BYOBroadway: An Open Competition to Design a Great Street

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A sign pointing toward Broadway off an exit ramp under Interstate 35. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Broadway runs north - south and connects downtown to area neighborhoods, businesses, and highways.

Imagine Broadway, from Hildebrand Avenue to East Houston Street, transformed from a busy commuter street to a boulevard with less vehicle traffic, teeming with cyclists riding in protected bike lanes and pedestrians strolling wide sidewalks shaded by tree canopy.

Imagine underground utilities and reduced signage clutter. Broadway at night would be aglow with low energy street lights that strike a balance between safety and sustainability.

Imagine people coming in and out of a growing number of shops, cafes, restaurants and small businesses found along the way. Shaded bus and trolley stops and widely available bike racks make alternative transportation more inviting. The district’s signage signals to the local and visitor alike that Broadway, wherever you find yourself on it, is a place with its own distinct identity.

San Antonio Police Department motorcycle officers ride down Broadway during the 2015 Battle of Flowers Parade in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.

San Antonio Police Department officers ride motorcycles down Broadway during the 2015 Battle of Flowers Parade in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.

Streets that fit the “Great Street” or “Complete Street” description exist in many U.S. cities, and more such street projects are being planned each year in cities of all sizes. Starting last year, Centro San Antonio and a number of its members who are Broadway stakeholders began taking the first steps toward making Broadway one of the next great urban streets in America.

Last year, Centro SA, private property owners and developers, cultural institutions along Broadway, and the Public Improvement District came together to raise more than $500,000 to conduct conceptual studies and schematic design. The concept study is now underway, led by Centro with a team of local and national firms, to remake Broadway south of Hildebrand Avenue. The team includes Parsons Brinckerhoff, a global engineering firm with office in San Antonio, and MIG, the national design and planning firm. Private sector funding of the initiative, the stakeholders hope, will convince City officials to fund a major corridor revitalization initiative in the 2017 Bond.

In the spirit of MIG’s philosophy of social, political and economic inclusion in such projects, Centro SA has come together with the Rivard Report, Overland Partners and the Pearl to launch a $20,000 “Build Your Own Broadway” ideas and design competition inviting entries that contribute to the transformation of the street and its environs. The competition was originally conceived as a Place Changing design and journalism collaborative between the Rivard Report and Overland Partners. It quickly expanded as like-minded stakeholders engaged in promoting a more vibrant Broadway began to meet and talk.

“We’ve been engaged in a positive community conversation about the urban core ever since we moved our business down to its present site in 2012,” said Madison Smith, principal at Overland Partners. “Our interest in this project has always been to serve as a catalyst for dialogue and provoking a creative exchange of ideas.”

There is no fee to enter the competition and interested individuals do not need to be an architect or professional designer. While the team at MIG works with Centro SA on a comprehensive design proposal for Broadway from Hildebrand to Houston, the Build Your Own Broadway design competition will focus on three specific challenges:

1. Reinvent the Underpass

2. Public Space Gateways

3. Wildcard Proposal

See Build Your Own Broadway for category and competition details, which includes an email address for submitting questions or seeking clarification. Digital entries are due no later than March 23, giving everyone one month to produce their winning entry.

Finalists will be revealed on the Rivard Report on March 28.

Mark your calendars for Wednesday, March 30, 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Pearl Stable for the “Build Your Own Broadway Awards Night,” an evening that will feature finalists in three categories of the design competition taking the stage to present their creative work. A nationally respected keynote speaker will be featured on the program. Judges then will take the stage to announce the winners, including three $5,000 first-place awards, three second-place $1,000 runner-up awards, and a $2,000 People’s Choice Award.

“There is an amazing amount of energy in San Antonio around the next chapter of our city,” said Elizabeth Fauerso, vice president of marketing for the Pearl. “We feel that at Pearl we’re at a great crossroads of this energy and want to support and nurture creativity and participation. Just like Pearl itself was a center of ingenuity and industry, Broadway was once our city center artery and we believe that it’s revitalization and reimagination is critical to the full realization of our urban core.”

Look for a follow-up article on the Rivard Report in the next week with information about ticket sales, remaining sponsorship opportunities, the list of judges who will participate in the blind judging of all eligible entries, and the format for readers who want to vote in the People’s Choice Award after finalists are announced and displayed on the website.

“This is a fantastic way of engaging our creative community and garnering public engagement,” said Centro SA CEO Pat DiGiovanni. “The Broadway Cultural Corridor is an opportunity to enhance the many life-learning opportunities our institutions offer while also rebuilding our center city.  This competition can and should become a model for future projects and we are thrilled to be a part of it.”

Transforming Broadway will not be simple and it will not be inexpensive. If the City does fund Broadway as a major corridor project in the 2017 Bond, great care and planning will have to be taken to minimize business and traffic disruption along the street. One challenge for designers is its varying width: Broadway from Hildebrand to North Alamo Street is approximately 100 feet wide, while below that point it is approximately 80 feet wide.

Many of the stakeholders agree that Broadway should undergo a “road diet,” reducing it from six to four lanes for vehicle traffic, with protected left turning lanes where needed in specific places. Even then, there will not be enough roadway for vehicle traffic, on-street vehicle parking, protected bike lanes, and wider pedestrian-friendly sidewalks — even with buried utilities.

Setting priorities and achieving consensus will be a process. Finding sufficient funding to undertake the entire project will be a major challenge. Yet the potential for all of San Antonio is enormous.

“As we consider long-term upkeep of our roadways, Broadway has the potential to be substantially upgraded in order to keep up with the amazing revitalization resulting from the building of the Museum Reach of the San Antonio River, said David Adelman, principal at AREA Real Estate who is undertaking the restoration of the Maverick Building on East Houston Street downtown and is building the multifamily project inside Hemisfair.

“Once called River Avenue or Rio Avenida, Broadway should be reimagined from a blank canvas into something truly world-class,” Adelman said. “I suspect that our vision will be greatly enhanced by engaging a large group of super creative people competing for the chance to leave their mark on our city. The new Broadway should equal or exceed the excellence achieved by the river improvements! I am looking forward to learning from everyone.”

Money and good design alone will not be enough to make Broadway a Complete Street, which SmartGrowth America defines as a street that is for everyone:

“They are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Complete Streets make it easy to cross the street, walk to shops, and bicycle to work. They allow buses to run on time and make it safe for people to walk to and from train stations.”

Complete Streets differ according to use and function, width, and surroundings.

“A complete street may include: sidewalks, bike lanes (or wide paved shoulders), special bus lanes, comfortable and accessible public transportation stops, frequent and safe crossing opportunities, median islands, accessible pedestrian signals, curb extensions, narrower travel lanes, roundabouts, and more.”

City Council passed a resolution supporting Complete Streets in 2011, and the 2012 Bond called for more bike lanes and pedestrian friendly streets. Inadequate funding and in some instances community opposition to changing streetscapes has slowed San Antonio’s evolution into a city with safer streets and more transportation choices. One of the country’s worst rates of pedestrian fatalities has pushed City government to become a member of the Vision Zero Emerging Cities initiative.

Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) and her husband, Kevin Barton, a businessman and avid road cyclist, have led the Vision Zero push and efforts to get San Antonio to address unsafe streets and the high number of pedestrian deaths.

Useful tools for readers who want to learn more can be found in two publications released in 2013 by the National Association of City Transportation Planners: the Urban Street Design Guide and the Urban Bikeway Design Guide.

10 U.S. cities, including Austin, were chosen this year as Vision Zero Focus Cities.

Many other U.S. cities also have launched Great Street initiatives. Austin’s Great Streets Development Program, established in 2000, “has set standards aimed at redefining the role of streets from single-purpose conduits of vehicular traffic to tree-lined corridors that support pedestrian life, connect activity centers and enhance bicycle and transit circulation.”

Washington D. C.’s Great Streets Program “is the District’s multi-year, multi-agency commercial revitalization initiative to transform emerging corridors into thriving an inviting neighborhood centers.”

Other cities, from Los Angeles to Minneapolis to Asheville, NC have similar Great Street programs underway. 

The Build Your Own Broadway design competition, organizers hope, will speed the transformation of Broadway into a destination boulevard that attracts locals and visitors who come to recognize Broadway as a desirable place to be rather than a surface road to somewhere else.

Battle of Flowers Parade on Broadway. Photo courtesy of the Institute of Texan Cultures

Battle of Flowers Parade on Broadway. Photo courtesy of the Institute of Texan Cultures


*Top Image: Dead space: A sign pointing towards Broadway Street off an exit ramp under Interstate 35. Photo by Scott Ball.

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28 thoughts on “BYOBroadway: An Open Competition to Design a Great Street

  1. So let me see if I got this right.
    More than $500,000 was raised from the private sector and cultural stakeholders along Broadway to hire MIG, a CA-headquartered national design/planning firm, to undertake preliminary planning for the transformation of Broadway.
    Then, using MIG’s philosophy of ‘social, political and economic inclusion’ several local entities (Centro SA, Rivard Report, Overland Partners, Pearl) a $20,000 “Build Your Own Broadway” open design competition was launched. It touts that the creative community has the opportunity to receive one of seven awards in the amounts of $1,000, $2,000 and $3,000 when they present their speculative creative ideas and work produced for free (unless of course you win an award), all under the premise of engaging the creative community. Sadly, in recent years we have seen dollars being awarded to firms from California to Nebraska to New York. And now under the premise of inclusivity, these firms will tap into our local creativity and our insights. For nominal prize money our creative community will give away our intimate knowledge, insights and creative ideation. From our city’s tourism marketing to the design of our river barges to the reimagining of downtown and a critical corridor, significant dollars are exported in support of creative economies in other cities. San Antonio’s creative economy and creative class cannot grow and prosper under this model.

    • Furthermore, a study was done by a group out of California, with my own nephew doing the economic report and input from lots of people’s committees and all was trashed. That study would be worth looking at first for the good ideas. Also only the political receive commissions in this city. Yes we do have one office that gets work deservedly, but there are many other talented people in the arts overlooked because they have no political connections on purpose.

    • Gisela

      We are not asking established firms to submit well-formed proposals complete with full documentation. Like the recent Stinson Control Tower competition with its $15,000 prize, we are hoping to spark creatives throughout our city to offer up ideas that address Broadway’s challenges and its opportunities. This is not MIG looking to to capitalize on local talent. The firm wasn’t even part of the planning process until we began coordinating the March 30 program. The Stinson competition attracted individual designers from firms who submitted work done on their own. It would be great if someone did submit an idea formally embraced and adopted as part of the final project. In such an instance, we certainly would do whatever we could to ensure an equitable outcome for the designer. If the alternative is to do nothing to engage the local community, I’d rather do the competition and manage any related complexity. –RR

  2. Bob–

    The most encouraging thing I read was “underground utilities.” The overhead utilities have become the most dominant “visual pollution” in our community.

    Rather than spending 1% for the arts (which I support), I’d instead spend 1% removing ugliness. Our skies are beautiful. Our trees are beautiful. Our buildings are beautiful. All of them are visually destroyed by our proliferation of utility poles.

    I have been to trade shows standing next to City representatives where we looked at prefabbed sidewalks, designed to serve as “conduits” for utilities, with the surface made of reinforced, ground-up tires!

    The best way to beautify San Antonio is to remove ugliness. Doing that, while creating a new, local manufacturing base (prefabbed sidewalks with recycled tire surfaces), would make our city more beautiful and economically healthy.

    George Block

  3. I agree with George Block. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a city with so many utility poles and wires along main streets as opposed to underground or one block back in alleys. Would be much nicer looking without them.

  4. Someone please submit a dog park design for the underpass division (like Bark Park Central in Dallas)! It’s already shaded…otherwise useless…green space…already divided up for big dogs/small dogs…convenient to apartment and high density single family home dwellers near downtown. Maverick Park is great…but it could be used for a myriad of other things.
    Google ‘Bark Park Central Dallas.’ It’s a very popular city park…and a gem for downtown residents.

    • Laura–you are SO right. I’ve been thinking the same thing since I moved here!! That green area under the overpass is a GEM and would be an amazing dog park. Have you been to Mutt’s in Dallas? It would be cool to have something like that, too.

  5. Broadway is already very congested with traffic, especially at rush hours. Truncating the 6 lanes down to 4 will make this unbreakable, especially with bus lanes and bicycles we have to drive behind slowing things down further. Trucks parking to make deliveries to all these existing, new and thriving businesses that don’t have a back or side entrance will make things even more exasperating. Focusing on fuel efficient vehicles, rideshares, Uber, Lyft, more would be helpful but losing lanes won’t be welcome. And we know once its done it won’t be undone. And if it is done what would then be the central corridor from the north through downtown? Broadway has been known as that for 100 years or more and has the cache as Broadway does in any other city that has a street of the same name as its central artery, not a walk/bike park or a choked thoroughfare. The Pearl is already this type location and transition to the newly updated riverwalk north. Not the other issue of using local talent, by all means. We ship far too many city/civic dollars to other cities and past the local talent. No wonder we’re known as an economically challenged city and not a serious creative talent pool. Both hose things can be turned around. Let’s try that for a change.

    • I so agree. This idea to reduce the number of lanes to an already busy street makes me think of the very bad decisions that were made for 281 in the Stone Oak area, you can’t undo that. You only had to have driven on Broadway while they were working on Hildebrand to understand how vital this is as a central corridor. There are bike lines running parallel to Broadway on New Braunfels and Avenue B that should be better utilized, and probably improved, rather than reduce lanes for already congested traffic.

  6. It may be useful for competition entrants if some CAD or GIS files were available. Is there a possibility of providing this? If not then perhaps an out-to-out dimensions of the road at each of these design locations so sidewalk/bike width lanes may be designed around. Thanks.

    • I think this is a wonderful opportunity for community engagement. No matter who you are or where do you come from. You have the right to design something that improves the city, people quality of life and well being.
      Federico: The city of SA has GIS files on its website.
      Mike: You probably enjoy visiting other cities where people don’t need a car and enjoy walking and riding green-public-transportation. We should be open to change, to better change.

  7. Agree with concern about width of Broadway. Another consideration–designers need to be mindful of the width needed for the Fiesta parades. I’m thinking that designers who didn’t grow up here don’t “get” Fiesta and all that it means to our community. What ever you think about Fiesta, it is a huge economic engine for SA (millions $ every year) and is truly an event for ALL San Antonians. So the street must be wide enough for floats and parade seating. I know, parades only happen once a year, but ask most long-time San Antonians what event highlights their year and for many families, it is Fiesta and especially the parades (and the Easter camping at Brack but that’s a story for another day.) About 500,000 attend the parades each year, a huge chunk of citizenry that needs to be considered. So let’s keep the design San Antonio-centric and always keep Fiesta in mind for both financial reasons and to maintain our “puro San Antonio” experience.

  8. Love the idea of buried utilities. Love the idea of better sidewalks. Love the idea of reduced sign clutter. Noticed that this plan denies the reality of Broadway actually serving a need as a commuter route. Broadway during rush hour shows just how many large businesses are served by the street. The desire to make this a lovely destination place that can be biked to makes me wonder who the target audience is. Without a decent sized public parking garage the audience is small and limited to those who are currently within bike distance of the area. Namely citizens who can afford to live in Alamo Heights or the Pearl area. As for buses running on time, Broadway gets regular bus service in this area by 4 different routes. Getting bus service to other parts of the city to Broadway should be a higher priority than making this street less usable by those who work and live off Broadway. But a cool underpass art installation like Commerce street has, I’m all for it!

  9. Can someone make sure this plan includes making the lights near the Pearl area and Josephine safer? I’ve lived here less than a year, and I’ve seen more wrecks on that stretch than anywhere else in my life. I just saw a hit and run where the driver at fault got out of his car and ran off on foot. Those lights are antiquated and not equipped for the amount of traffic now on that stretch and it’s frightening.

  10. An arboretum for the underpass would be great. It should be the opposite of the overpass (concrete, noisy, polluted). It should be filled with trees, plants, flowers, bicycles, dogs and children.

    Turn a gray space into a green space!

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