Approximately 30 citizens met at the Old Blanco County Courthouse on August 28 to hear the Streetscape Committee’s presentation of their plan to beautify the historic square and make it safer for pedestrians and motorists. As reported in last week’s Blanco County News, Jack Twilley and Jim Raby showed a 3-D rendering of a square with crosswalks, benches, trees, underground utilities, and ADA-compliant parking spaces and sidewalks. The cost of the conceptual plan was reduced greatly by using the services of Raby, who has worked in architecture and civil engineering.
Raby explained that one priority will be to straighten and re-grade the sidewalks around the square, especially on the east side in front of Strickland Drugs, where cars frequently back into each other as they pull out of spaces which conflict with the jogs in the sidewalk. Another priority will be to add brick crosswalks at the intersection of Fourth Street and Pecan, where a blind spot exists for cars coming out of Pecan into the square. The hope is that the distinctive red brick work will guide pedestrians to use the crosswalks rather than jay-walking, another hazardous practice. Proposed pole lights at each corner would also create a safer nighttime environment, and ADA-compliant curb ramps will also make the crossing safer. Proposed benches at each corner of Fourth Street and Pecan would provide seating as well as create barriers for pedestrian safety.
Planning and Zoning Commission chair Tony Vela asked whether it might be possible to limit the size of vehicles which park in front of the post office, since large trucks and vans block the sight line. However, Raby said the plan is to make parking spaces 10 feet by 20 feet all around the square and to eliminate angled parking spaces. Streetscaping committee member Becky Greathouse asked if Fourth Street is being narrowed and was told that it is not. She suggested that a four-way stop at the corner of Fourth and Pecan would be a good traffic-calming measure. Twilley agreed and added that if the plan is approved by city council at their October meeting, the city will begin working with TxDOT to get the benefit of the expertise of their engineers.
The issue of uneven sidewalks around the square was addressed by Strickland Drug employee Becky Boulding, who said she has seen numerous falls by pedestrians in the 11 years she has worked there. The curb drops abruptly before Papa Joey’s Restaurant, with a yellow warning line painted at the edge of the drop-off.
Liz Waller, owner of On the Square, voiced a similar concern to this reporter when she said there were falls every day in front of her store during the Lavender Festival in June. Plans to re-grade the sidewalks continually would eliminate these periodic sudden slopes. The curb at the corner of Third and Pecan is approximately 19 inches high, with steps leading up to the door of Cranberry’s Antiques. In response to a question by Tony Vela, Raby explained that the sidewalks between Third and Fourth Street will be worked on as part of Phase 2 of the plan.
Raby explained that curb height will be ADA-compliant, with businesses “forced to do their part” to ease the transition from the sidewalk into each business entrance. RK Seals asked what the economic impact to each business would be, with Twilley responding that the city owns the sidewalks up to the entrance of each business. Real Ale Brewery co-owner Gabriel Gregerman asked if businesses are on board with the plan, and Twilley replied that there was a positive reaction when the action plan was presented to local businesses and the Blanco Chamber of Commerce.
The role of the Blanco City Council and the support of TxDOT were also concerns to those in attendance. Twilley said that Mayor Chuck Homan is particularly concerned about safety issues at the corner of Pecan and Fourth Streets. Bill Noonan asked if the city has to approve the plan before TxDOT becomes involved and was informed that it does. Both Twilley and Raby stressed that citizens need to talk to city council members, the county judge, and their representatives to get their support for the plan. Tony Vela asked how much the plan will cost and was told that the committee needs to get more information before arriving at a cost. Raby explained that rising gas prices are driving up construction costs, but Greathouse suggested that hard economic times may work in favor of getting the improvements made at a more reasonable cost.
At the conclusion of the presentation, Jack Twilley asked those in attendance, “How does it feel?” There was a general positive response, voiced by Armando Peña, who said, “I would like to commend you on what you’ve done.”
This article has been corrected to note that Jim Raby has worked in architecture and civil engineering; he is not currently an architect or civil engineer.