Starting at 7 p.m. Thursday night, the San Antonio Police Department will be propping up barricades on several neighborhoods streets where they meet North St. Mary’s Street in an area packed with bars and music venues commonly known as “the Strip.”

The barricades, which in addition to police officers will restrict access to the neighborhood streets to residents only, will be up from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. through Sunday, April 3.

This short-term initiative is aimed at reducing parking and traffic hassles for residents, to combat streets often overrun with vehicles belonging to bar and venue patrons on weekends.

The temporary measure is one of several that came as a result of recent community meetings in the surrounding Tobin Hill neighborhood centered around parking, traffic and a perceived spike in violent crime.

It’s also related to a city-funded traffic study of the area that could lead to residential parking permits or other parking mitigation efforts similar to those used in Southtown.

Officials are encouraging residents and their guests to use alternative routes to their homes and urging bar patrons to utilize ride-share options to reduce the traffic and parking strains on the neighborhood.

“This is a one-week effort only and by no means intended to be a permanent response,” said Joe Frank Picazo, assistant to the police chief. “It’s being done to gauge the effectiveness of reduced access.”

The traffic and parking study is expected to be completed in May; the city, neighborhoods and area businesses will be involved in the next steps, Picazo said.

Officers stationed in the area over the weekend will ask drivers seeking access for their license or a piece of mail to verify their address or who they are visiting, Picazo said. “It’ll become readily apparent [to the officer] if somebody’s not being truthful.”

The police department doesn’t expect complete compliance, he said, but it should significantly reduce the level of congestion.”

Voluntary rules for bars

“We’re essentially the parking lot” for these bars, said Parker Dixon, president of the Tobin Hill Community Association. “Where fights occur the most are usually in the parking lot — away from the club, away from the security.”

Over the years, neighbors have complained of public urination, littering and noise throughout the neighborhood surrounding The Strip, Dixon said. The culture has been “resident versus business and everybody’s just angry and yelling at each other — and not having any kind of real, productive conversation.”

But that vibe has changed, he said.

A majority of the roughly 20 businesses along the Strip have agreed to several voluntary rules aimed at reducing excessive drinking and loitering and increasing security. These rules include raising drink prices above $3 on the weekends (many had $1 drink specials), restricting entry to new patrons starting at 1:30 a.m., posting signs that prohibit weapons, hiring off-duty law enforcement for additional security and establishing cleanup crews to pick up trash in the neighborhood.

Starting Thursday evening, SAPD officers will place barricades along the Strip to restrict access to residential streets in an experiment to reduce traffic and parking concerns for people who live in the area. Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

“Anything we can do to improve the quality of life of patrons, businesses and neighborhood residents is something that we’ve always looked to do,” said Blayne Tucker, a founder and former president of the North St. Mary’s Business Owners Association.

Most businesses welcomed the restricted parking pilot and traffic study, too, Tucker said. “Anything we can do to curb the amount of vehicular traffic in a high-density bar district is a positive thing.”

The barricades are just an experiment — “We don’t want to be a gated community,” he said — but he welcomes the test.

‘It’s not pandemonium’

SAPD has analyzed violent crime rates surrounding the Strip compared to other areas of the city, Picazo said, and didn’t find “a huge violent crime issue.”

Still, the neighborhood hopes the new voluntary bar rules will reduce aggressive, drunk behavior, Dixon said, noting shootings that occurred in the area earlier this year.

“You have alcohol and you have violence and somebody’s going to mix in a gun eventually,” he said. “We’re in America.”

Violence does occur and bar owners are concerned about it, Tucker said, “but it’s not pandemonium the way that it gets made out to be.”

He attributes some of the increased frustration with parking, traffic and nuisance calls with the fact that many of these bars and venues were closed for more than a year during the coronavirus pandemic.

Many residents “got used to the peace and quiet,” he said. “That transition back was startling.”

Anecdotally, he and other bar owners have noticed that the demographics of patrons have skewed younger in recent months. “We’ve seen rambunctious pent-up demand … especially for kids that turned 21 during that whole period who had never gone out [to bars] before,” he said.

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org