Fort Worth’s new thoroughfare plan aims for more variety in street design

By Scott Nishimura

Fort Worth is launching a review of its master thoroughfare plan, aiming to broaden the kinds of streets in its arsenal, accommodate more multi-mode transportation like buses, trains, and bike lanes, and address needs in high-growth areas like the far North and far South.

Continued suburban growth and central city redevelopment, numerous gaps in continuity within the city’s transportation system, a narrow range of street classifications that doesn’t match up well with various land uses and development, and greater need to move people by means other than cars is driving the need for the update.

“We’re trying to get ourselves back to thinking that we make sure everybody is well-connected,” Mark Rauscher, Fort Worth’s program manager over the plan, said.

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The city staff has launched what will likely be an 18-month review and update of the master plan, last updated in 2009. On Nov. 17, an all-volunteer task force, chaired by the Fort Worth architect Michael Bennett, began meeting to help guide the process.

A key principle of the review – “one street design does not fit all contexts” – furthers a change in the city’s direction during the 2009 update, when it went “from moving cars to moving people.”

The city’s goals for the update include: • Increased sensitivity to surroundings and building “complete streets” that interact with uses; • Maximizing potential for redevelopment and economic development; • Increasing linkages to public transit and improving bike facilities; • Using more roundabouts when possible to create smoother-moving, cheaper, and safer intersections; • Striking a balance between mobility and access to roads that optimizes convenience and minimizes congestion; and, • Creating more efficient travel routes.

The update should improve orderly growth and sustainable development and give direction to developers, while preserving future opportunities for growth in multimodal transportation, city officials said.

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Continued growth in the far North, and oncoming major development expected in far south, southwest, and West Fort Worth with the new Chisholm Trail and planned Walsh Ranch development means the city must get out in front with an intelligent plan update, Rauscher said.

The city’s current plan, for one, contains numerous future six-lane thoroughfares, where four-lane roads with features such as turn lanes at intersections or roundabouts could handle as much traffic just as smoothly, Rauscher said.

Pare a six-lane plan to four, and that opens more real estate to future development, city officials say.

Fort Worth has numerous street classifications, but they’re inflexible and the plan isn’t well integrated with transit and bike plans, Rauscher said. Only three classifications show up in the current thoroughfare plan: principal, major and minor arterials.

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“If you’ve got an urban village with sidewalk cafes, you want the flexibility to create a wider sidewalk area,” he said.

That doesn’t address all of the potential variants like width of sidewalks, bike lanes, traffic lanes, turn lanes.

Early on in the review, the staff and consultants it’s hired will run extensive computer scenarios on travel demand, demographics, and land use. They’ll move onto street classifications and review alignments of planned streets and roads.

They’ll also divide the city into sections: North, South, and West, all outside Loop 820; and central city and East Fort Worth together.

As the thoroughfare plan for each geographic area is completed, it will go to the City Plan Commission, and then onto the City Council for final approval.

The city and its consultants will bring community, neighborhood, and business groups, the Trinity River’s Streams & Valleys booster organization, Blue Zones Fort Worth well-being initiative, and major property owners and developers will be drawn in to give input, Rod Kelly, a principal with the HDR, Inc., engineering firm, one of the city’s consultants, told the task force Monday.

Blue Zones has conducted “walking audits” citywide this summer and fall designed to recommend ways the city can improve its streets.

Rusty Fuller, a task force member representing the North Fort Worth Alliance of homeowner organizations, pressed the city staff to ensure they obtain as much community input as possible on the complex process.

“I don’t see this as an easy process,” he said.

Tom Galbreath, a task force member and executive vice president of Dunaway Associates, a Fort Worth consulting firm, sought assurances the staff wouldn’t unnecessarily sideline development while the city works its way through the plan update.

“To the extent, let’s not hold up development because of this process,” he told Rauscher. “If they have to wait for a year, it’s not fair to the development.”

On the other hand, “I would hate to see us get pressured…and make a mistake,” Bennett said.

A developer requesting changes to the master thoroughfare plan has to go through the city’s Development Review Committee.

If there’s a conflict between a developer and the direction the city is moving on the thoroughfare plan, “I think in the lion’s share of cases, we’ll tell the development community to go forward” to the development review committee, Rauscher said after the meeting in an interview.

“We don’t want to do anything that hinders development,” he told the task force.