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Old Posted Jun 18, 2021, 3:26 AM
Hindentanic Hindentanic is offline
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Houston Street in San Antonio, Texas, beginning along of the stretch of East Houston Street between the Alamo and the Emily Morgan Hotel and extending westwards to connect with Milam Park. Full pedestrianization can be done in phases beginning with the already planned pedestrianization of Alamo Street to remake Alamo Plaza, and can continue eastwards as development unfolds.


(Imagery looking west from Alamo Plaza from Google Earth)


(Imagery from Google Earth)

Green: Houston Street pedestrian mall
Yellow: Alamo Plaza renovation
Orange: Main Plaza
Blue: Riverwalk and urban linear creek parks

https://goo.gl/maps/gF3AoF6VciscQPjM9
https://goo.gl/maps/fS5CoCn6owACB6ey6
https://goo.gl/maps/4X98S63ksyefnCsP7
https://goo.gl/maps/7z5ns9mByVYDDcwr6
https://goo.gl/maps/MbXvD43r2rHT1R6x5
https://goo.gl/maps/2AEheBzUs8jnN3q26

This isn't as radical as it looks, as the city already regularly closes much of Houston Street to car traffic for a variety of annual and cultural events. They've already repaved the road surface to look like historic brick with inlaid street murals. Much of the street has only single lanes in either direction and little streetside parking.


(Photo on Texas Public Radio courtesy of Artpace San Antonio, Francisco Cortes)


(Photo on Texas Public Radio courtesy of Artpace San Antonio, Francisco Cortes)


(Photo from Centro San Antonio on San Antonio Current)


(Photo by Corey Leopold on Flickr)

Historically, Houston Street was San Antonio's primary shopping strip and theater district, until urban flight to the suburbs hollowed out the inner core and turned urban neighborhoods into parking lots. However, downtown has become popular again beyond mere tourism, empty streetscape storefronts are slowly being reoccupied, and numerous residential and mixed-use tower projects were in the pipeline before the pandemic and many are looking to restart now that the pandemic is waning. The recently completed new Frost Tower has heralded a slate of new and interrelated development, and it is hoped that it will be a marker for growth much like the Frost Tower in Austin did in 2004. If nearby Austin is to be a model for downtown growth, then San Antonio actually already has a deeper and richer bag of downtown urban elements than Austin initially had with which to prepare for this growth and augment and enhance its downtown through this growth.

I would definitely legislate the encouragement and return of vertical signage and sidewalk canopies:


(Photo uploaded by BudB on City-Data.com)

The only downtown streets the city has actually closed and redeveloped into public space in recent years are two short segments flanking Main Plaza (orange in map), to much complaining. As traffic gridlock hasn't shutdown the city, complaints now are mostly about the design choices made in the plaza's landscaping and amenities, and of getting development of properties along its edges back on track after the pandemic. I would have gone further with the plaza, joining it to the Bexar County Courthouse by closing the interceding stretch of Dolorosa Street.

Currently mired in deep controversy is a plan (yellow in map) to renovate Alamo Plaza by pedestrianizing much of Alamo Street from Houston Street to Commerce Street into an urban memorial plaza, with some design proposals extending even to the gateway into the Civic Park redevelopment. The approved street closures naturally brought heated arguments, but fury truly erupted when the project's key proposal to relocate the Alamo Cenotaph became part of the culture wars over heritage statues, even spurring armed right-wing militants to seize into Main Plaza and surround the city council chambers in an early portent of the U.S. Capitol attack. The looniness has hopefully settled down, and key decisions about the proposed Alamo Museum block has finally be made that will allow design planning of the urban plaza to continue. I would have moved the cenotaph northwards closer to the Federal Building so that it could open up the space of Alamo Plaza while still stand prominently over it as a landmark framing the entrance into Alamo Plaza from Houston Street.

San Pedro Creek is currently under Phase 1.3 of its reconstruction into a narrow urban creek park paralleling the famous Riverwalk. Already developers and institutions are targeting properties along its stretch, but key to continued pedestrian use is that the planned UTSA downtown university campus expansion be integrated into the layout not as an isolated suburban "campus" that happens to be in the downtown area, but as a urban university bringing the benefits of its intense pedestrian density to downtown.

Upon completion, a complex, multi-layered pedestrian network will ring the downtown core at both street and river levels, directly connecting major historic sites and plazas, urban parks, a planned university, and current hotspots of urban development.

In the future, the Houston Street plan can be extended westwards to Cattleman Square and the west downtown Centro Plaza bus transit center, which has long been the focus of interest for transit planners for proposed light rail, high-speed rail, and especially the failed 2014 streetcar project working in tandem with the east downtown transit center near the Amtrak depot. I would revive the streetcar project to run through downtown between these two historic stations, including through or parallel to a pedestrianized Houston Street. If the former IG&N domed station were to become both a light rail and high-speed rail station with streetcar service, the area would develop into a gateway into downtown with our pedestrianized, transit-connected Houston Street as the welcoming entry. Actually, we should be doing this now even if without full pedestrianization.

Last edited by Hindentanic; Jul 19, 2021 at 6:21 AM.
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