A sign pointing toward Broadway off an exit ramp under Interstate 35. Photo by Scott Ball.
Broadway runs north - south and connects downtown to area neighborhoods, businesses, and highways. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

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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Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report who retired in 2022, has been a working journalist for 46 years. He is the host of the bigcitysmalltown podcast.