Traffic is an ongoing concern in the Lavaca neighborhood. Most of the concern is very localized and specific — things like the volume and speed of traffic coming off the freeway into Florida Street, or concerns about speed on Callaghan or Lavaca Street. As a result, the efforts to find solutions have tended to also to be very localized and specific.
That needs to change, says Marcy Newman, Traffic and Safety Director for the Lavaca Neighborhood Association. It’s critically important that Lavaca start looking at the big picture, she says. "When we consider only one issue in a localized area, the single issue solution can have a much bigger, and unintended negative impact on other areas of the neighborhood."
Marcy has the credentials to give her warning some weight.
Marcy is a retired but actively licensed civil engineer who started her career working on highway design for the Texas Department of Transportation. Later, working for an international engineering firm, she handled big highway design projects. As an example, she points to her work overseeing the design and development of the $5 billion ‘DFW connector’ on the north side of Dallas-Fort Worth airport, involving two freeways and multiple state highways.
“I understand large-scale traffic analysis,” Marcy says. “And I understand what goes into it — or rather what should go into it.”
She’s very concerned that no one has really prepared for the traffic impact of all the development going on in the northeast corner of Lavaca, where all of these things are happening:
(A) SAHA is building multi-story apartment buildings on both sides of Labor Street, at the corner of Labor and César Chávez.
(B) SAHA is planning to build additional multi-story apartment buildings behind the existing HemisView / Refugio apartments and the Artisan Park townhomes, backed up against the freeway.
(C) SAHA is renovating and will soon re-open the high-rise seniors apartment complex, Victoria Plaza, at Labor and Barrera.
(D) SAISD has tentative plans to renovate the Burnet building on Barrera, just off Labor, and turn it into a middle school.
There are multiple projects with big potential traffic impact -- both in the planning stages and happening right now -- in the northeast corner of the Lavaca neighborhood.
Thanks to efforts by the Lavaca Neighborhood Association, Marcy says that a comprehensive traffic study is coming.
District 1 Councilman Mario Bravo listened to neighborhood concerns and committed to getting a comprehensive study funded. His goal is to get all the players from the various development projects to contribute.
According to Marcy, the city’s Director of Public Works, Razi Hosseini, is already on board with the plan.
The study will involve the kind of expert analysis that Marcy has worked with in the past. She estimates that it will take a couple of months to complete, once a team has been selected to do the work.
The study needs to look at a lot of factors, Marcy says, and it has to consider both what we’ve got today and what we can expect to have in fifteen or twenty years.
“A true traffic study should look at projections for where people are going, where they are coming from, where they work, where transit travels and what the emergency services routes are. It's got to look at a multitude of different factors. And then you also look at growth.”
“You've got to make some assumptions about those things, but it's got to be based on what the past shows so that you can project to the future.”
“Decisions based on the study won’t necessarily make everyone happy,” Marcy says, “but those decisions have to consider what’s best for the neighborhood as a whole.”
And the neighborhood will be involved.
According to Marcy, Councilman Bravo and Public Works Director Hosseini have committed to giving the neighborhood association a seat at the table for her and association president Melissa Stendahl when the study is developed and conducted.
“We’ve been told that we will be invited to the discussions with the engineering firm, with the city, to make sure that our voice is being heard and that the traffic study encompasses the area it needs to,” Marcy says.
And that’s what the neighborhood has been asking for.
Construction is already far advanced on apartments at the corner of Labor Street and César Chávez.
“We’ve got 800-plus apartment units going in there at Labor and Cesar Chavez, all the way down to Leigh Street,” Marcy says, “and there was no comprehensive traffic study done. You're talking about dumping hundreds, probably more than a thousand vehicles into the neighborhood with only one way in and out. That is going to create unmanageable traffic.”
“Add to that the Victoria Plaza re-opening, and you have a lot of pedestrian traffic around. Then you add the potential middle school, and you've got drop off and pick up for those students, plus more pedestrian traffic.”
If that weren’t enough, Marcy points out that Labor, Presa, Florida, Carolina, and Barrera are also transit and emergency services routes.
“So when I've got a bus that comes in and I've got all this extra traffic, and now the bus stops and all the traffic starts to back up — or a school bus, maybe — then all of these things are going to create congestion within the neighborhood.”
“All of those things are creating a perfect storm,” Marcy says, “because each of them was developed in a vacuum.”
She points out that, to the extent any data collection was done at all for those projects, it took place during the pandemic, when traffic patterns were not normal and input from neighbors was hard to get. In any case, she says, neither SAISD nor SAHA gave sufficient notice to affected residents about their plans.
"These projects are conducted with public funds," Marcy says, "and proper public notice should be given before meetings are held and decisions are made.
With regard to SAISD's plans for the Burnet facility, Marcy worries that SAISD may be making the wrong decision. She thinks Burnet should become an elementary school, not a middle school. As an elementary school, she points out, Burnet would serve young neighborhood children who could walk to their school without crossing any major arterials. Instead, those kids will be redirected across Presa and St. Mary’s, both heavily-trafficked streets, to attend Bonham, and they'll be forced onto routes that lack continuous sidewalks in a neighborhood where traffic is only going to worsen in the coming years.
“We’ve asked SAISD to put that project on hold until more informed studies can be done,” Marcy says. "Hopefully the traffic study will tie in and show the proper use for the school."
Jim Feuerstein is co-editor of LNF Weekly; he also designs and manages the website.