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Author of Blog: Daniel Day
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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The 1st Step of Making W Commerce into a Street

Sorry folks for the delay, but as usual my life got in the way.  Merry Christmas Everyone.
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On Saturday morning December 13, a workshop was held at the Central Library by Centro San Antonio with The Urban Land Institute/ San Antonio on redesigning W Commerce from S St. Mary's to Santa Rosa. The budget for this project is $9M with options on trying to improve the entire stretch from Alazan Creek to I-37.
The room was packed (Image 30-1) and every one was asked what could be done to improve this section of  W Commerce. Many people came up with wider sidewalks, benches, the type of planters that you see on Houston St in front of the Majestic. Everyone agreed that the traffic goes by there too fast. What I found unfortunate was the fact that some said cyclist should find some other route. 
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I'll be using several cross sections of the planned project area. I got these measurements in front of 345 W Commerce and all illustrations are looking east. Currently this is how W Commerce looks like along the project area. (Image 30-2)
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So far the city has its own plan, take out the right side bus lane and put that space from the bus only lane to the sidewalk next to the bus lane. They'll reduce the two remaining drive lanes to 10ft. (Image 30-3) There's two problems with the city's design proposal; It doesn't solve the problem that VIA buses face everyday when they are parked picking up wheelchairs.  Commercial vehicles are 10ft wide and those 10ft lanes will complicate matters when one bus is trying to go around a parked bus. Another problem is the fact cyclist in San Antonio want a protected bicycle lane down W Commerce. Despite the city's plan for 10ft lanes, my gut feeling is that the final design will have 11ft lanes, defeating the purpose of having 10ft lanes which have shown to do a good job of slowing down the traffic. The reason for my gut feeling is the city's current law, Sec. 19-66. Conformity with state manual which by default will force the lanes to be 11ft wide.
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To fix W Commerce, is to identify the problem which is that W Commerce downtown isn't a street, but a stroad. (Image 30-4) I have always used the word "stroad" and maybe some of you thought I've been misspelling the word street, but in actual fact it is a word created by Charles Marohn, a recovering traffic engineer and the founder of Strongtowns.org. to describe the problem we're faced with trying to create walkable productive places. We have the stroad because we want a road to move cars quickly, but we have places along the road to try to make it a street to capture value. It fails to provide both for if you look down the stretch of W Commerce (Image 30-4) that they want to improve, it lacks places that could be generating tax revenue for the city, meaning for the regular person, it could have businesses that people go to. In the video provided above, we learn that to make a street from a stroad, we need to slow down cars, we need to make pedestrians, cyclist, and public transit greater, MORE IMPORT than moving cars faster. This is where the city's design fails for even though it makes the lanes narrower, it fails to account that their design still keeps cars having priority over people. You have to remember, the street is a dynamic place and a place to go to, not so much a corridor for traffic.
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The problems that people identify at the workshop including VIA, is that there's not enough room for the bus stop and people on the sidewalk walking by, that cars go faster as they approach Santa Rosa, and cyclist complain that there's no safe place to ride your bicycle.  Now I cannot talk about the other tables, but at the table I sat at also wanted on street parking. Despite what people might think, on street parking does provide a barrier between the moving traffic and the people on the sidewalk. But if we were to provide on street parking, we're going to have to reduce the number of drive lanes down to two.  On street parking is a cheap and easy way to provide a barrier of moving traffic for a bicycle lane.  So in my cross section illustration, I decided to include it to show that if they decide to remove a drive lane, they'll have room for both parking and a one way cycletrack. (Image 30-5) Also having on street parking has also demonstrated to slow down traffic.

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At the workshop, there were two paintings from Jorge Cortez.  One showed his concept on how the riverwalk connection should have looked to Main Plaza (Image 30-6) and the other one showed a lively W Commerce St with people eating lunch, local businesses in every building and a way better sidewalk for both sides.  (Image 30-7) As I studied the painting and talked with Jorge, it reminded me that his vision for W Commerce which he dubbed "Zona Cultural" is just like that of Greenville Ave in Dallas that I wrote about in "No Need for Streetcars Down Broadway. His painting was created in 1994, and he expressed his desire to remove the problem that was being, that the cars were given all the space for he expressed that in his riverwalk painting, (Image 30-6) he didn't want to paint one car. After studying his portrait, I created this cross-section of what his vision would look like if it was ever built.  For reference, the Artesias Mexicana building in the portrait, (Image 30-7) well that building is current location of the Dollar General.  I can agree with Jorge's painting, W Commerce needs to be treated better than the stroad it is today.
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Although Jorge Cortez's portrait lacks a protected bicycle lane, I couldn't help but notice that his very large sidewalk next to the people dining, (Image 13-7) that part at least to me looked a lot like the protect bicycle lane that everyone I know wants to have. It also looks like that he wanted only two lanes of traffic. I have said before that we need a law to make sure that our stroads have no more than two lanes of traffic in one direction, not these three lanes of traffic that TXDOT and the City of San Antonio likes to build.  Examples include, Broadway, Babcock, and Fredricksburg Rd.  After much work of studying the painting, I came up with this cross section showing that if his painting was ever made reality, it would look something like this without the protected bicycle lane. (Image 30-8)

Despite what I heard during the workshop that cyclist should find a different route is not what cyclist want, but shows on how San Antonio is dependent on driving to get around. People want a place to ride their bicycles safely without having an angry motorist trying to kill people while they're on a bicycle, so here's my recommendation, (Image 30-9) but don't count on this happening because we're never ever going to do this.  The reason behind it is the fact that the city values cars over people.  We see this over and over again with cars parked in the numerous bike lanes across town and the failure of the city to properly make bike lanes the needed 6ft width which is recommended by NACTO. In my recommendation, (Image 30-9) I have two 12 ft lanes to provide enough room for buses to get around a parked bus that just happens to be picking up a wheelchair and for any 18 wheeler delivery trucks that use W Commerce daily.  Now if the city or VIA is afraid that the bus lane is going to get clogged with cars, then here's my advice, issue some traffic tickets.  But don't count on it.  Through either actions or inaction, VIA and the city will will constantly show  how cars are more important than the buses trying to stay on time.  This is what I mean when I say "Keep San Antonio Lame."
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Now other parts of W Commerce was also talked about such as the one way section that is west of Frio. Now if you read my other blog about the green bicycle lanes that are going to be put in, you would have come across this cross section (Image 30-9) which should be done to the one way sections of W Commerce/Buena Vista anyway regardless to prevent the problems that I highlighted before. The discussion at my table at least wanted this part to be open up for locals on foot or bicycle to be invited into Downtown, to make "Zona Cultural" not just for tourist, but a place for locals.
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Other things were talked about including Market Square treating W Commerce like an alley way (Image 30-11) and how the stuff underneath I-35 needs to be more than a place for parked cars as well which I suggested a great place for a skate park, as well as uses for the abandon buildings that currently line the stroad.  The problems I heard at the workshop, at least at the table I sat at, is that we want to see a street, not the current stroad.

If you feel that you can do a better job with improving W Commerce St, I invite you to visit the cross section of 345 W Commerce Current at streetmix.net and create your own.  Remember the project with is 66ft.  (Now I'm sorry  Scott Gustafson, Centro San Antonio, but I have to do this.)  Send your recommendation to  Scott Gustafson, Centro San Antonio sgustafson@downtownsa.org.
Scott Gustafson, Centro San Antonio
210.225.3862  sgustafson@downtownsa.org
- See more at: http://sanantonio.uli.org/events/detail/reimagine-west-commerce-street-design-workshop#sthash.o2HaKceI.dpuf


What ever the city decides to do, I can only hope that they at least put in a protected bicycle lane along the route and reduce it to two lanes.  Knowing how the city continuously builds to the standards of Keep San Antonio Lame, I doubt that we'll see what cyclist want or create a place that people feel comfortable walking because if the city's current law, Sec. 19-66. Conformity with state manual is any indication, the standards are there to make sure that cars keep moving, not a place for people.

Images:
30-1: Jorge Cortez speaking for his table at the ULI W Commerce St Workshop on Saturday, Dec 13, 2014
30-2:  A cross section looking east showing the current state of W Commerce in front if 345 W Commerce which is currently in the project area.
30-3:  A cross section looking east showing the City's recommendation on how W Commerce should look like after they remove the bus lane.
30-4: A picture across the street from 345 W Commerce looking east where I did the measurements for the cross Sections I created for this blog. 
30-5: A cross section looking east showing if they were to put in parking instead of two drive lanes with a NACTO standard 6ft protected bicycle lane. 
30-6:  Jorge Cortez painting on his concept of the riverwalk connection to Main plaza.
30-7:  Jorge Cortez painting on his concept of the project area discussed at the ULI workshop
30-8:  A A cross section looking east showing if the city were to ever make Jorge's painting of W Commerce (Image 30-7) a reality
30-9:  A cross section looking east showing my recommendation on what many cyclist would like to see on W Commerce and Dolorosa as well
30-10:  A cross section looking east showing what the city should do to W Commerce St and Buena Vista.  It was featured in my last blog of "Green Lanes Aren't Enough."
30-11: A picture of the El Mercado driveway gate blocking the sidewalk on W Commerce looking west.


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