El Paso Pedestrian Pathways
Landscape Performance Benefits
- Reduces stormwater peak runoff rate at San Jacinto Plaza by 15% for a 100-year, 24-hour storm event.
- Increases biodiversity, with San Jacinto Plaza’s Simpson's Diversity Index score increasing from 0.78 to 0.91 (with a maximum score of 1). This is supported by a 243% increase in number of plant species from just 7 species of trees to 24 species and cultivars of trees, shrubs, and groundcovers.
- Reduces surface temperatures at San Jacinto Plaza by up to 23°F with engineered shade structures and up to 40°F with tree shade, as measured during peak heat hours in May. The colored asphalt used for the Durango Street Improvements cools by up to 23° F as compared to the dark asphalt previously on-site.
- Sequesters an estimated 7.5 tons of atmospheric carbon annually in 102 newly planted and preserved trees at San Jacinto Plaza, representing a 45% increase in the amount of carbon sequestered annually.
- Supports an increased sense of community, with 32% more surveyed visitors agreeing that Downtown El Paso is safe and welcoming after the projects were implemented (2015 compared to 2017-2021). An 2022 survey of 10 visitors indicated a relatively high sense of community at San Jacinto Plaza, with an average score of 3.9 out of 5.
- Supports community events, with a 117% increase in the average number of events per year that involve closing the streets in the downtown district. An average of 17 event permits were issued per year before construction (2012-2015) as compared to an average of 37 after construction (2017-2019).
- Supports larger downtown revitalization efforts, including a 128% increase in the number of new hotel rooms within a 3-block radius of the downtown district when comparing periods before and after project construction.
- Catalyzed a 435% increase in city-incentivized projects within a 3-block radius from the period before construction ($17.2 million from 2012-2016) to after construction ($92 million from 2017-2020). Inventive funds provided by the city more than doubled (109%) over this period.
At a Glance
Former Land Use
114 W Mills Avenue
El Paso, Texas 79901
Mills Avenue Pedestrian Promenade: 2.2 acres; San Jacinto Plaza: 1.73 acres; Durango Street Improvements: 3.8 acres
$25 million (all three projects)
Mills Avenue Pedestrian Promenade: 2013; San Jacinto Plaza: 2016
El Paso Pedestrian Pathways is a series of urban design interventions meant to strengthen pedestrian linkages to notable open spaces in the Arts District of downtown El Paso, Texas. Three key projects in the downtown area are: San Jacinto Plaza, the Mills Avenue Promenade, and Durango Street Improvements. Mills Avenue Pedestrian Promenade (2013) was the first project completed, and it created a pedestrian promenade through a small commercial area to connect to San Jacinto Plaza, a historic park. The Durango Street Improvements began in 2013 to provide improved aesthetics, safety, and accessibility for a positive pedestrian experience near the Durango Street Bridge. The redesign of San Jacinto Plaza (2016) was the last project completed. The updated plaza utilizes remnants from the historic plaza including axial pathways, fountain, and seating, while adding new elements including more paved areas for events and increased tree species diversity. El Paso’s large Latino community left a distinctive mark on the design process thanks to extensive community engagement. Together, the El Paso Pedestrian Pathways projects respond to municipal efforts to create a more cohesive public sphere and work against former car-centric planning processes to “stitch together” and revitalize downtown El Paso.
- Support downtown revitalization efforts.
- Achieve high pedestrian walkability between the main open areas in El Paso’s downtown Arts District.
- Increase usage of San Jacinto Plaza by providing more shade and seating along with a stage for small-scale events.
- Bridge difficult infrastructural conditions related to the intersections of roads, rail, and more in the Arts District.
- Develop accessible places for all residents of the region to feel included by getting involved in the community engagement process.
San Jacinto Plaza
- The plaza has 6,019 sf of programmed recreation areas including a 1,165-sf table tennis courtyard, 800-sf chess courtyard, 1,080-sf bocce court, 665-sf splash deck, and stage with amphitheater seating for up to 100 people.
- An existing bus stop was relocated from San Jacinto Plaza to Santa Fe Street and 4th Avenue in order to create 13% more open space for the plaza and make space for the rows of trees that shade the walkways and seating around the plaza.
- A historically significant public sculpture made using fiberglass, “Los Lagartos” by artist Luis Jimenez, was fully restored. The sculpture pays homage to the live alligators that were once kept in San Jacinto Plaza.
- 40 wood benches can accommodate up to 155 people across a variety of sun and shade conditions.
- 273 new plants representing 24 species and cultivars were installed, 66% of which are Chihuahuan desert natives. Plant species found on site include autumn sage (Salvia greggii), soaptree yucca (Yucca elata), flame acanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii), and wooly butterfly bush (Buddleja marrubifolia)
- A 2,500-sf shade structure provides shelter from sun and rain. It is positioned over a 1,090-sf central reflecting pool with a circumference of just over 118 ft.
Durango Street Improvements
- The improvements focused on creating better pathways and vertical connections between the Durango Street Bridge, public transportation in the Convention Center, Arts Festival Plaza (a popular venue for outdoor community events), and the ballpark area.
- Improvements to the streetscape included hardscape and softscape improvements, lighting design, public art installations, signage, shade structures, and bicycle amenities.
Mills Avenue Pedestrian Promenade
- A pedestrian promenade was created through a small commercial area in order to connect to San Jacinto Plaza. It features corten steel planters and seating elements.
- As part of the regular maintenance regimen for San Jacinto Plaza, the pavers need to be pressure washed three times per week by ten maintenance personnel. This action dislodges sand from between the pavers, which in turn requires additional weekly maintenance and labor. This exposes the need for deeper engagement with municipal maintenance regimes during the design phase of an urban plaza or streetscape project.
- The San Jacinto Plaza can currently hold small- to medium-scale events. However, while interviewing the downtown management and the visitors, it became clear that the park often hosts larger events, which are made more challenging for organizers because of the layout and emphasis on offering a number of smaller programmed spaces.
- The original design proposal for the Mills Avenue Pedestrian Promenade completely eliminated vehicular use of the existing roadway in order to accommodate shade trees and pedestrian seating areas. However, due to challenges related to emergency service vehicle access, the proposal was scrapped altogether. When redesigning an existing right-of-way to accommodate more pedestrian uses, it is a good idea to make recommendations for incremental implementation so that there are less-radical options that may still provide benefits if parts of the project have to be reconsidered.
Integral Colored Concrete Pavement with Sawcut Joints: Solomon Colorflo and Davis Color
Stabilized and Non-stabilized Decomposed Granite Paving: Desert Rock Co
Gravel Mulch: Desert Rock Co
Trash Receptacle (Solar Trash Compactor): Big Belly Solar
Cigarette Urn: Santa & Cole
Bike Rack: mmcité
Tree Grate: Iron Age
Mirror Column Cover: Fry Integral
Landscape Architect: SWA Group
Clients: Quantum Engineering (Durango Street Improvements) and City of El Paso (San Jacinto Plaza and Mills Avenue Pedestrian Promenade)
Consulting Architect: Lake Flato Architects
Construction Engineer: Quantum Engineering (Durango Street Improvements)
Role of the Landscape Architect
The landscape architect was the prime consultant for the City of El Paso and led the design of the three projects’ built features. The landscape architect facilitated a public outreach and engagement process and oversaw project implementation.