With the help ofrobust community input, Plan El Paso 2010 created a vision for three environmentally sustainable, transitoriented neighborhoods linked by bus rapid transit and anchored by the redevelopment of a former industrial site. El Paso rezoned the industrial site to make redevelopment easier and plans to use the new zoning around the city.
A city of more than 750,000 residents on the U.S.-Mexico border, El Paso was concerned about a variety of converging factors. Automobile-oriented development was isolating residents, while the upcoming expansion of a nearby military base created the need for thousands of housing units and increased infrastructure. In response, the city initiated Plan El Paso 2010, an effort to create more environmentally and socially sustainable communities connected by a bus rapid transit (BRT) network. El Paso’s BRT is intended to improve the speed and reliability of transit between neighborhoods by integrating facilities, services, and amenities into one transportation system.
The public shaped this vision for growth during a two-week workshop that included more than 30 meetings with residents, businesses, and other stakeholders and hands-on design sessions where participants could sketch out ideas. Since over 70 percent of El Paso’s residents speak Spanish as their primary language, the city conducted bilingual outreach to as many residents as possible, and a translator was present at all public events. The far-reaching plan was unanimously approved by the city council in 2009, and BRT construction began in 2010.
“I am a lifelong resident of El Paso. I’ve seen the city grow from a prosperous city in the 1950s to a sprawling, large city with all of the problems that come with it. Connecting El Paso is a huge step in the right direction which will help the city bring back its quality and prosperity through smart growth.”– Charlie Wakeem, resident and Coronado Neighborhood Association president.
Plan El Paso 2010 creates transitoriented development in four areas:
- The Oregon Corridor, which connects a key U.S.-Mexico border crossing, the central El Paso business district, the University of Texas at El Paso, and other civic and cultural destinations. Bus and BRT lanes are currently being constructed to replace existing parallel parking.
- Five Points, a historic community, formerly connected to downtown via a streetcar line that shut down decades ago, contains homes and businesses in need of revitalization.
- Remcon Circle, the site of a BRT transfer station and a spread-out shopping area that is slated to be retrofitted to a walkable neighborhood with homes, offices, stores, and green spaces.
- The former location of the American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO), a 600-acre brownfield sits on one of the BRT routes. ASARCO is envisioned as a mixed-use, walkable, compact redevelopment that will stimulate cooperation between El Paso and its cross-border neighbor, Ciudad Juárez.
The city hopes that the new development in these four neighborhoods will provide welcoming streets and convenient destinations that give residents places to socialize in their neighborhoods, make them feel safe walking to local stores, and better connect them to the rest of the city with the BRT. By reinvesting in existing neighborhoods and preserving historic structures, El Paso honors the past and reinforces its sense of place.
The city council rezoned the ASARCO site using SmartCode, which will also apply to the other three neighborhoods. SmartCode emphasizes the form and design of buildings rather than their uses. It encourages mixing retail, businesses, and homes and requires streets to be welcoming to pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers. It also helps create and protect parks, greenways, arroyos (seasonal streams), and open space.
Residents of El Paso are invited to attend a public design workshop taking place December 3-6 to design a critical pedestrian connection linking the Downtown arts district with the Union Plaza entertainment district. The City is working with Dover Kohl & Partners to prepare workshops for the public and for students enrolled at Creative Kids Inc. A hands-on design session is planned for Saturday, December 3 at 6 pm. Following Saturday’s sessions with the public and Creative Kids, designers and artists will work on-site Sunday through Tuesday to illustrate ideas and refine plans for the new connection. These plans and ideas will be presented at an Open House on Tuesday December 6 at 5 pm.
El Paso’s Sun Metro has been named the most Outstanding Public Transit System of the Year for all agencies in North America by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). Sun Metro will receive an award for their efficiency, effectiveness, ridership, and transit planning. Jane Shang credits the award in part to Sun Metro’s partnership with Dover, Kohl & Partners through the Connecting El Paso and El Paso Comprehensive Plan projects. “It was a team effort,” says Shang. Dover-Kohl assisted Sun Metro in planning its Bus Rapid Transit System which is expected to begin service in 2012 and add one new line every two years until the major transportation routes through the City are serviced via BRT. Parking facilities, transit stations, and street retrofits have been constructed and more are underway. Dover Kohl is assisting with the design of transit stations at the former Northgate Mall complex and at the East Side Transit Terminal as well as with changes to land use and zoning regulations to create transit oriented development around all of the City’s proposed stations.
New requirements approved by the City of El Paso require the installation and maintenance of street trees in all thoroughfare planting strips, as well as parking lot landscaping, and landscape buffers for auto-oriented development. New landscaped areas must include drought-tolerant, desert-appropriate plantings. The ordinance is different from conventional buffer ordinances in that it exempts urban format buildings with shallow setbacks, continuous street frontage, and storefront windows. The ordinance recognizes that street-oriented urban format buildings with awnings or arcades can provide a more interesting and comfortable streetscape to the pedestrian than vegetative buffers.
Landscaping: Previous Code
Landscaping: New Regulations
The Plan El Paso project is still underway and the Comprehensive Plan document is being written, yet City leadership is moving ahead with initiatives described in the plan.