Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
A pedestrian crosswalk appeared Friday morning at the intersection of North St. Mary's and East Mistletoe, and a group calling itself the San Antonio Department of Transformation claimed responsibility for what the City called "vandalism."
On Friday morning, bold white lines were painted across the pavement for the crosswalk, and new traffic lines were visible on the street to shorten the distance between curbs. Brightly-colored polka dots accented the newly demarcated perimeter. Bright orange plungers were placed along the border of the area to act as a physical border.
A person who acknowledged being responsible for creating the crosswalk told the Rivard Report on Friday that the group wanted to call attention to unsafe conditions for pedestrians in the area. The area is part of the St. Mary's Strip that is populated with restaurants, bars, and retail stores.
"We see St. Mary's as having the possibility for a fantastic pedestrian experience," said the person, who spoke to the Rivard Report on the condition of anonymity. "There are so many places to bump into and walk into at all hours of the day.
"However, if you're walking on there it can feel scary. You can't walk side-by-side with somebody for a lot of the way. Crossing the streets, most of them have very wide turning radiuses to allow cars to turn onto them very quickly, which they do."
City workers began removing the paint on the crosswalk Friday afternoon. In a statement sent to the Rivard Report, San Antonio Deputy City Manager Peter Zanoni said that the Department of Transportation and Capital Improvements (TCI) reviewed the makeshift crosswalk and deemed it unsafe.
"TCI crews were then dispatched to remove the vandalism, resulting in a waste of City crew time and taxpayer money,” Zanoni stated. "In accordance with city and state law, this type of action may result in a misdemeanor to felony offense punishable with fines based upon the amount of property damage.
"Additionally, the City of San Antonio can prosecute for recovery of tax dollars spent to restore the road back to its original condition, which based on the work done today and what still remains, could be substantial."
While working under the name SADOT, the person involved in creating the crosswalk explained that it is not affiliated with an anonymous group that in January 2016 installed a temporary chalk crosswalk across Broadway leading towards the Pearl. The installation received some attention, but a permanent crosswalk has not been installed.
"[The previous crosswalk on Broadway] didn’t seem to be too bad … but this one [on Mistletoe] is going to cost the city some dollars," Zanoni told the Rivard Report in a phone interview. City crews are expected to start repaving damaged portion of the intersection on Saturday, depending on the weather.
In an email sent to the Rivard Report on Friday morning, the group said it wanted to draw attention to an area that is challenging for pedestrians.
"With the inclusion of this corridor in the 2017 Bond program, there is a great opportunity to make the strip a pedestrian-focused environment," the email stated. "We hope this intervention gives our city leaders some fresh ideas for that project, while also giving residents and visitors to the area a taste of what the street could be if safety for pedestrians was a priority."
The individual involved in creating the crosswalk noted that the particular portion of the road that intersects with East Mistletoe is both long and has a particularly wide turn radius that allows cars to "fly" off North St. Mary's, posing a danger to pedestrians.
"What we tried to do is shorten it and do something that would force cars to pay a little bit more attention to make that turn a little bit more slowly and to give pedestrians a shorter distance to cross while providing some physical protection," the individual said, also claiming that it took around an hour to complete the crosswalk with $200 worth of materials.
San Antonio has for several years been working to reduce the number of pedestrian fatalities throughout the city. The City's department of Transportation & Capital Improvements said that 65 pedestrians were struck and killed by cars in 2016, and 46 were killed in 2015. The City launched its Vision Zero campaign in September 2015, aiming to reduce the number of pedestrian fatalities to zero through educational outreach.
Krazy Kat Music on North St. Mary's Street overlooks the intersection where the crosswalk was painted. Owner Elizabeth Lessard said she thought there were a lot of problems at the intersection and that the crosswalk was a good idea, describing the intersection as "scary" at night.
"I just don't know why the City is neglecting the street like that," Lessard said. "They really need to do some safety stuff here."
However, Rev. Thaddeus Tabak and Businesses Manager Connie Littlefield of Our Lady of Sorrows Church, which is adjacent to the intersection, called the crosswalk ugly, saying they feared that cars would no longer be able to park along the street. Littlefield said she hadn't seen a pedestrian or vehicular accident at the intersection.
"The City knows what's good for the people," Littlefield said.
The City's attorneys are "looking into legal action," Zanoni said, "but you have to catch them in action," meaning authorities would need videos or photos of the incident. If caught, the offender would be fined and required to pay the cost of restoring public infrastructure, he said, "which could be a pretty hefty fine."
On Friday night, Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) stated he agreed with the removal of the crosswalk "for public safety reasons", but that "this temporary project has highlighted a great example of the ongoing pedestrian improvements in this area and the work that remains."