DISTINCTIVE BY DESIGN Westlake, Texas, embraces new streetscape, FM 1938 enhancement

The Town of Westlake is known for its scenic beauty of rolling hills dotted with majestic Post Oaks and quiet ponds. The town’s rural character and stewardship of its valuable natural features is recognized. About a half-hour from Denton, Dallas or Fort Worth, Westlake has been a designated Tree City USA community for 14 years, and is one of four Gold Class Certified Scenic Cities in Texas. Forbes.com named it the most affluent city in the country.

Well-known celebrities and high-profile businesspeople are attracted to this town of about 1,500 residents.

Major developments in Westlake include Deloitte University, Solana (originally developed by IBM), Sabre, Fidelity Investments North Texas Campus, a Charles Schwab corporate campus, and the exemplary-rated Westlake Academy.

The town had exploded in growth by 379%. With its growth came traffic, and the Farm to Market Road needed to expand. Dedication to protecting the town’s rural character while adopting to change and growth led to the creation of the F.M. 1938 Master Plan. Schrickel Rollins — now part of Parkhill — and Townscape, Inc., designed the $3M Westlake-F.M. 1938 Enhancement Concepts project, including the Corridor Master Plan.

Rendering by Jim Richards of Townscape, Inc.
The intricate plan took shape after listening to town governmental officials, residents, corporate campus development representatives and homeowner association representatives.

The preliminary concept determined the color, texture and enhancements of the TxDOT four-lane divided boulevard design. These graphics helped the designers develop points of interest, or “pulse points,” by gradually building up the level of visual interest as pedestrians or vehicles neared an intersection. For example, enhanced paving in the sidewalks and crosswalks, the use of plant materials, and other site elements indicating an approaching intersection help pedestrians and motorists experience this rhythm of interest. The repetition gives users a sense of design and cohesiveness that is subtle yet perceivable and improves safety.

“We worked closely with Jim Richards of Townscape, Inc., during the conceptual stage. His sketches helped everyone to visualize the project.”

— Project Manager/Landscape Architect Clint Wofford

The phrase “Distinctive by Design” is now part of the Town of Westlake’s new identity. The team’s design of the “W” became part of the town’s new logo.

The primary purpose of the master plan was to reinforce the rural character by creating a strong visual identity for the area through implementing intensive landscaping, signature gateways and pedestrian-friendly amenities within the setting of the F.M. 1938 expansion and its four-lane divided street section.

Graham Associates, Inc., as the town’s consulting civil engineer, brought in Parkhill and Townscape to develop a thoughtful design that blended the character and identity of the town into an enhanced corridor to reflect the quality of development that the Town of Westlake seeks to maintain. Widening the street from a two-lane hog-back road to a four-lane divided boulevard would be a major impact to the aesthetics of the area as well as the volume of traffic. The design blended the revised corridor into the existing pastoral landscape and added visual interest and amenities such as gateway signage, as well as trails and pedestrian nodes to serve a multimodal need.

Another goal was to create a pedestrian realm that was safe and inviting along F.M. 1938 via a conceptual plan that addressed public art, pedestrian amenities, hardscape, accessibility, landscape, gateway monuments and wayfinding. This would create a unique identify for the corridor by drawing inspiration from the community’s natural features, colors, textures, architecture and plant materials.

The designers visualized a pedestrian underpass that allows trail users to cross the roadway without conflict with vehicles. All this was then completed while blending TxDOT standards with the aesthetic needs of Westlake.

A series of subtle rhythms of landscape intensity aid pedestrians and motorists as they travel through the corridor. The intersections have the most intensity with the enhanced concrete at the crosswalks and landscape in a form pattern within the median. The medians take on a more pastoral landscape of trees and native grasses the farther away one travels from the intersection. Likewise, pedestrians encounter enhanced bands of concrete to signal potential conflicts with motorists, cyclists and other pedestrians. The elements work together to help calm traffic while also enhancing the corridor with a distinct character.

The designers drew inspiration from the community’s natural features, colors, texture, architecture and plant materials. For example, the palette for the design echoed the area’s abundant Millsap Sandstone, native fossilized limestone, large river cobbles, hand-wrought iron, native Texas trees, shrubs and grasses, timeless classic designs and pleasing colors.

Simple geometric forms with high contrast were used in the intersections so as not to distract vehicular traffic. The wedge slanted pillar form and sandstone base recall nearby Highway 114 bridge towers, and the hand-forged metal “W” evokes the western/Spanish heritage of the area. Representing Westlake’s ranching heritage, it can be identified at speeds up to 40 mph.

A family of smaller gateway monuments, trail markers and bollards enhances secondary entrances, drives, parks and greenway trails.

Designers took care to retain existing trees where possible. Street trees produce “visual friction” to signal drivers that they have entered a pedestrian realm, helping them become more aware and slow their speeds. The tree in the foreground is an American elm. The trees in the background are a mix of native oaks and elms.

The path lighting is a series of custom bollards located at the sidewalks, illuminating pedestrians’ paths at the intersection crosswalks. The quality of light dramatically affects the character of the streetscape within the corridor and the perceived sense of whether the area is safe or not. The lighting designs are dark skies compliant, avoiding glare and giving pedestrians the ability to see their immediate vicinity and surroundings. The intersection’s custom pedestrian lights help to illuminate any passersby waiting there while also defining vehicular pathways.

Ashlar stone shelters with ample-size benches provide shade and a place to sit with drinking fountains at three of the shade structures. The signage and wayfinding monuments announce to visitors that they have entered the Town of Westlake. Their repeated use works in tandem with the streetscape design to visually help solidify the architectural design vocabulary throughout the corridor.

Site furnishings contribute to the pedestrian-friendly environment. They include benches, shade structures, trash receptacles, bike racks signs, traffic signals, tree grates and bollards. Gateways and landmarks serve as visual announcements to let people know they are entering a unique area.

Two “firsts” helped make this project unique:

It was the firm’s first project in the Town of Westlake and the first shade shelters along an urban roadway streetscape. The plan set a precedent for the town that was copied and extended by developers who followed the project.

“I think the innovation was building a linear park alongside a major street to provide a place for safe walkways within the fast-growing town, which was the vision of the citizens of the Town of Westlake.”

— Principal-in-Charge Victor Baxter

The project benefited Westlake both tangibly and aesthetically. This four-lane divided boulevard replaced a two-lane rural asphalt road due to the volume of traffic. The Town of Westlake took the opportunity to create a corridor that blended with the surrounding neighborhoods and corporate campuses to become an amenity for the Town.

“People can use the trails for recreation, exercise, or for transportation to and from work. The trail system serves the employees at those campuses as well as the people who live in the neighborhoods.”

— Victor Baxter

“The value was to bring an aesthetic enhancement to one of the nation’s most affluent areas.”

— Clint Wofford, RLA, now Studio Leader of Landscape Architecture in Parkhill’s Landscape Architecture and Planning Sector. He was Project Manager/Landscape Architect of the Westlake master plan.

The team’s efforts resulted in an innovative, safe and appealing 2.1-mile TxDOT-funded roadway and trail/pedestrian enhancement project through the town, reinforcing its rural character by creating a strong identity using intensive landscaping, signature gateways and pedestrian-friendly amenities along the streetscape.