Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Downtown’s Main Avenue and Soledad Street haven’t had two-way running traffic lanes in decades, but that is set to change Monday.
The roads that run past San Antonio’s Central Library, Artpace, and the Rand building, among others, will no longer serve as one-ways due to a City initiative to make them more multimodal through the 2012 bond.
In addition to changing the flow of traffic, sidewalks lining the roads’ stretch between East Pecan and East Commerce streets have been widened, landscaped, and prepared for future development, according to the City’s Transportation and Capital Improvements department.
Deputy City Manager Peter Zanoni said a conversion in the 1980s aimed to have the two roads handle as much vehicle traffic as possible, which pushed lanes far into space that could have been used for sidewalks.
“There was an effort made in a lot of the engineering at the time … focused on just moving big volumes of traffic, even in the downtown areas,” Zanoni said. “The result was … a pretty desolate area. The amount of foot traffic was nil.”
Zanoni said a recent push for more pedestrian safety and multimodalism drove the effort to re-convert the roads. Construction began in October 2016, impacting area commuters and business owners.
Andrew Ho, co-founder of Pinch Boil House and Bia Bar, said the construction continued as his restaurant opened in the Rand building in September 2017.
“For a lot of restaurants, months one through six are pretty crucial times because people are just hearing about you,” Ho said. “Having to deal with months one through six at the peak of construction when there wasn’t even roads, [and there were] some safety hazards in the area – it was a rough stretch.”
Ho had heard that the construction would be finished by November 2017, but there were delays.
Paul Berry, chief communications officer for the City of San Antonio, said 100-year-old water, gas, and sewer lines were replaced in the process of the converting the roads.
“We understand [businesses] have been frustrated by the construction and the time it took to complete the project, but we ran into delays with replacing utilities,” Berry wrote in an email to the Rivard Report.
He said inclement weather patterns contributed to some of the delay; there were also instances in which work had to be halted because workers came across archaeological remains that needed further examination, such as pieces of pottery.
“When you dig – at almost any level – who knows what you’re going to find,” Berry said.
Moreover, certain segments of the road were equipped with additional lights and new traffic signals, and Main Avenue got bicycle lanes.
Now that the construction is nearly complete, Ho said he looks forward to vehicles passing his restaurant’s storefront on two opposing lanes. It will likely direct more traffic to his business, he said, and the additional space for parallel parking will allow rideshare drivers and customers easier access to the restaurant.
But some on the other side of the block aren’t happy about the forthcoming two-way traffic. Juanita Alvarado, who said she has worked as a cashier at Mexican Manhattan on Soledad Street for 20 years, is concerned about how drivers and pedestrians will react to the new traffic.
“It’s an accident waiting to happen,” Alvarado said.
Her station at the front of the restaurant is situated next to a window overlooking a stretch of Soledad from East Commerce Street towards the Rand garage. She worries that impatient drivers leaving the garage won’t be careful looking both ways for other vehicles and pedestrians.
She said she also worries about additional congestion that tourists and visitors to the AC Hotel by Marriott will bring to Soledad.
“We are confident that when construction is complete, residents and business owners in the area will find traffic patterns easier to navigate throughout the area, [as it] will be more pedestrian-friendly,” Berry stated, adding that construction on the hotel will not stop the new two-way traffic pattern.
Work crews spent last week making the final two-lane markings on the parallel roads. Berry said traffic signals above Main and Soledad would be reprogrammed over the weekend to direct the new flows of traffic.
The Central Library sent a notice to patrons on Wednesday saying drivers would not be able to turn left onto Soledad from the parking garage, despite the newly introduced southbound lane. Drivers were also directed to turn right out of the roundabout driveway in front of the library’s facilities.