The Tyler Loop’s pedestrian scorecard: Caldwell Zoo to Paletería Polar

The Tyler Loop makes a trip to a destination to decide: "How walkable is Tyler?"

Tyler is a growing city in population and area, boasting about 115,000 residents to date. That number swells to about 250,000 people who enter Tyler daily to work, shop, receive medical care and attend college and university classes. As more drivers are using city streets and highways, traffic inevitably increases. 

Most of Tyler is geared toward travel by car. But how do pedestrians experience the city? 

The Tyler Loop is seeking to answer that question with our Pedestrian Scorecard series, where we join walkers through Tyler neighborhoods, shopping districts and destinations. 

Mary Claire and David at the zoo

For our fourth walk in the series, we joined Mary Claire Neal and David Guarneros on a walk along Gentry Parkway, from the main entrance of Caldwell Zoo to Paletería y Nevería Polar.

Caldwell Zoo is one of Tyler’s most popular attractions for families with children. This walk replicates how families might walk to grab a frozen treat at Paleteria Polar after a hot day at the zoo. 

The walk lasted around 15 minutes, spanning a little over a half mile of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Gentry Parkway.

The first leg of Mary Claire and David’s walk led them down a quiet segment of MLK Jr. Boulevard with wide sidewalks and views of tall grasses and trees at the Zoo’s edge. 

“I think I hear an animal from the zoo,” Mary Claire said. “It sounds like a bird.” 

MLK’s accommodating sidewalks would turn into a dangerous crossing situation by the time Mary Claire and David reached the Gentry Parkway intersection. 

Precarious crossing

Mary Claire and David spent a couple of minutes planning out a way to navigate the four-lane intersection without any crosswalk signals to help guide them. They settled on jaywalking to a median on Gentry; then waited for traffic to clear up in the other direction to finally cross the road. 

“There was a very wide median, which was helpful in our situation where we had to jaywalk and cross one half of the street at the time,” Mary Claire said. 

“If someone were to U-turn, we would die,” David said. 

After making it to the other side of Gentry, Mary Claire and David were met with a stretch of sidewalk that would eventually lead them a third of a mile northward, all the way to Paleteria Polar. 

The sidewalk coverage sometimes broke to make way for business driveways and parking lots, as well as some entrances to narrow residential streets. Mary Claire and David could walk this section without facing any dangerous obstructions, but the sidewalk quality could have affected others, by Mary Claire’s estimation. 

“There’s some weeds on the sidewalk, which is fine for me,” Mary Claire said. “But if you were in a wheelchair, it’d be a little rough. This would be doable, but challenging.”

Sidewalks double as parking lot entrances and exits

Although we did not encounter many cars entering driveways while walking along Gentry, David noticed potential hazards presented by parking lot entrances next to sidewalks, like one at a Valvoline station not far from our final stop. 

“Where it’s situated produces difficulty for people walking,” David said. “There might be a car driving across the sidewalk at some point.”

Our last road crossing was at Van Highway, which, like crossing Gentry, forced pedestrians to cross four lanes of traffic without a crossing signal, but offered a median in the middle of the roadway. 

A surprise mural becomes the walk’s highlight

An abandoned gas station sits at the corner of Van and Gentry, and although the building appears to no longer be operational, its walls still feature a mural depicting a cow being taken by a cheeseburger spaceship. 

“It’s quite beautiful,” David said. “It’s quite majestic… Very surrealist in nature.”

The gas station and mural were just one parking lot away from our final destination. Though the lot serves as parking for a large retail strip mall and not just Paletería Polar, Mary Claire and David encountered no issues navigating through the cars lined up for other businesses. 

Mary Claire shared some additional thoughts about this walking experience:

“I felt safe,” she said. “But I think I’m accustomed to walking in unsafe places or unsafe infrastructure. Definitely the [Gentry] intersection was not safe. But the rest of it, when I was on a sidewalk, I felt safe. And I felt visible enough. The cow mural was a big highlight. It felt like a really inviting neighborhood. But, it was right next to this very loud highway.”

Mary Claire and David gave their walk a B-.

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Carter Mize is a lifelong Mineola resident and current student at the University of North Texas in his senior year. Carter has reported local news for the North Texas Daily, UNT's student paper and now contributes to The Tyler Loop. When he's not working on a story, Carter enjoys drumming for his local church, biking around East Texas and trying to brew the best coffee possible.