Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / Rivard Report
A strange thing happened as I followed the Yaden family walking across Broadway to Pearl Parkway on their way to the Pearl Farmer's Market: A southbound VIA bus and several private vehicles heading in both directions stopped to give pedestrians the right of way on the busy thoroughfare.
No, this wasn't a dream. For at least one weekend, area residents and Pearl visitors enjoyed the protection of a well-marked crosswalk. What made the street improvement even more interesting was its temporal and very unofficial nature.
An anonymous group named the San Antonio Department of Transformation (look for its yellow SA DOT logo) struck sometime in the predawn hours Saturday and "constructed" a new pedestrian crosswalk across Broadway, one of the most challenging stretches of roadway in an urban neighborhood that boasts thousands of new residents and visitors yet offers few options for safely navigating Broadway on foot.
The group used chalk, temporary signs, some bright orange sand-filled plastic tubes and other materials to build a temporary crosswalk designed to delight pedestrians and motivate city planners to replace it with a permanent crossing.
Pedestrians have few choices along this stretch of River North approaching downtown. From Jones Avenue north to Casa Blanca Street, for more than a quarter of a mile, there are no people crossings. There also are no people crossings north of Casa Blanca until Grayson Street. There are, however, a lot of people along those stretches who are not in vehicles.
Fans of the classic early 1980s computer game Frogger will appreciate SA DOT's sense of humor. The urban guerrilla group chalked playful green frogs, blue lily pads and white logs across the roadway on Broadway and Pearl Parkway to inject a little fun into the experience. As an early gamer knows, the object of Frogger is to get the frogs across a busy street on their way home without getting them, well, squished.
SA DOT hopes for the same outcome for San Antonio pedestrians.
The Yaden family's two children knew what to do: Their parents walked, but the kids hopped from frog to frog as they crossed. They also paused at a chalkboard that SA DOT erected along the Pearl Parkway sidewalk that invites passersby to take chalk in hand and finish the sentence, "I wish Broadway was..." in six words. The Yaden children chose to sketch instead, but the desire for a "complete street" transformation of Broadway into a boulevard more welcoming to pedestrians, cyclists and people frequenting local businesses was evident in other comments.
The chalkboard included some less playful information, too: "In San Antonio, 2104, 54 pedestrian deaths, 21 crashes daily. #frogger." The Broadway crosswalk was SA DOT's first such act in the city. You can find the group on Twitter at @SanAntonioDOT.
People who have lived in other major U.S. cities will recognize SA DOT's action as right out of the playbook of "Tactical Urbanism", the guide for city builders to deploy short-term actions to affect long-term change. The origins of the movement date to 2010 and a New York City urban planner and the book's co-author Mike Lyden. The book is an open source guide to change produced by the nonprofit Next Generation.
The Broadway crosswalk might be an idea taken right out of the guide, but it will be interesting to see what else SA DOT attempts to do in San Antonio and how city officials respond. Who is behind SA DOT? A good question that can't be answered for now. The Rivard Report was alerted to the SA DOT action, but participants declined to be interviewed or to meet.
A press release confirmed their intentions.
"The San Antonio Department of Transformation (SA DOT for short) is an informal collection of individuals who are interested in improving the urban experience in San Antonio to make it a more livable, walkable and equitable city," the release stated. "Our goal is to use temporary, short-term, participatory 'tactical urbanism' installations to highlight potential solutions to long-term problems.
"SA DOT’s first intervention will be in place Saturday morning, January 30th at the intersection of Pearl Parkway and Broadway Street. For this installation we took playful cues from Frogger, a 1980’s arcade game, where the player’s main objective is to direct frogs across a busy road without getting run over. If you’ve ever attempted to navigate across Broadway as a pedestrian, you’ll understand why we were so inspired.
"Our hope is that this installation (built entirely with sidewalk chalk and other temporary materials) will spur critical discussion about the future of Broadway. We feel that the iconic corridor into downtown has immense potential to be a more pedestrian-friendly environment, and we, as a city, have the opportunity to be catalysts of this change by including Broadway Corridor improvements in the upcoming Bond."
This story was originally published on Saturday, Jan. 30.
*Top Image: The Yaden family uses the chalk created crosswalk at the intersection of Pearl Parkway and Broadway Street. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone