A Broadway Crosswalk at the Pearl, At Least For a Day

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The Yaden family uses the chalk created crosswalk at the intersection of Pearl Parkway and Broadway Street. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / Rivard Report

The Yaden family uses the chalk created crosswalk at the intersection of Pearl Parkway and Broadway Street in a January 2016 photo.

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.

The installation was created by the San Antonio Department of Transformation (SA DOT), a group of individuals interested in improving the San Antonio urban experience. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

The installation was created by the San Antonio Department of Transformation (SA DOT). Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

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.

The San Antonio Department of Transformation (SA DOT) believes that the street has the potential to be much more pedestrian friendly. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

The San Antonio Department of Transformation (SA DOT) believes that the street has the potential to be much more pedestrian friendly. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

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 Yaden family enjoyed the chalkboard installed by San Antonio Department of Transformation (SA DOT) to start a conversation about improving the San Antonio urban experience.  Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

The Yaden family enjoyed the chalkboard installed by San Antonio Department of Transformation (SA DOT) to start a conversation about improving the San Antonio urban experience. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

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

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9 thoughts on “A Broadway Crosswalk at the Pearl, At Least For a Day

  1. And if someone is hit and killed by an oncoming vehicle because pedestrians thought it was safe to cross on an illegally marked crosswalk, will this group also take responsibility for it?

    • Interesting observation. Seems you make an implicit observation that Broadway is dangerous. I agree. However, where I suspect we disagree is why we would accept dangerous streets in our city, and then we won’t have to worry about people getting killed walking across the street, along the street on the sidewalk, sitting in their houses, or riding in a car. That’s a solution.

      Here’s a way there: New new roads until the old roads are made safe. Slow the cars.

    • L – The City of San Antonio has a definition of a crosswalk and Texas Law.

      http://www.sanantonio.gov/TCI/FAQs/Traffic/Crosswalks.aspx
      WHAT IS A CROSSWALK?

      Crosswalks are “marked” or “unmarked” locations within intersecting roadways where vehicles must yield the right of way to pedestrians. Texas law defines a marked crosswalk as a pedestrian crossing that is designated by surface markings and an unmarked crosswalk as the extension of a sidewalk across intersecting roadways. Crosswalks are marked mainly to encourage pedestrians to use a particular crossing. At all crosswalks, both marked and unmarked, it is the pedestrian’s responsibility to be cautious and alert before starting to cross the street.

      It seems like this group would like to see this existing unmarked crosswalk become a “marked” crosswalk.

    • Does the city take responsibility when someone is hit and killed by an oncoming vehicle because pedestrians thought it was safe to cross on a legally marked crosswalk?

  2. LOVED seeing this over the weekend! Keep up the good work, SA DOT. It’s time we took things into our own hands and refocused our city leaders on the core, not the suburbs

  3. Broadway is a street that badly needs traffic calming. It may be feasible at this juncture if the city can find some motivation and outside the box thinking. I think it’s too late for a street like San Pedro above Hildebrand to 410, but it’s still worth thinking about. If you’d like to see just how claustrophobic inner city traffic can get if not restrained, just take a drive up to Austin.

  4. A more interesting question raised obliquely by the article is how can we change the culture to one more like California’s, where 99% of the time cars stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk, something that’s completely foreign here.

    • Carl,
      Just as the concept of “safety in numbers” exists in bicycling, so does it apply to people walking. I think one of the best things we can do is be more numerous – if people who drive see more people walking, it will (hopefully) promote more visibility & awareness. Of course, this does pose a “Chicken-or-Egg” argument: how do you get more people to walk if things like safe infrastructure is lacking or insufficient?

      Enforcement is another solution, though one that comes with its own set of obstacles. For me, I just go the way of building a tougher skin; I will make eye contact & glare at drivers as I cross the street in the crosswalk. I’ve even gone so far as to hold out my arm (like a school crossing guard) as I’m crossing to ensure drivers see me.

      I came across this piece yesterday, something I think many readers & commenters will be able to relate to & discuss. http://frontburner.dmagazine.com/2016/02/02/when-drivers-hit-pedestrians-where-do-we-lay-the-moral-blame/

      My favorite quote in this piece: “..it is the presence of that capacity to kill that places the majority of the moral responsibility of an accident on the thoughtless driver, and not the thoughtless pedestrian.”

      The fact that a written piece like this exists reinforces the notions that the streets belong to cars when they should really go back to belonging to the people.

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