Plan El Paso focuses on streets, redevelopment

  • Oregon Street before

    Oregon Street before

    Image by Urban Advantage — courtesy of Dover, Kohl & Partners.

  • Oregon Street after

    Oregon Street after

    The envisioned redevelopment of Oregon Street in El Paso, Texas, from an underutilized automobile-oriented arterial to a mixed-use thoroughfare. Image by Urban Advantage — courtesy of Dover, Kohl & Partners.

  • Big box before

    Big box before

    Courtesy of Dover, Kohl & Partners

  • Big box after

    Big box after

    Courtesy of Dover, Kohl & Partners.

  • Proposed main street

    Proposed main street

    Proposed mixed-use main street in El Paso. Courtesy of Dover, Kohl & Partners

New Urban News, October-November 2010

El Paso, Texas, began a major planning effort called Plan El Paso, led by Dover, Kohl & Partners of Coral Gables, Florida, to examine how transportation dollars and development can promote smart growth and great streets.

El Paso, with 751,000 people the 21st largest city in the US, has a growing economy and political and planning leadership that supports smart growth, according to Jason King, Dover Kohl’s project manager for the planning initiative.

The city is growing because Fort Bliss is getting 30,000 more troops under the Base Realignment and Closure program, which will bring in 100,000 new residents, he adds. Because of that, the city has benefited from federal stimulus dollars and Department of Defense development projects.

The website El Paso Inc. recently reported: “ ‘There is a once-in-a-lifetime infusion of transportation dollars coming to our community thanks to the hard work and influence of people like Ted Houghton and Joe Pickett. The vast majority of that money is directed towards surface transportation – building more roads. So let’s look at it as an opportunity,’ said city Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

“ ‘We can continue to build controlled-access freeways that will allow drivers a beautiful view of the next Target Superstore, or we can use the concepts developed in this plan and build boulevards that people want to spend time on, that local entrepreneurs want ­— and still move cars, along with buses, people and bicycles, to their destinations effectively,’ he said.”

Building around bus rapid transit

The city is putting major funding into Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), King says. Locations where the BRT lines cross offer opportunities for transit-oriented development.

The planning process began with a two-week charrette in June, which resulted in a draft report. Most design charrettes are only a week long. Two more two-week charrettes will be held in November and January, King says. After that, the planning team will write up a new comprehensive plan for the city, with form-based codes based on the SmartCode proposed for key growth areas. The approval process is scheduled to begin in May of 2011 — so the project is moving along quickly.

In addition to Dover Kohl, the team includes Hall Planning & Engineering of Tallahassee, Florida, which is working on walkability components of the plan. Charlier Associates of Boulder, Colorado, is focusing on the overall transportation network and public transit. Spikowski Planning Associates of Fort Myers, Florida, a form-based code expert, and Urban Advisors of Portland, Oregon, a market researcher, are also on the team, as are CEA Engineering Group of El Paso and IPS Group of College Station, Texas, a planning firm.

Plan El Paso is looking at four major study areas where public and private investment is already occurring. “New buildings, redesigned streets, and civic buildings like BRT transfer centers are currently underway,” King says.

Planners view Plan El Paso as a follow-up to a 1925 plan by well-known landscape architect George Kessler. That plan called for many parks that have been built, and was also based on the idea of walkable neighborhoods. Plan El Paso will focus on the creation of great streets, King says.

New urban firms like Dover, Kohl are doing a lot of comprehensive plan work these days, says King. “Design-focused comprehensive plans that end in form-based codes for downtowns and new neighborhoods are becoming more common,” he told New Urban News.