San Pedro Creek Makeover, Part 3: Details

Sep 10, 2014

Bexar County has put aside $125 million to completely re-do a two-mile stretch of downtown’s San Pedro Creek. I've been looking at the plan in detail, and it is  pretty amazing. Currently the creek is a concrete drainage ditch, but what designers and engineers have imagined is something that looks a bit like a narrower Museum Reach.

The original reasoning for the project is flood control and water quality improvements; both to be accomplished through an underground overflow tunnel, with the added cleansing benefit that re-circulated water is pumped from it.

"Now the reason that’s important is that as we implement water quality measures into the project," said San Antonio River Authority engineer Jeff Tyler. "Those measures repeat themselves as the water becomes re-circulated. The water in the tunnel gets pumped back into the channel, and so forth."

Tyler has been engineering the creek’s re-design.

"The essential design task is identifying what the channel banks need to be to contain that 100-year flood," Tyler said.

Containing that 100-year flood is at its core, but what is at ground level is all about aesthetics. The last two parts of this series we’ve been traveling from north to south, through the five distinct character areas. We continue today with the area called The Meander.

"And the reason that we call it The Meander is that this is the section that includes the site for the new federal courthouse, the current county parking garage," said SARA General Manager Suzanne Scott.

The Meander runs from Dolorosa Street to Cesar Chavez. The designs turn straight stretches of concrete-walled creek into a meandering one, with many trees and lower plants, and two tiers of walkway.

"This provides us an opportunity to widen the creek a little bit. Be able to have a place where, people that work downtown can maybe come here to enjoy lunch on the creek," said Scott.

The additional right of way gives the county leeway on how to treat the river, and they plan to make full use of that leeway. Next is Canal Principal, or main canal, which runs from Cesar Chavez to Guadalupe Street.

"Here we want to re-purpose an old drainage culvert. Open it up, add vegetation, tell a story about what was there before," Scott said.

Those culverts restrict the possibilities with trees, as the soil above them is only four feet — not enough for tree roots. But that's plenty of soil to support a long, vine-covered trellis for shade. This will make it area look unlike the rest of the character areas.

"You have nice vistas, overlooks, into this interesting re-purposing of this drainage culvert, and if you wanted to be more leisurely, you could do that along the lower walk," Scott said.

A tiered step up to street level will feature flowering shrubs and perennials. The final area is Campo Abajo, or the lower field area. It runs from Guadalupe street down to South Alamo. 

"This could be a great amenity to that growing residential area," Scott said. "It’s a growing art district, it’s a growing residential district. It could be a great place to see art shows or another amphitheater to do music venues for the residents that are in this area."

Designs show a speculative on-river pavilion for gatherings, a widened stream, a small falls, and a contrasting straight upper level and winding lower level walk. Scott noted how the development evolves.

"As the river starts to change and get more natural towards the end of this reach and into the next reach, it really starts to integrate more of what you see on the Mission Reach, more of that natural environment," Scott said. "This is the transition zone from the more urbanized, River Walk-like improvements that have been conceptualized, to the more natural improvements that you see along the Mission Reach."

On the San Pedro Creek project we finish Campo Abajo, and the series.