By Paige Lambert
The small towns between Austin and San Antonio have become bustling cities at a rapid pace. San Marcos is no stranger to that situation. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, San Marcos has the largest percent growth in the nation, for the second consecutive year.
The city has tried to tackle the growth issue, seen in the comprehensive plan approved last April and a year and a half of downtown construction.
Last weekend, the city took another look at expanding downtown’s infrastructure, during the Rhythm of the Street event.
The city pulled funds for the event from multiple budgets, including the $10.6 million improvement plan, Melissa Millecam, communication director, said.
City officials and volunteers began transforming the South LBJ blocks between Hopkins Street and MLK Drive at 4:30 a.m. Saturday, demonstrating future construction plans.
“Our main goal is to get input on our transportation master plan and to get people started in the conversation about Code SMTX,” Amanda Hernandez, senior planner, said.
Code SMTX is a city project to rewrite the land development codes, which are seven years old. Without the rewrite, progress with the transportation master plan, approved only last year, could be stalled, Hernandez said.
Residents and city officials met in the vacant OTS Liquor store, discussing the changes. Proposal maps were laid out on each table, sticky-notes covering them with suggestions.
“The things in the land development code aren’t what we are proposing with the comprehensive plan,” Hernandez said. “So we need to line up those two documents in order to get the development the community wants.”
Outside, hay bales marked a skate park and art bazaar. An overgrown parking lot became green space with lounge chairs and yard games.
The city mimicked plans from betterblock.org, Hernandez said. The site is an open use place-making project that helps organizations temporarily transform unused city areas.
South LBJ was also transformed into a two-way thoroughfare, restriped with chalk. Matt Lewis, director of planning and development, said the lane was added to see how it would affect traffic speeds and businesses.
Lupe Mendez, The Look Salon owner, said she hopes the two-way will make vehicles slow down.
“They drive through here like it’s Interstate 35,” Mendez said. “It’s very dangerous.”
Lewis said research has shown areas with two-way roads have better economic development.
“Half of the time when you drive down here, you are just looking at the red light,” Lewis said. “When you’re going slower, it gives the ability to look around and see what’s going on.”
Two-way bike lanes and parallel parking were also chalked into the design.
Midway through the project area, people held yellow flags while walking a freshly chalked crossway.
Lewis said the crossway helps slow down traffic and creates a better pedestrian environment.
“It helps pedestrians cross the street without having to walk all the way down to the intersections,” Lewis said. “That also helps retailers midblock have access with pedestrians and cars slow down to where they are looking at the businesses.”
By 6 p.m. water trucks washed the chalk stripes and city officials gathered input from the nine-hour event.
Lewis said it’ll take another year until the city implements the suggestions. If the city does, it will most likely focus on restriping first, Lewis said.
“We want to do an interim project at the start and retrofit it later,” Lewis said. “If we do a full street conversion with the street-scaping we did then it’s a much more costly project.”