Turning Commerce ‘Stroad’ into a Street

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Looking east down Commerce Street. Photo via Google Maps.

Looking east down West Commerce Street. Photo via Google Maps.

What is a “stroad” and how do you turn it into a street?

This was the main question posed Saturday morning at the West Commerce Street Design Workshop at the Central Library.

A stroad is a colloquial term – essentially a street-road hybrid. City planners look unfavorably at stroads like the downtown stretch of Commerce Street because they are too slow for cars to move efficiently yet too fast to allow for easily accessible pedestrian commerce.

The workshop, hosted by Centro San Antonio and The American Institute of Architects in conjunction with the City of San Antonio and the Urban Land Institute of San Antonio, featured a mix of architects, designers, downtown business owners and city officials. The city is devoting $9 million to revitalize the street and hopes to finish the Zona Cultural district by 2017.

The project will not only promote pedestrian walkways, it intends to increase the cultural value of San Antonio by improving one of its major streets and connecting various cultural institutions. 

Of the official cultural districts in Texas, the King William Cultural Arts District is San Antonio’s only “cultural district.” Zona Cultural hopes to be the second.

The Cortez family, famously known for the popular restaurant Mi Tierra’s, was present to offer their input on the development of a street to which they feel an intense connection.

“We need to promote history and community,” said Jorge Cortez.

The workshop broke into groups after hearing a presentation from City of San Antonio Project Manager David McBeth. The presentation featured a virtual design of the proposed changes to Commerce St.

Citizens discuss options for a reimagined Commerce Street during the West Commerce Street Design Workshop. Photo by Sarah Gibbens.

Citizens discuss options for a reimagined Commerce Street during the West Commerce Street Design Workshop. Photo by Sarah Gibbens.

Eight-foot wide sidewalks, a 12-foot bus lane and two 10-foot car lanes were among some of the proposed features. Cyclists were quick to point out the lack of a safe bike lane and the danger of cycling close to city buses.

Daniel Day, who runs the blog Bicycle San Antonio, proposed eliminating a car lane in favor a lane for cyclists.

Other proposals from workshop participants were intended to improve the aesthetic of Commerce St., increase connectivity along the street where it is intersected by I-35 and promote the general history and culture of San Antonio.

Silvia Alcaraz owns a restaurant at the corner of North Medina St. and West Commerce just outside of downtown. She believes that more green spaces and sitting areas along Commerce Street. could bring more people to her business who might be otherwise be deterred from a walk that isn’t aesthetically pleasing.

“We need someone who knows the area. We don’t want to lose identity,” said Alcaraz, who was concerned that increasing the property value of the Westside area might force current small businesses to close.

The City hopes that young professionals capable of creating a vibrant local economy will be driven to live downtown, but not at the expense of the success of current residents.

Operation Facelift is one City program already in place to restore façades of select downtown buildings. Eligible businesses are provided with matching funds to restore deteriorating storefronts.

Other workshop suggestions focused on preserving San Antonio’s historic quality. Murals, open-air markets and ambient music were ideas presented to help build the Zona Cultural community.

Zona Cultural is one of several improvement projects in San Antonio. The San Pedro Creek Improvements Project is already working towards repurposing several local creeks that would create linear parks and opportunities for outdoor exercise. Private real estate firm Weston Urban also has submitted a proposal to the city that includes a new office tower just outside the zone that could change the downtown skyline.

Centro San Antonio President and CEO Pat DiGiovanni closed the workshop by cautioning against rapid construction that could hinder downtown businesses in the short term. However, he and the workshop participants felt that construction was worth a long-term vibrant downtown.

 “Great cities have great downtowns. The essence of San Antonio is in downtown,” DiGiovanni said.

*Featured/top image: Looking east down Commerce Street. Photo via Google Maps.

Related Stories:

Save Miguel’s Home: The Human Face of Gentrification

‘El Mercado Zona Cultural’ Emerging in Commerce Corridor

City Releases Weston Urban/Frost Bank Proposal 

San Antonio’s New Tower Should Redefine Skyline

Centro San Antonio Explores Preservation, Windows To Our Future

10 thoughts on “Turning Commerce ‘Stroad’ into a Street

  1. If businesses should flourish, then sidewalks need to be much wider than 8′. This allows for more pedestrians and invites others to start using the side walk more often. You see it in major pedestrian urban cities like Barcelona, Madrid, Paris, New York, New Orleans etc… The more pedestrians use side walks the more clientele local businesses will have. Same applies to Broadway street.

  2. In the section of W. Commerce St. photographed (roughly Calder St looking west to the former Museo Alameda building on the western side of Santa Rosa St.) -sidewalk are already roughly 11ft to 12 ft wide.

    For many residents and visitors, a starting point for pedestrian infrastructure improvement along W. Commerce St. would likely be the pedestrian crossing of Santa Rosa St to Produce Row / Market Square. A well-timed pedestrian ‘scramble’ (including diagonal crossing and with no island) similar to what is on offer at W. Commerce St. & Flores St and successful in other cities – could help immensely.

    To further improve walking along W. Commerce St., bus waiting areas need to be improved for passengers and passersby at N. Flores St. (by the VIA office), Dollar General near Laredo St (where there is no seating) as well as at Leona St. (UTSA) and at Frio St (UTSA) further west. Cafe-style bus waiting furniture might be an affordable and pleasing option – particularly near Commerce Cafe and at Frio St.

    Restoring historic as well as adding new vertical above-awning lit 3-D and two directional signage along W. Commerce St. as ‘public art’ and public lighting could improve bus waiting / outdoor seating and help guide walkers and casual cyclists in both directions – as well as help reduce the speed of car traffic heading west.

    Operation Facelift could help greatly by restoring and lighting historic above-awning two-directional signage at 866 W. Commerce St (across from bus waiting at Frio St) and 277 W. Commerce St (the the northern side of the sidewalk line photographed) and adding similar signage at Santa Rosa St. and N. Pecos St to announce Market Square – as well as at Leona St. to direct people to / from UTSA and improve bus waiting and at Medina St. and Comal St to guide people from / to the West Side.

    Considering the building of the Westside Multimodal Transit Center and planned residential construction on W. Commerce St at Leona St., the sidewalks needing the most attention / widening at this point are on the southern side of W. Commerce St. starting roughly at Cafe Don Juan (S. Colorado St.) to N. Pecos St following the access road past Comal St. & Medina St – and along the northern side of W. Commerce St. starting at Leona St. to N. Pecos St.

    Add B-cycle stations under the I-35 by the el Mercado / elevated parking entry and at Medina St. and Rosillo St (HEB) along this less than 2 mile stretch of W. Commerce St. and you could have the start of useful and inviting pedestrian corridor for residents and visitors.

  3. Several of the readers make a good point, a successful downtown street is a walking street. From the perspective of businesses on the street, the most successful streets in downtown would arguably include St. Mary’s from Travis to Commerce, Houston, and Alamo from Houston to Commerce. Commerce and Market Streets have some active pockets, but that activity seems to be driven mostly by City Hall & the courthouse, Main Plaza, and a few hotels.

    With the exception of Commerce and Market, the streets mentioned here share some similarities:

    Wider sidewalks and narrow roads
    Continuous buildings with frequent entrances
    At least some arcades
    They are slow and inconvenient to drive

    I observed very active streets in NYC that had sidewalks that were wider than the road lanes. I’m not sure if that is the case on Houston, but it is probably close. Business activity downtown comes primarily from pedestrians, not drivers. People may drive there today, but then they dump their cars and walk. As downtown becomes more and more populated with residents, relatively more people will walk from their homes to whatever businesses are around.

    Wide downtown roads primarily serve commuters, not local residents. All this to say, 16 feet of sidewalks and 33 feet of auto lanes doesn’t serve downtown residents. Judging by the activity seen in downtown Brooklyn, or even Houston street here in San Antonio, 29 feet of sidewalks and 20 feet of travel lanes would better suit downtown residents, and likely be more appealing to the rest of the city and possibly attract more San Antonians to visit downtown.

    Minus the fact that it is set in the middle of a giant parking lot, La Cantera attempts to create the feel of a main street. It eliminates autos altogether to create a pleasant walking environment. In the one area where motor vehicles are permitted, the street is narrow and the sidewalks wider.

    Be honest to pedestrians. Prioritize their needs over commuter needs, and Zona Cultura can flourish. Part of that solution means slowing traffic, and reducing traffic. If traffic is slow and simplified with fewer lanes, most cyclists will feel comfortable riding in travel lanes. Any space saved by not including bike lanes should be given to pedestrians, not automobiles.

  4. Hi Sarah, I’m a cameraman at
    a portuguese station tv, I’m 57 years old and I want to let my job and do something to help nature, specially animals that are in risk of life, please, what can I do to realize that project ? Answer me please, my regards and congratulation for your work .

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