A case for a pedestrianized downtown


Photo credit: Genevieve Humphreys

Illustration by Genevieve Humphreys

Downtown San Antonio is popular for tourists and locals alike with a variety of destinations. From visiting the Alamo to enjoying the Riverwalk, there are lots of interesting things to do. Pedestrianizing streets, which is the act of prohibiting cars in a certain area, will make downtown more attractive, feel safer and increase business in the area.

Let’s establish why you should care. Downtown San Antonio is about three miles from Trinity University; it is not a world away. If you are a bicycle-lover like I am, it is a 20-minute bike ride using the North Saint Mary’s St. bike route. If you have a car, it is a seven-minute drive using U.S. Route 281 assuming there is no traffic. Or finally, if it is a nice day and you or your friends have the time, just walk to downtown from the start of the Riverwalk on the south side of the golf course at Brackenridge Park.

Pedestrianized areas are all around you. Believe it or not, the Riverwalk is not just in Downtown. It starts from Brackenridge Park, continues past the Pearl, edges the Alamo and morphs into the Mission Trail. The Riverwalk is enjoyed because it provides a long, continuous path of tranquility, scattered local businesses on the side and beautiful sights. It is one of the longest pedestrianized zones in the city. There are not annoying pedestrian crossings across busy streets which force you to wait two minutes for the chance to cross.

Even at the university, pedestrianization had made the university more enjoyable. At Trinity University, North Campus, the side of the university which contains academic facilities, is a pedestrianized area. Notice how a car can’t cross from South Campus, the side of the university which contains sports facilities and student dormitories, to North campus without going off campus. Also, look at the luscious green space between the Murchison Bell Tower and Coates Student Center. Students often study in the area, have picnics and even read books. That would not be possible if there was a street with cars in that area.

Let’s talk about the current conditions of downtown San Antonio. Crossing the street to get from the Tower of the Americas to the Alamo is a mess at East Commerce and South Alamo. There are two consecutive traffic lights, a confusing traffic light cycle and a small street which acts as a car waiting area instead of facilitating car movement. Tourists are squeezed against buildings as the sidewalk is not wide enough. Electric scooters are being ridden on an already-small sidewalk as the riders don’t feel safe enough to ride them on the street. Frankly, this is the story for a lot of Downtown San Antonio. Imagine bringing the tranquility of the Riverwalk and the calmness of the university’s green lawn to Downtown San Antonio.

Small changes make a big difference. Pedestrianizing certain areas of Downtown can increase business as the capacity of the streets will increase which means there are more people closer to businesses. For example, South Alamo Street, which connects the Alamo to the Tower of the Americas, should be pedestrianized permanently. The half-mile segment has a higher concentration of pedestrians than cars at almost all times of the day, so it makes sense to allocate more area to pedestrians than cars.

There is a solution to handle streets with high car levels and high pedestrian levels at different parts of the day. It is possible to have the best of both worlds. Retractable bollards, which may be manually or automatically put in place or taken down, are the solution. Bollards are traffic devices which prevent cars from entering a certain area. City vehicles or delivery trucks for businesses would be able to pass with a key or sensor while the cars of the public would be blocked. Other times of the day, all vehicles would be allowed to use the streets.

The City of San Antonio has the historic downtown, the gem of San Antonio. The public should push the City Council of San Antonio to allocate the funds to start the pedestrianizing of certain areas of downtown to make the already great area, even better.