San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

December 4th, 2009
Drainage plan could be downtown sneak peek

stretscape

Halff Associates Vice President Wayne Cooper presents San Marcos downtown streetscape concepts developed by his firm. Photo by Sean Batura.

By SEAN BATURA
News Reporter
 
No one knows when the city’s downtown master plan will become reality, but a drainage project for parts of LBJ Drive, Hutchison Street and University Drive will force a sneak peak at the next iteration of downtown San Marcos.
 
City officials and representatives of consulting firm Halff Associates were at the San Marcos Activity Center Monday night to conduct a public information session and administer a survey regarding the proposed streetscape improvements. The enhanced streetscape features proposed for the four-block expanse would be executed in accordance with the general provisions of the downtown master plan and implemented concurrently with the Hutchison Street Drainage Project. 
 
“There’s no way that these business owners are going to put up with you tearing up the street for 12 months, fixing the drainage, and then coming back in another year or two and saying, ‘Hey, I want to do your sidewalks,'” said Steven Guajardo, contract project manager for the Hutchison Street Drainage Project. “If I was a business owner, I would say ‘Get out of here, man. You were here for 12 months, you should have done that here the first time. We knew that we were going to go out with that drainage project.’ So we took a step back and said, ‘We’re going to tear all this stuff up, so let’s only tear it up one time and make it right.'”
 
The Hutchison Street Drainage Project, unlike the proposed streetscape improvements, already has been funded, courtesy of city voters in a November 2005 bond election. Once Halff Associates submits the results of its two-way traffic conversion and electrical underground conversion studies (the latter of which should be done within a week) to the city council, councilmembers will decide whether and what aspects of Halff and Associates’ recommendations and proposed streetscape concepts will be implemented.
 
Wayne Cooper of Halff Associates presented two streetscape concepts, both of which call for wider sidewalks, more trees, fewer parking spaces, specialty crosswalk paving, and new trashcans, benches, and more pedestrian-friendly light poles on a contiguous stretch of road including Hutchison Street between C.M. Allen Parkway and North LBJ Drive, LBJ Drive between University Drive and Hutchison Street, and University Drive between North LBJ Drive and North Guadalupe Street. Assuming the city council funds it, construction of the streetscape improvements may be complete within 18 months.
 
“We have crumbling infrastructure downtown,” said San Marcos City Councilmember John Thomaides at Monday’s public meeting. “It’s a disgrace in many ways. It’s no wonder that it’s hard for many people to do business down there. When you put this kind of investment into your downtown, you create a business climate. The old saying is true: if you build it, they will come. If you build an eight-foot sidewalk, you will fill it with people.”
 
Councilmembers Kim Porterfield, Fred Terry and Gaylord Bose also attended the meeting. Mayor Susan Narvaiz made a brief appearance.
 
Streetscape Concept 1 entails 60 degree angled parking on the north side of Hutchison Street and the east side of North LBJ Drive, and parallel parking on the south side of Hutchison and west side of North LBJ. Concept 1 entails eight- to 10-foot-wide sidewalks, trees planted against curbs, and a gateway feature marking the beginning of Hutchison Street at C.M. Allen Parkway. 
 
Concept 1 does not specify the precise nature of the gateway feature, but Cooper proposed possibilities such as raised medians, special crosswalk paving, and an arch over the mouth of Hutchison to signify the beginning of a new city region. Concept 1 entails a reduction in available parking of about 12 spaces.
 
Streetscape Concept 2 calls for parallel parking only, trees planted in the middle of sidewalks, and no gateway feature at the intersection of Hutchison and C.M. Allen. 
 
The sidewalks according to this concept would be about seven feet wide on either side of the central tree trunks, allowing for some separation between storefront activity along the inner sidewalk and pedestrians nearest to the road. Concept 2 entails a reduction in available parking of about 18 spaces.
 
Both concepts entail trees or enclosed plant beds that extend into the street at crosswalk points, to allow for less cross-street walking distances. Neither concept includes bike lanes. Cooper said his firm’s traffic engineer concluded that the traffic on Hutchison Street and the immediate area is slow enough that bicycles and cars can safely operate in the same lanes along the proposed stretch of streetscape improvements. 
 
Thomaides noted that cyclists – such as himself – often ride on Hutchison Street to avoid Hopkins Street, which is narrower and busier. Neither street currently has bike lanes. Bicycle riding is prohibited on downtown sidewalks by city ordinance.
 
Terry said he prefers Concept 1 because it offers both types of parking. 
 
“Something in the Downtown Master Plan that I’m real excited about is to get some way-finding,” Terry said. “Because people will get off the freeway and get lost.”
 
Thomaides said he prefers a combination of elements specified in Concepts 1 and 2, such as a mixture of angled and parallel parking tailored to each street.
 
The species of trees and shrubbery to be planted during the proposed streetscape renovation have not been selected. Cooper warned against using native species, which, though drought-tolerant, may not be adapted to the lighting and temperatures that prevail downtown. To allow for the planting of taller trees, and for other aesthetic reasons, Cooper said the city is assessing the feasibility of moving the power lines along the proposed streetscape improvement area underground.
 
Concept 1 and Concept 2 stipulate North LBJ Drive and North Guadalupe Street as two-way streets. Each is presently one-way. Cooper said two-way streets allow for more efficient traffic circulation and slower traffic movement. According to both concepts, LBJ Drive would consist of three lanes, the center-most of which would be a two-way left turn lane. 
 
City of San Marcos Capital Improvements Department Director David Healey said the city will install infrastructure to enable LBJ Drive to become a two-way street. However, Healey said the city will not make the street two-way before receiving the consent of the majority of city residents and owners and renters of buildings along the street, and not before obtaining input from Texas State University and conducting traffic studies.
 
Halff Associates Downtown Streetscape Senior Study Project Manager Mary Mazzei said her firm was paid about $56,000 to develop the conceptual designs. Infrastructure construction firm HNTB will carry out the drainage improvements to Hutchison Street, and will perform the additional streetscape work should the council decide to fund it. Thomaides said the city has not yet been given a price tag for the proposed streetscape work. 
 
“We haven’t been shown that,” said Thomaides. “But I think, hopefully, it will be within our reach. I think it will be.”
 
Thomaides said he is in favor of extending the scope of the proposed streetscape work. Assistant City Manager Laurie Moyer, in response to a question posed during the meeting by Thomaides, said it would be cheaper to extend the scope of the streetscape project now rather than conduct the work in future projects. Guajardo and Thomaides said the current economic climate makes for “hungry contractors,” and, therefore, a buyers market at this moment.
 
“I’d like to, while we’re there, add at least the leg between Hutchison and Hopkins Street on LBJ,” Thomaides said. “You have some of oldest iconic businesses in San Marcos – Paper Bear, you have Root Cellar. You have the Hair Company that’s been there for 30 years. We need to add that section and do that at the same time.”
 
Thomaides noted that undertaking the streetscape improvements, and thereby initiating the implementation of the downtown master plan, falls in line with the recently-released recommendations contained in the draft version of the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS), a regional plan slated for unveiling in the spring by Economic Development San Marcos. The plan recommends that cities in the Greater San Marcos Area “Preserve and enhance characteristics that will make these areas special and representative of the community’s history,” and “Encourage mixed-use, pedestrian friendly Downtowns.”
 
The city paid Market Street Services, Inc., $173,298.21 for its work in developing CEDS. The draft version of CEDS recommends that cities in the Greater San Marcos Area adopt the goal of “downtown development,” and undertake four actions to achieve it, namely; “Prioritize the continued improvement of Greater San Marcos’ historic Downtowns,” “Improve and effectively market the visitor experience to the area’s historic Downtowns,” “Provide improved amenities for residents of Downtown areas,” and “Fund and champion beautification initiatives.”

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0 thoughts on “Drainage plan could be downtown sneak peek

  1. “Neither concept includes bike lanes. Cooper said his firm’s traffic engineer concluded that the traffic on Hutchison Street and the immediate area is slow enough that bicycles and cars can safely operate in the same lanes along the proposed stretch of streetscape improvements…….Bicycle riding is prohibited on downtown sidewalks by city ordinance.”

    So, to all you peddle pushers out there, the message is clear. The won’t install bike lanes here, so they would prefer that we take up a lane. So please stop riding on sidewalks and hugging the curb or parked cars. Both of these are styles of riding are dangerous. If more riders claimed a lane than traffic would slow down as they become accustomed to the fact that these are our roads also.

    Since all this money is being spent for the sake of automobiles, I wonder if they’ll at least provide some bike racks?

  2. As a fellow pedal pusher, I prefer not to have other riders create problems for me, intentionally or unintentionally.

    So, please read, understand and keep this in mind when “taking the lane.”

    Sec. 551.103. Operation on Roadway.

    (a) Except as provided by Subsection (b), a person operating a bicycle on a roadway who is moving slower than the other traffic on the roadway shall ride as near as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway, unless:

    (1) the person is passing another vehicle moving in the same direction;

    (2) the person is preparing to turn left at an intersection or onto a private road or driveway; or

    (3) a condition on or of the roadway, including a fixed or moving object, parked or moving vehicle, pedestrian, animal, or surface hazard prevents the person from safely riding next to the right curb or edge of the roadway.

    (4) the person is operating a bicycle in an outside lane that is:
    (A) less than 14 feet in width and does not have a designated bicycle lane adjacent to that lane; or
    (B) too narrow for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to safely travel side by side.

    (b) A person operating a bicycle on a one-way roadway with two or more marked traffic lanes may ride as near as practicable to the left curb or edge of the roadway.

    (c) Persons operating bicycles on a roadway may ride two abreast. Persons riding two abreast on a laned roadway shall ride in a single lane. Persons riding two abreast may not impede the normal and reasonable flow of traffic on the roadway. Persons may not ride more than two abreast unless they are riding on a part of a roadway set aside for the exclusive operation of bicycles.

    That being said, it would be nice to see accommodations for bikes in the downtown plan.

  3. Two “peddle pushers” within 10 minutes of each other. That means this article has a higher usage rate by bicycles than any bicycle lane this City has built to date.

  4. The problem with the bike lanes, to date, is that they don’t connect to anything, they’re not all wide enough to ride in, they are strewn with broken glass and cars swerve into them (to avoid speed bumps).

  5. The word is “pedal”.

    Anyways, as a commuter cyclist in this city, I think the focus needs to be on education of both cyclists and motorists. I have personally been targeted and harassed going about my daily business while riding. I ride legally, signal my turns and follow all rules of the road. Yes, I also own a vehicle, but I don’t see the point of driving around everywhere when I could be active and enjoying my scenery without being in a 2 ton box.

    John, I don’t quite understand the motive of your post, but as a cyclist I can tell you that the bicycle lanes we do have are poorly planned and do not provide an adequate network of routes around the city. It might be nice if you want to get from one end of Holland to the other or go back and forth on Post, but the fact is that we have less than 15 miles of purpose built bicycle lanes, none of which connect.

    Ted, sometimes not taking the lane is very dangerous. If a motorist feels he/she can “squeeze” by you in the same lame, you are likely to be clipped by a mirror or other object on the vehicle. This doesn’t mean that you need to always ride in the middle of the lane, but my life is worth more than a few seconds of a motorist’s time that it would take to pass me in the other lane. I use my best discretion and have the same respect for my fellow travelers as I hope they would have for me.

    I think uneducated motorists feel that bicyclists are “beneath them” or that cyclists’ transportation needs are less important than their own. The only way that this will change is to get more cyclists on the road, interacting in the community and working with motorists to say “hey, we are citizens too!”. Without turning this into a rant against motorists, I just want to throw my two cents in and say that bike lanes might be a nice idea, but the most important part in making both cyclists AND motorists aware that bicycles DO belong on the road.

    Be good to one another.

  6. Seriously, why don’t you who want and use bike lane propose a bike tax to fund such inprovements. That would seem equitable since not every taxpayer rides bikes. I don’t know about in town road use and construction but as you know, a good portion of your gas bill goes towards road improvements. Why not let the bike riders partially fund their own lanes. And no, I am not anti biker by any stretch of the imagination.

  7. I’m not sure how you would tax people who ride bikes, but we voted for bonds which included bike and pedestrian improvements. So, we did vote for a tax of sorts. Perhaps more of you non-cyclists should have gotten out and voted against them.

  8. COS, I don’t know who you were replying to but if you had read my post you would know that not every cyclist necessarily wants bike lanes, just the right to use a bicycle as transportation without feeling threatened.

    And you want to tax bicyclists for using a form of transportation which not only improves health but causes far less (if any) damage to the road than an automobile? It costs a ton of money for roadwork!

    There are benefits too numerous to list here about why a well planned bicycle network is beneficial to a city, but that is another story for another day. It would be great to go through a discussion about bicycle infrastructure without being subject to the same tired argument about the gasoline tax and bicycles on the road.

    Also, how do you feel about those who run their vehicles on pure vegetable oil? No taxes paid on their fuel go towards road funds, but they are allowed to drive just like everyone else.

    Your “not every taxpayer” line is tired too. Not every taxpayer has children, yet their property taxes can be used to fund schools. Not every taxpayer wants their tax dollars to be used to fund welfare programs, but welfare exists.

    A short lesson in civics for you – taxes are paid to fund a variety of uses in a municipality, many of which you may never use but that affect the community as a whole.

  9. Woa, hoss! Don’t jump down my throat for offering a suggestion. Like I said, I am not against cylcling at all. As a matter of fact, a very close family member rides an average of 12k per year with just over 120,000 miles on a bicycle since they started. And for your smart ass information, I do understand civics very well, thank you. I also understand where this country is heading with everyone wanting someting special for their group. New tennis courts for the select who play tennis, new soccer fields for the select who play soccer, new bike lanes for the select who ride bikes. Where does it end?? And for the record, I do not use the public school system and I do have a child.

  10. COS- And not every (property ) taxpayer drives a car. The majority of my travel is on bike or foot , yet I’m a downtown property owner that gets taxed for roads designed for cars only. I would like my two cents to go to making sure the road is safe for me on my bike- at least make sure it has a shoulder. Your above rant (against tennis, bikes, soccer) makes it appear that you don’t see the value of a healty population. Healthy people = less costs to you in the long run. Sit in your car, stew in a traffic jam, and curse the idiots (every one but you) as your blood pressure rises…

  11. Kenny, the motive of my post… I see about one bicycle on the road per week, yet two posters in 10 minutes felt bike lanes should be added to the Hutchison project. Where are the riders? I have nothing against a bicycle and sometimes it is a nicer alternative, but the cost of bicycle lanes on every new road project is huge and disproportionate to the number of users. If you ride, good for you and I hope drivers show you more courtesy in the future. But until more people are motivated by love, fitness or simplicity to get on their bicycle, bicycle lanes are not a good use of limited tax dollars.

  12. John, there are actually a lot of people on bikes. Not as many as I’d like to see, but quite a few.

    As for whether it is a good use of taxpayer money, the taxpayers voted for it and when they voted for it, it was specifically listed as being used for bike/pedestrian improvements. There was nothing ambiguous about it.

    So, again, if it is a bad use of taxpayers’ money, then the taxpayers should have voted it down.

    Thanks to any non-cyclists who thought this was important enough to fund. Unfortunately, so far, very little has actually been done. The handful of bike lanes that we have, probably cost less than $25,000. There was somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.3 million approved for bike/ped improvements.

    The shared-use path on Craddock may have cost $100k, but I am not sure if that would have come out of the $1.3 million for bike/ped improvements, or if it would have come from the money for the Craddock improvements. Some of the funding can be difficult to figure out.

    Either way, the voters approved some significant funding for improvements. Hopefully, we’ll start to see a lot of sidewalks repaired, a lot of gaps in the sidewalks filled, a lot of bike lanes striped and a few shared use paths (although no more crushed granite like we have on Craddock, please).

  13. I would bet every dollar I own that the number one reason people don’t ride bicycles more often is that they do not feel safe. And I do not blame them one bit. Motorists are scary. They can kill you in an instant and drive away with zero remorse.

    I’m not sure what kind of San Marcos COS wants to see in the future (possibly the future of $10/gallon); a SM that is clogged with single-occupant vehicles pumping toxic gas into the air our children breath (like every other big city in the U.S.), or a SM where citizens walk and ride bikes (and take the occasional car trip) to wherever they’re going (and they can get there safely without fear of getting mowed down by an irate motorists racing to the next red light or train crossing).

    My vision of San Marcos is one where people can safely get from one side of town to the other. This doesn’t exist today, even for motorists. But it especially doesn’t exists for anyone walking or riding a bicycle.

    The average cost of a surface parking space is $16,000 and the average cost of a garage parking space is $26,000. The cost of one bike rack (that holds two bikes) is $100.

    And as cliche as it sounds; if you build it, they will come (ride). Currently, there is not a safe way to walk or bike to the big HEB, the SM Activity Center, Public Library, or City Hall.

  14. Posters here lament why SM misses the boat when it comes to high paying businesses moving here..well, look at our infrastructure. Our town has the best potential in the state of Texas to be a pedestrian/bicycle friendly place. We have a healthy, energetic university population, active outdoorsy families who enjoy and appreciate the parks and river, good weather, and a manageable size area. If we could model ourselves after towns like Boulder or Santa Cruz, up and coming businesses and industries led by ‘green’ and forward thinking people would flock here. Given a choice, why would anyone move to a small town w/a big city traffic problem?

  15. Posters here lament why SM misses the boat when it comes to high paying businesses moving here..well, look at our infrastructure. Our town has the best potential in the state of Texas to be a pedestrian/bicycle friendly place. We have a healthy, energetic university population, active outdoorsy families who enjoy and appreciate the parks and river, good weather, and a manageable size area. If we could model ourselves after towns like Boulder or Santa Cruz, up and coming businesses and industries led by ‘green’ and forward thinking people would flock here. Given a choice, why would anyone move to a small town w/a big city traffic problem?

  16. And of course you can’t forget to mention the 28,000 students at the university. They can either drive a single-occupant vehicle everywhere they go (a mile to HEB, a few blocks to the theater, a half a mile to the river), increases traffic and reducing the amount of available parking.

    -Or they could safely walk and ride bicycles all over town.

    I could also mention that 70% of our children in the San Marcos public schools are on free or reduced lunch which means they come from lower-middle to lower class families. Currently the only way for these families to get around town (again, grocery store, public library, park) is to spend/waste money owning a car, buying gasoline, insurance, inspection, maintenance, etc… But if a wonderfully smart and safe bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure were to be built, it would have an enormous impact on the livability of San Marcos.

  17. It is really great seeing Central Texas making progress toward downtowns that are great places to live, work, and play…not just drive through. I completely agree with Market Street Services Texas needs to “Preserve and enhance characteristics that will make these areas special and representative of the community’s history.” I hope to see other central Texas downtowns follow suit in the next 10 years: Round Rock, Luling, New Braunfels, Bastrop…

  18. This is a scary town to ride a bike in. I was a bike commuter in Columbus, Ohio (a city of about 1 million people) and it was much safer than riding in little ol’ San Marcos. The three main pathways in to town from the east and west of town are accidents waiting to happens for cyclists and pedestrians – few, unconnected sidewalks and bike lanes. I rarely ride here and I’m only a couple of miles from my workplace at the university. Instead i drive my truck, increase pollution, take up a parking space and burn a lot less calories.

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