On weekend nights, thousands and thousands of people descend upon Fort Worth’s hot West 7th Street area.
As the clock ticks closer and closer to closing time, the area transforms into chaos.
“On a busy night on a weekend, we may have 3,000 to 5,000 people in a 12-block radius,” says Lt. Fred Long with Fort Worth Police. And police tell WFAA nearly all of those bar-goers end up in the streets all at once come 2 a.m.
Sometimes the crowds are so thick, emergency vehicles have trouble getting through.
It’s disorder we’ve been documenting first-hand.
On recent weekends, our news crew watched within minutes of the bars closing, the streets became nearly impassable. People and cars filled the roads at the very same time.
Police did their best to keep people safe as all this occurred, then came the gridlock. Cars got so backed up, it became a sea of brake lights.
Ubers and Lyfts stopped in the middle of the streets to pick up their rides. And then there were the tow trucks. Party-goers, who parked their cars in private garages thinking it was fair game, often were finding their rides had been hauled away.
“It’s unlike anything you'll find in any other part of Fort Worth. That's not a bragging point,” Assistant City Manager Fernando Costa said of the conditions on weekend late nights.
WFAA cameras have been out here before, and Costa said our coverage was eye-opening.
“It was alarming to see the chaotic conditions that exist in this district at that time of night,” he says.
Costa says the city is proud of its burgeoning nightlife district, which has become a destination for many in North Texas and beyond. He said the city is now acknowledging it needs some adjusting.
“It became such a big problem, we couldn't avoid it anymore,” Costa said.
The first solution started two weeks ago. For $10 a night, Thursday through Saturday, bar-goers can now park at nearby Farrington Field without risk of getting towed. Off-duty police officers have been hired to help people cross busy Lancaster Avenue to get to and from their cars to the bars. The effort will go through January.
“This area is not going to slow down,” says Emil Bragdon, owner of multiple bars near West 7th.
The new parking effort is the brainchild of an association made up of West 7th Street area bar and restaurants owners, including Bragdon, who acknowledges that closing time needs an overhaul.
“What we're about to do, I think, is a huge step in the right direction,” he says.
After a few months, the city will evaluate whether this particular effort is alleviating parking and traffic woes and will take it into consideration as they look at long-term solutions. And they are already looking at other solutions, too, including turning some of these streets into one-way on weekends nights to relieve congestion.
We asked Costa if Fort Worth would consider doing something similar to what they do on Austin’s Sixth Street, where they close down the streets.
“That's a possibility,” he said.
Police actually already close down part of one street in the West 7th area on the weekends when things get busy. Doing that all over the area comes with challenges. Costa said they’d need the backing of residents and business owners alike, and it all costs money.
One police source with direct knowledge of the situation believes things won’t change here unless traffic patterns do.
Costa said depending on the results of ongoing studies, we could start to see major changes to the area as soon as early next year.
“A lot of good things are happening here,” Costa said. “But we want be sure we can address the problems that are coming with all this progress as well.”
He adds the worst option for this vibrant bar scene would be doing nothing at all.