Opinion: Expensive, car-centric Brackenridge Park Master Plan should refocus on pedestrians, access, bicycles

Per the City of San Antonio’s invitation to the public, I am offering feedback on the Brackenridge Park Master Plan which is to be finalized soon and considered for the City’s 2017 bond program.

My feedback is informed, in part, by recent information about San Antonio’s parks published by the Trust for Public Land (TPL), as well as with hope that my recommendations will strengthen the final Brackenridge Park Master Plan and shape how public funds allocated to the plan are used.

I am concerned that much of the draft plan seems devoted to extraordinarily costly (estimated $150 million), wasteful and ultimately car-centric projects at Brackenridge Park.  As San Antonio’s extremely poor 2016 TPL ParkScore ranking makes clear (ranked 71 out of 100 US cities), the city should be using public resources to improve pedestrian access to parks from specific areas – for Brackenridge Park, from the west (see Figure 1) – including by enhancing (not closing) some park entrances and corridors.

In contrast, major elements of the Brackenridge Park draft plan include:

The 2016 TPL ParkScore for San Antonio as it relates to Brackenridge Park (see Figure 1) demonstrates a strong need to improve pedestrian access to the park from the west along the corridors of Hildebrand Avenue (reaching the park through Trinity University and Devine Road and Brackenridge Road), Mulberry and Huisache Avenues (reaching the park through St. Mary’s Street and Alvin Street via Stadium Drive) and St. Mary’s Street as far southwest as Ashby Place.

Figure 1

Figure 1: The 2016 TPL ParkScore for the area surrounding Brackenridge Park. Areas colored red and orange indicate poor access to San Antonio parks ( as measured by a 10 minute or half-mile walking distances to park entrances) – with red areas indicating areas with the highest need for improved park access, based on residential density and the ages and average income of residents in these areas.  Image from www.parkscore.tpl.org.

The draft Brackenridge Park Master makes little to no effort to improve pedestrian access from these areas, including by not referencing either existing VIA transit routes or B-Cycle stations in the plan. More critically, major elements of the draft Master Plan appear to worsen access to Brackenridge Park from western corridors – including by hampering existing public transit options and connections (particularly VIA’s 8, 11 and 509 routes) and closing public rights-of-way that support access to the park from the west.

The closing of rights-of-way could also potentially ‘sink’ efforts to revitalize Sunken Garden Theatre, which the draft master plan touches on as a possible project, creating a scenario of a major event at the 4,800-person venue, with only one park roadway, St. Mary’s Street, in and out.

As an alternative to the costly closing of public and transit rights-of-way, building of new structured parking and destruction of the Martinez Softball Field parking lot, I offer six recommendations to improve pedestrian access to Brackenridge Park from TPL identified areas of high need west of the park, as well to improve the park for all park-goers.

These cost-effective recommendations help  address some of the main underlying concerns of the current plan as drafted – namely, improving active transport (walking, biking, VIA and mini ‘train’ use) to and within the park as well as helping to mitigate unhealthy vehicle congestion, unsafe driving within and surrounding the park and the perceived need for more Brackenridge parking.

While my recommendations are compatible with some ideas and projects suggested with the draft Brackenridge Master Plan, major elements of the draft Brackenridge Master Plan as written seem to support the critique that the current plan functions mainly toplan against‘– at an extraordinarily high estimated public cost (several times the cost of pedestrianizing New York City’s Times Square) – access to Brackenridge Park from the west.

Unfortunately, major works proposed with the draft Brackenridge Park Master Plan do not seem to be informed by basic conservation principles, a wide stakeholder consideration, an area mobility study or understanding of how to improve pedestrian access to and within Brackenridge Park where it is needed most – per the findings of the Trust for Public Land as well as evidenced by factors including but not limited to the location of schools, housing, retail, major venues, VIA stops and foot- and wheel-carved ‘desire lines’ around and within the park.  

San Antonio’s currently low TPL ParkScore indicates that we should be leveraging available public resources to improve pedestrian access to our parks from key areas of our City.

I hope the city will consider the following recommendations when finalizing the Brackenridge Park Master Plan and with any resource allocations and prioritizations:

  1. Improve the corner of Mulberry Avenue and St Mary’s Street (the Valero / retail corner) as a pedestrian entrance to the park.  Including by:

    1. Adding a B-Cycle station (see Figure 2) and shaded table seating near the existing train depot. If feasible, add bike racks to the train itself;

    2. Installing bike parking on Mulberry Avenue near the Valero store entrance;

    3. Installing a sidewalk in front of Pugels Hot Dogs on Mulberry Avenue from Valero to St. Mary’s Street (currently marked by a hilly and unsafe ‘desire line);

    4. Formalizing the two existing pedestrian ‘corner cuts’ through the site from Mulberry Avenue to St Mary’s Street:

      1. from the train depot behind the Parkview Building to St Mary’s Street (currently a dirt trail blocked by a cable fence near St Mary’s Street);
      2. behind Pugels Hot Dogs to St Mary’s Street (unobstructed and paved);


    5. Adding a pedestrian crossing of Mulberry Avenue to connect Allison Park and the South Mulberry Trailhead with the improved pedestrian corner/park entrance. 

  2. Improve pedestrian conditions along St Mary’s Street entering and within the park. Including by:

    1. Providing shaded seating at all VIA stops on St Mary’s Street (between at least Ashby Place and Tuleta Drive);

    2. Maintaining and improving existing sidewalks along St. Mary’s Street (at least between Ashby Place and Tuleta Drive), including by installing curb cuts where needed and widening existing sidewalks where feasible to a minimum five-foot width, minimum six-foot width when abutting the street. Priority should be given to widening the sidewalk immediately in front of the Parkview Building near Alvin Street (currently three-feet wide);

    3. Following existing ‘desire lines’ to construct a generously wide and ADA-accessible sidewalk or paved path along the north side of St. Mary’s from Augie’s Smokehouse to the Japanese Tea Gardens;

    4. Adding on-street bike lanes and/or markings to improve biking on St. Mary’s Street within the park;

    5. Adding pedestrian crossings at key points within the park on St. Mary’s Street (Alvin Street, Augie’s Smokehouse and the Sunken Garden trains depot) to increase pedestrian comfort and safety as well as help further calm traffic;

    6. Adding bike parking along St. Mary’s Street at key points including Augie’s Smokehouse and the Sunken Garden train depot;

    7. Adding water stations where feasible near shaded seating areas;

    8. Adding B-Cycle stations (see Figure 2):

      1. on St Mary’s Street near Ashby Place (major VIA stop);
      2. on St Mary’s Street near Woodlawn Avenue (major intersection);
      3. on Craig Place near McCullough Avenue (Post Office). 


  3. Improve pedestrian access to the park through the San Antonio Water System (SAWS) site (Alvin Street and Stadium Drive), as well as use of SAWS site parking. Including by:

    1. Providing shaded seating at the two VIA stops near the intersection of Stadium Drive and Mulberry Avenue;

    2. Lowering the pedestrian crossing wait time at the intersection of Mulberry Avenue and Stadium Drive;

    3. Widening the existing sidewalk along Stadium Drive from Alvin Street to Mulberry Avenue;

    4. Partnering with SAWS and other stakeholders to increase use of the two underutilized multi-level parking structures on Alvin Street as Brackenridge parking – including through incentives such as free hours of parking in these structures (potentially charging for some parking within the park once pedestrian improvements are made);

    5. If feasible, adding a pedestrian link from the SAWS surface parking lot to the Augie’s Smokehouse parking lot to create another pedestrian entrance to the park and support use of available surface parking on the SAWS site for Brackenridge parking (there are currently pedestrian links from the SAWS parking lot to the park via Alpine Drive and Alvin Street).

  4. Improve pedestrian conditions within and to Martinez Softball Field parking lot. Including by:

    1. Adding curb cuts near the existing B-Cycle station;

    2. Improving the pedestrian crossing of the parking lot entrance on St. Mary’s Street – including with road markings;

    3. Adding a paved path from the parking lot to the St Mary’s Street sidewalk near the south side of the ball field and Sunken Garden train depot;

    4. Establishing a mobile food vending area within the parking lot (near the current dumpsters) near the ball field and new paved path to St. Mary’s Street, including electric plug-ins for vendors and shaded table seating nearby – while potentially allowing pushcart and bicycle-based vendors to operate elsewhere in the park;

    5. Adding covered playground equipment and outdoor exercise equipment near the ball field and new paved path to St. Mary’s Street;

    6. Adding a water station near the ball field where feasible/if needed.

  5. Improve pedestrian access to the park through and from Trinity University. Including by:

    1. Providing shaded seating at all VIA stops on Stadium Drive and Tuleta Drive as well as Hildebrand Avenue (between at least Breeden Street and 281);

    2. Formalizing pedestrian entrances to Trinity University’s jogging trail from Stadium Drive, Devine Road and Hildebrand Avenue;

    3. Partnering with Trinity University to help designate and support the improvement of the jogging trail and use of other parts of campus as City of San Antonio ‘park’ space or park corridor, to help improve pedestrian access to Brackenridge Park and Trinity Market as well as help raise San Antonio’s TPL ParkScore;

    4. Adding  B-Cycle stations (see Figure 2):

      1. near Trinity University Alumni Relations VIA bus stop close to Mulberry Avenue;
      2. on Stadium Drive near Trinity Place;
      3. on Stadium Drive near Devine Road;
      4. on Campus Drive near Rosewood Avenue;
      5. at Landa Public Library (Shook Ave);
      6. on McCullough Avenue near Hildebrand Avenue


  6. Improve pedestrian access to the park from Hildebrand Avenue near Incarnate Word High School and the University of Incarnate Word (UIW) via Devine Road, Tuleta Drive and Brackenridge Road. Including by:

    1. Adding signalized pedestrian crossings of Hildebrand Avenue and Devine Road;

    2. Adding a safe pedestrian crossing of Devine Road at Stadium Drive;

    3. Constructing a sidewalk from Olmos Tower Condominiums around KIPP Esperanza Dual Language Academy to connect with sidewalks on Tuleta Drive;

    4. Adding a ramp near the staircases leading from the Convocation Center parking lot to the Tuleta Drive / 281 underpass parking lot to support pedestrians as well as encourage use of underutilized Convocation Center parking for Brackenridge parking;

    5. Adding a safe pedestrian crossing of Hildebrand Avenue between the VIA stops near the entrance of UIW (west of Brackenridge Road) and improving these stops with shaded seating;

    6. Partnering with the Zoo to develop a safe public pedestrian path from the Tuleta Drive / 281 underpass parking lot to the Hildebrand Avenue VIA stops near the entrance to UIW  (approximately 1500 feet and currently marked by ‘desire lines’);

    7. Partnering with the Zoo to develop a safe public pedestrian path from the VIA bus stops at UIW to the park entrance at Brackenridge Road (approximately 500 feet and currently marked by ‘desire lines).

Figure 2: Map of proposed additional B-Cycle stations (red dots added) to improve pedestrian access to Brackenridge Park from the west. Blue dots indicate existing stations. Image from www.sanantonio.bcycle.com

About the Author

Mark Tirpak is an urban planner and researcher as well as contributing author of:
Healthy Urban Development Checklist (2010)
Rethinking Life at the Margins: The Assemblage of Contexts, Subjects, and Politics (2016)