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

February 22nd, 2010
Slowly, city approaches downtown streetscaping

022310streetscapeThe yellowed streets are where the downtown street scaping would begin, as the city has a drainage already scheduled for those streets. Halff Associates images.

By SEAN BATURA
News Reporter

San Marcos City Councilmembers have committed more than half a million dollars to plan a face-lift for a portion of downtown San Marcos, though the construction phase of the project will not actually begin unless more funding is appropriated for next fiscal year.

The downtown streetscape plan, unveiled by city officials and consultants earlier this month, includes a 30 percent reduction in parking spaces, more trees, wider sidewalks, and the potential for North LBJ Drive and North Guadalupe Street to be transformed into two-way streets.

A portion of the streetscaping plan that involves Hutchison Street and western parts of North LBJ Drive will get a head start due to a drainage project. City officials said it wouldn’t make sense to do the drainage project first, then go back and tear up the street again for the streetscaping project, so both of those projects will be carried out simultaneously.

Halff Associates performed a traffic study and is working on another for the streetscape work. Halff has two work authorizations totaling $137,579 for the studies.

“The North LBJ and East Hutchison drainage and roadway improvements project will become the model for a new pedestrian-friendly downtown,” said Halff Associates Downtown Streetscape Senior Study Project Manager Mary Mazzei. “The project is focusing on improving the quality of pedestrian elements, bringing existing sidewalks into compliance with (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements, focusing on the details which make sidewalks safe and … pedestrian elements including shade, textured pavements, and lighting.”

The project area encompasses a contiguous stretch of road linking East Hutchison Street between C.M. Allen Parkway and North LBJ Drive, LBJ Drive between University Drive and East Hutchison Street, and University Drive between North LBJ Drive and North Guadalupe Street.

City officials do not plan on transforming LBJ Drive and Guadalupe Street into two-way roads, thereby creating two-way traffic all around the downtown square, but they may implement the change if they complete a state-mandated traffic analysis and find most resident feedback to be supportive.

City officials and Halff Associates sponsored public meetings late last year, administering surveys that offered two streetscape concepts, both of which called for wider sidewalks, more trees, fewer parking spaces, specialty crosswalk paving, new trashcans and benches, and more pedestrian-friendly light poles on the aforementioned stretch of road.

Mazzei told city councilmembers last week that survey participants “clearly favored” a concept calling for a gateway feature to mark the beginning of East Hutchison Street at C.M. Allen Parkway. The other concept did not specify a gateway feature. Both concepts specified trees or enclosed plant beds extending into the road at crosswalk points to establish smaller cross-street walking distances.

The less-favored concept specified parallel parking only in the project area and trees planted in the middle of sidewalks, eliminating 18 parking spaces. The sidewalks would have been about seven feet wide on either side of the central tree trunks. The favored concept, as presented to participants last November, included a reduction in available parking of about 12 spaces.

A new plan, presented this month, calls for a reduction of 27 parking spaces in the project area.

Neither concept included bike lanes. Mazzei said the width of the streets in the project area preclude bike lanes, the she said bikes will be able to share lanes with automobiles because the lanes will be wide and the traffic speeds slow. Mazzei also proposed North Edward Gary as a safe path for cyclists to access downtown.

The new plan calls for North LBJ Drive to remain a three-lane, one-way road with angled parking remaining on the East side and parallel parking on the west side. The plan specifies sidewalks on both sides of North LBJ Drive of slightly more than 10 feet wide.

University Drive would remain a four-lane, undivided roadway with eight-foot sidewalks on each side. East Hutchison Street would remain a two-lane road with angled parking on the north side and parallel parking on the south side. The plan calls for 10-foot-wide sidewalks on the north side of East Hutchison Street and 18-foot-wide sidewalks on the road’s south side. Other features specified by the plan include trees or enclosed plant beds extending into roads at crosswalk points to allow for smaller cross-street walking distances, and intersections with special pavement treatments.

Mazzei said the current plan specifies one-way alleys in the project area to save additional parking space and to prevent head-on collisions. Mazzei said the city will bury overhead lines in the project area because survey respondents found they detracted from the beauty of downtown. Mazzei said moving the overhead electrical lines underground may cost the city $3.1 million. No funding is available this year for moving the power lines.

City councilmembers authorized $269,858 in additional funds last week to HNTB Corporation to design street reconstruction and streetscape portions of the project, and to include the plans in the drainage improvement scheme, which may take nine months.

The city’s current contract with HNTB specifies a not-to-exceed amount of $469,858, which includes surveying, geotechnical investigation, preliminary engineering analysis and recommendations, final design, and construction services for street reconstruction, streetscape improvements, sidewalk improvements, and drainage improvements on East Hutchison Street, North LBJ Drive, University Drive, Guadalupe Street, Pat Garrison Street, and Fredericksburg Street downtown.

Mazzei said that until HNTB finalizes its designs, the total cost of the streetscape improvements will not be known, though she said the work may total about $800,000.

The council directed staff and the Halff Associates to formulate cost estimates for the project, including an extension of the reconstruction work on the stretch of roadway between North LBJ Drive and East Hutchison Street, which, said San Marcos Councilmember John Thomaides, said is “in terrible condition.”

Said San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz, “I think we’re all in agreement that this is what we’ve been looking forward to for many, many decades.”

022310cornerAbove and beneath are computer-generated images of Hutchison Street, LBJ Drive and their intersection once a planned streetscaping is complete. Half Associates images.

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0 thoughts on “Slowly, city approaches downtown streetscaping

  1. I’m all for trees and flower beds, but placing them in the middle of sidewalks or extending them into the street at intersections seems to create head-banging, car crashing hazards.

    The first photo at end of article- Will the gray car at the top of page be able to see if the road is clear to make a right on red turn?

    Pull-in/out parking is dangerous for cyclists and motorists. Why not use the 3.1 million to bury utility wires to build parking garage or lots?

  2. I don’t think any plan that REDUCES the amount of available parking in the downtown area should even be under consideration. Ask anyone in San Marcos what the #1 problem with our downtown area is and they will all say “parking”……so what does Council do? They sign on to a plan to reduce parking….and at a cost of nearly a MILLION DOLLARS!!!

    Are our city leaders really this out of touch? How can ANYONE really be THIS out of touch?

  3. Same firm did 2 blocks of Center Street in downtown Kyle. Maybe someone would want to take a look at this work first before proceeding. There were cost overruns.

  4. There is a great need to beautify that section of downtown. The drainage needs to be addressed. Losing some parking spaces is a trade off I would rather not make, but it is a trade off i understand. We will never solve the parking problem in downtown with street parking, only a parking garage will do that.

  5. It doesn’t mean that they are out of touch dano. Your “ask anyone” statement is baseless. Not everyone shares the view that you need MORE parking. A well designed, walkable downtown is beneficial to the character of the city, even if you can’t park your car right in front of the place you need to go. As we grow, the problem is TRAFFIC, not the lack of parking spaces. Getting out from behind the windshield and experiencing your city firsthand is great, and hopefully these improvements combined with a more diverse public transit system will contribute to the outdoor appeal of our downtown in the future.

  6. Remember the good old days. Duke & Ayers, Kroll Marney (spelling) two movies, an auto dealership, two banks around the Square.
    One does not revitalize a downtown by eliminating parking.

  7. Kenny,take a look around the Square. Now, if that area is made more walker friendly, more bicycle friendly, where are the cars going to be? You can’t widen the roads; and making it more walker & biker friendly is going to reduce lanes, hence making traffic worse, unless you totally eliminate parking; boy would that make for a vibrant downtown.

    Then there’s that little issue of it’s Texas, from the end of May until the end of September, do you really want everyone walking to work?

    Or does the Council care at all about downtown?

    Just asking?

  8. I gotta go with Kenny on this one. I almost never have a problem finding a parking space downtown. But then I don’t expect to park directly in front of the business I headed to. And the only way I support a garage is if we lease it to TxSt folks for a handsome profit.

  9. Speaking of traffic Kenny, how do you propose to fix the intersection of LBJ and San Antonio? Or the offset at LBJ and Hopkins?

    From my growing up days the only constants from then to now are Kyle & Walker and Fitzgerald & Majors. Anyone aks them what they think?

  10. I live nearly ten miles out, so forgive me if I don’t view walking to the square as a viable alternative. On the occasion that I go to the square, I often have to circle the block a couple of times to find a place ANYWHERE, much less “right in front of the business I want to visit”. Judging from public feedback here and on any number of San Marcos forums, I’m not the only one with this issue.

    As others have touched upon, this is Texas. It is 110 in the shade some summer days. The concept of having people walk or bike everywhere is nothing more than a pipe dream. The REALITY is that if our downtown can’t accomodate vehicle traffic and parking, it will never flourish.

  11. before we put in “pretty” improvements like trees, about extending the sidewalks all the way around downtown and make them actually go beyond the ‘square’? if you could safely walk to the square, parking won’t be much of an issue. this is san marcos, so many things are within walking/riding distance but there’s a lack of continuing and connecting sidewalks not to mention lack of traffic lights at busy intersections.
    how about making all the sidewalks consistent all over downtown? ever notice how some sidewalks were improved but in other spots, still crumbling? don’t even get me started on the lack of sidewalks in the rest of the town. i hope it all works out as planned.

  12. Bob, if you want to spend the day *walking* around downtown, where do you park? I’d love to know, because every time I pull into a space, the sign says “Welcome to San Marcos. Please walk around and enjoy our downtown, for an hour or two. After that, get the hell out of here.”

  13. Part of the plan discussed in this article is fixing the sidewalks along L.B.J. and Hutcheson. As for having to drive around a little to find a parking space downtown, why is this so terrible? Let’s face it, compared to dwontown Lockhart we have a parking problem, compared to downtown Austin or San Antonio we don’t. As for San Antonio and L.B.J., the only way to help with that problem is to lengthen to yellow light on L.B.J.. It takes much longer to get through that intersection than a normal one, and considering how many people think the yellow light means floor board it, even that might not help. I am still amazed how few wrecks I have seen at that intersection through the years.

  14. I chose to purchase a home that is within walking distance to downtown, because that’s important to the way that I want to live. So I walk, ride my bike, never drink and drive, never drive around looking for a parking spot, never leak oil on pavement that washes directly into the river that everyone claims to love. Just so happens that the compromise is that I pay taxes to the city. So, why does someone who lives 10 miles out of town, and doesn’t pay these taxes have any say in how they’re spent? Should we make these decisions to appease those that chose to live outside of our community? I like the idea of turning more of the existing downtown parking spots into handicapped parking so that these asphalt blocks are reserved for people that actually need them.

  15. When I park in Austin or San Antonio, I stay parked, for the day. I’d call that a better sytem than we have.

    As for “appeasing” people who live 10 miles outside the city, we have plenty of people who live in the city, who are not within walking distance of downtown. More importantly, the dollars that eveyone spends at the local businesses are all green. Why would you want to discourage anyone from spending more than an hour or two downtown?

  16. I happen to own a business that IS in the city…..and my business generates sales tax revenue *and* pays property taxes to the city…..so I suspect I should still have my “say” on how city taxes are spent.

  17. I personally think a downtown filled with loud, noisy automobiles is less preferable to one where people may walk from business to business on safe and complete sidewalks and crossings. Eliminate parking? Not viable, but if parking spaces are lost it wouldn’t cause me lose any sleep. Vibrancy, (to me at least) is the ability to be out and interact with the city.

    The automobile doesn’t have to be a crutch; as a car owner AND bicycle commuter, I feel each has its benefit. The summer weather does not have to mean that one is limited to an automobile either. CARTS has routes that cover much of the city if you’d rather not walk/bike or for those who cannot due to a physical condition.

    Walking and bicycling are not this sweat-drenched strenuous activity that some make them out to be. Contrary to belief, you don’t arrive drenched in sweat to your workplace after a short bike ride or walk. The people I work with probably wouldn’t even know that I rode my bike to work if I didn’t stash it in my office. And being more active could actually be good for the community!

    Not to mention the danger pedestrians and cyclists feel from motorists, ESPECIALLY in the downtown area. Those vulnerable road users who have equal right of the road but are put in danger by “entitled” motorists who feel that the person in the crosswalk or cyclist in the lane is “in their way” would tend to agree with me.

    How would I fix the intersection problems you mentioned Winchester? Well to be honest with you, I haven’t personally encountered a problem there. The roads are shaped by buildings that define the square and have been there long before you and I (probably?). I tend to use common sense and be aware of my environment when driving, walking or cycling through those intersections. I am not a transportation engineer, but I can’t really see how the LBJ/San Antonio intersection could be “fixed”. It is what it is, and unless you knock down a building that right-left combo is always going to be there (unless you incorporate one-way traffic or some other traffic direction control, which I don’t think would improve things). As for the offset at LBJ and Hopkins, are you referring to the left turn situation? That one is much more workable, and in my opinion could be helped by more clearly defined lanes and painted arrows.

    And to Ted, you make a great point. Not everywhere in the city is walkable. This is a problem! Our sidewalk infrastructure is crumbling, has a lack of connectivity, and is sparse at best. We have the potential to shape our future to be a more vibrant, walkable city that allows ALL residents access to our historic downtown without making them rely on their car. Why not think progressively and include solutions that don’t necessarily require a resident to use an automobile to get the best out of our city?

    Again, this is just one citizen’s opinion and I appreciate the civil discussion. Thanks!

  18. When I lived in SM, I worked on the Square and lived close enough to walk, which I did quite often. But neither my office nor my home are within wlaking distance now, and I still do quite a bit of business around the Square. I’ve seen businesses come and go, some died, others relocated. One that relocated, owned by a friend, did so because of the lack of parking. Unfortunately there is no way absent a parking garage to fix that problem. I’d lvoe to see the Square redeveloped, even proposed that to a shortsighted landowner.

    The question is, given this proposal, and the incentive package the Council would love to give Triple Tap, do they give a flip about downtown SM?

    Kenny, you and I certainly agree on SM’s sidewalks. To be polite, the sidewalk system is poor. I believe we agree that traffic flow, auto, bike, pedistrian needs to improve; not just downtown, but all over SM.

    I assume Lila is correct that the same firm did Center St. in Kyle. My personal opinion, I don’t care for it and avoid it. Luckily I don’t have much cause to go to that location.

    Now if you want a real treat look at Hopkins where it intersects Scott. Anyone got an explanation on that?

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