Bellied Whistling Ducks and a Green Heron.  Viewed from Broadway eastward.
19-18:  The Pond At around August 10, 2014.  Viewed from Broadway eastward.
19-19:  3 Cyclist riding southbound in the bike lane on Broadway underneath 281 looking North.
19-20:  Cross Section Illustration Viewing North on Broadway between Martin St and Jones.
19-21:  Picture of one of the buildings that looks abandoned at the corner of 6th and Broadway looking West.
19-22:  Picture of one of the Sharrows on Broadway in front of the DPT parking garage viewing North
19-23:  Cross Section Illustration Viewing North on Broadway between Martin and Jones.  My ideal concept on how Broadway would have looked if it added Modern Rail Streetcars.
19-24:  A map of San Antonio illustrating how because of Fort Sam Houston and US 281, how Broadway is a "funnel" for traffic into downtown.
19-25:  Cross Section Illustration Viewing North on Broadway Between Martin and Jones on how it would look if they removed the 16 ft right lane and turn it into a parking lane with a protected bicycle lane.
19-26:  Cross Section Illustration Viewing North on Broadway Between Martin and Jones on the "Ideally Concept" would look like
19-27:  Cross Section Illustration Viewing North on Broadway Between Marin and Jones on the "Ideally Concept" would look like with bus stops islands at either side of Broadway.

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