Nestled within the University Park and Woodlawn Lake neighborhoods, Cincinnati Avenue is a scenic, yet underinvested corridor that connects two historic landmarks in the near northwest of the City. The towering Romanesque facade of St. Louis Hall can be observed from the corner of South Josephine Tobin Drive and Cincinnati. When traveling eastbound from Camino Santa Maria, the urban corridor lined with traditional cottages suddenly widens to an unexpected scenic vista of Woodlawn Lake. The distance between St. Mary’s University and Woodlawn Lake is a short one, only spanning 1.6 miles between the two destinations.
These cultural assets are open for the community to enjoy. For instance, the community at large can use the St. Mary’s University campus for recreation. Meanwhile at Woodlawn, pedestrians and cyclists can then take the Alazan Creek trail as a shortcut to the Little Flower Basilica. Despite linking various cultural assets together, the corridor has remained relatively low profile when compared to other more popular streets across the city.
It is for these reasons why Cincinnati Avenue became a perfect site for a Share the Streets initiative. A collaboration between ActivateSA, the City of San Antonio, and the Public Works Department, the Share the Streets initiative closed the road to through traffic by placing traffic barricades and other traffic calming measures throughout the corridor. According to ActivateSA, the organization behind Share the Streets, the initiative was envisioned as a response to the current public health crisis, as a project to enable neighbors to take ownership of the street, and as an opportunity to study if people would respect the temporary safety measures.
The initiative has been a learning experience. On the one hand, the immediate launch of the pilot was met with excitement from neighbors and the community at large. We observed new and old cyclists, joggers, and walkers utilizing the street and expressing support for the project. But on the other hand, the speed of traffic eventually proved to be a challenge during the first week. As residents arrived to take advantage of the shared streets initiative they found some motorists dismissive of the traffic calming measures.
Fortunately, community leaders and residents came together to present these issues to the City Council and the Public Works Department. Vocal members from the neighborhood and the community communicated this feedback to Public Works, while City Council District 7 pushed for the installation of more barricades and additional safety measures. Within a week, the additional safety measures requested by the community were implemented.
Meanwhile, neighbors partnered with students (shoutout to Selina and Margarita!) from the Urban Planning Student Association at the University of Texas at San Antonio to create additional signs to place along Cincinnati. On social media sites, community members utilized the hashtag #ShareCincinnati to promote and raise the profile of the project and of the corridor itself. These community-led measures, or what is known as ‘tactical urbanism’, helped reclaim the street by expanding the pedestrian footprint in a typically auto-dominated corridor.
By one metric, this urban project has already succeeded, as it has sparked a conversation between neighbors and community organizations regarding the future of the corridor. Residents across neighborhood boundaries are meeting to discuss and envision a redesigned road that is focused on the people who live, work, and play here. A corridor that promotes multimodal transportation, and one that puts pedestrian safety at the forefront of design. Admittedly, these are long term goals, but the idea for change has been sowed. The success of this initiative hinges on community involvement and in the utilization of the ‘shared street’.
The Public Works Department, ActivateSA, and other community organizations collected data and feedback. The data will be used to assess the level of use, and the efficacy of the intervention. A separate survey will go up on SASpeakUP to ask questions about how people used the program, how often they used it, if people felt safe when using the street, and if they would like to see the program continue in the future.
Our hope is that other inner-city neighborhoods with scenic, but relatively low profile, streets will also participate in a similar shared street project. Neighborhoods wanting to participate in a shared street initiative can let their neighborhood association and their City Council district office know about their interest in participating.
With the public health crisis sparked by COVID-19, it becomes ever more important to provide underserved communities additional protected outdoor spaces to exercise and thrive in. We are in a crisis, but there remains plenty of room for urban creativity to help alleviate the stresses of the pandemic.