Moving forward on track: An investigation of the relationships between land use and transportation in San Antonio, identifying the options and obstacles for local rail transit applications
The purpose of this study is to explore the factors involved in implementing light rail transit in San Antonio. It also aims to provide an understanding of how the city got to its current state through its history in terms of the development of land and public transportation. A discussion on the initiatives that are currently in progress or under review helps to identify the steps local developers and public officials must take toward the prospect of rail transit as a viable mobility option for this region.
The study includes an historical sketch of the various events related to how San Antonio has been developed, and how public transportation has fit into the built environment over time. As the information covered becomes more contemporary in this thesis, it consequently becomes more in-depth until it reviews what is going on today. The history provides a clear understanding of why various parts of the city are shaped the way they are, and how people have circulated throughout the city over time.
The potential corridor for light rail discussed in this study follows the Union Pacific right-of-way that surrounds downtown, and proceeds north along Broadway to Austin Highway, and terminates on Walzem, just east of I-35. This alignment passes through several parts of town that are currently experiencing intense development or have plans in place for high-density developments to occur.
Interviews were conducted with staff from Valley MetroRail in Phoenix, Capital Metro in Austin, and VIA Metropolitan Transit in San Antonio to help clarify the author's understanding of the subject matter, and to provide assistance with obtaining appropriate research materials. Geographic Information System data is used to illustrate many of the relationships between the corridor and surrounding places. Three-dimensional modeling is also used to show how a new development might look in relation to the existing surroundings. The figures generated through these processes help clarify many of the points made in this thesis.
Many challenges in implementing light rail were uncovered throughout the process. These do not appear to have been fully addressed in 2000, when the City last had aspirations for light rail. Among the greatest obstacles is the lack of coordination between developers, public agencies, and planning organizations in pursuit of completing projects of a similar nature. Existing transit-supportive land-use policies neither have a practical process with which to be implemented, nor a cost-effective justification for developers. The extensive presence of freight rail traffic throughout the urban center presents a problem for making use of existing rail corridors, and an adequate funding structure for an expensive proposition such as light rail does not yet exist. The public has to make a commitment and demonstrate the willingness to reconsider and clarify perceived costs and benefits about various issues surrounding rail transit systems. Likewise, local leadership must work together toward a single agenda and prove that they are making every effort to move San Antonio forward in this defining moment of the City's rich history.