Looking east down Commerce Street. Photo via Google Maps.
Looking east down West Commerce Street. Photo via Google Maps.

What is a “stroad” and how do you turn it into a street?

This was the main question posed Saturday morning at the West Commerce Street Design Workshop at the Central Library.

A stroad is a colloquial term – essentially a street-road hybrid. City planners look unfavorably at stroads like the downtown stretch of Commerce Street because they are too slow for cars to move efficiently yet too fast to allow for easily accessible pedestrian commerce.

The workshop, hosted by Centro San Antonio and The American Institute of Architects in conjunction with the City of San Antonio and the Urban Land Institute of San Antonio, featured a mix of architects, designers, downtown business owners and city officials. The city is devoting $9 million to revitalize the street and hopes to finish the Zona Cultural district by 2017.

The project will not only promote pedestrian walkways, it intends to increase the cultural value of San Antonio by improving one of its major streets and connecting various cultural institutions. 

Of the official cultural districts in Texas, the King William Cultural Arts District is San Antonio’s only “cultural district.” Zona Cultural hopes to be the second.

The Cortez family, famously known for the popular restaurant Mi Tierra’s, was present to offer their input on the development of a street to which they feel an intense connection.

“We need to promote history and community,” said Jorge Cortez.

The workshop broke into groups after hearing a presentation from City of San Antonio Project Manager David McBeth. The presentation featured a virtual design of the proposed changes to Commerce St.

Citizens discuss options for a reimagined Commerce Street during the West Commerce Street Design Workshop. Photo by Sarah Gibbens.
Citizens discuss options for a reimagined Commerce Street during the West Commerce Street Design Workshop. Photo by Sarah Gibbens.

Eight-foot wide sidewalks, a 12-foot bus lane and two 10-foot car lanes were among some of the proposed features. Cyclists were quick to point out the lack of a safe bike lane and the danger of cycling close to city buses.

Daniel Day, who runs the blog Bicycle San Antonio, proposed eliminating a car lane in favor a lane for cyclists.

Other proposals from workshop participants were intended to improve the aesthetic of Commerce St., increase connectivity along the street where it is intersected by I-35 and promote the general history and culture of San Antonio.

Silvia Alcaraz owns a restaurant at the corner of North Medina St. and West Commerce just outside of downtown. She believes that more green spaces and sitting areas along Commerce Street. could bring more people to her business who might be otherwise be deterred from a walk that isn’t aesthetically pleasing.

“We need someone who knows the area. We don’t want to lose identity,” said Alcaraz, who was concerned that increasing the property value of the Westside area might force current small businesses to close.

The City hopes that young professionals capable of creating a vibrant local economy will be driven to live downtown, but not at the expense of the success of current residents.

Operation Facelift is one City program already in place to restore façades of select downtown buildings. Eligible businesses are provided with matching funds to restore deteriorating storefronts.

Other workshop suggestions focused on preserving San Antonio’s historic quality. Murals, open-air markets and ambient music were ideas presented to help build the Zona Cultural community.

Zona Cultural is one of several improvement projects in San Antonio. The San Pedro Creek Improvements Project is already working towards repurposing several local creeks that would create linear parks and opportunities for outdoor exercise. Private real estate firm Weston Urban also has submitted a proposal to the city that includes a new office tower just outside the zone that could change the downtown skyline.

Centro San Antonio President and CEO Pat DiGiovanni closed the workshop by cautioning against rapid construction that could hinder downtown businesses in the short term. However, he and the workshop participants felt that construction was worth a long-term vibrant downtown.

 “Great cities have great downtowns. The essence of San Antonio is in downtown,” DiGiovanni said.

*Featured/top image: Looking east down Commerce Street. Photo via Google Maps.

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Sarah Gibbens

Sarah Gibbens is a student at UTSA studying English and Political Science and the editor-in-chief for The Paisano student newspaper.