Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Our community recently engaged in an impassioned discussion about whether bike lanes should be added to the redesign of Broadway Street, south of Hildebrand Avenue. The debate focused on safety, equity and diversifying our transportation network. One side advocated for bike lanes to be placed on Broadway, while the other argued that Avenue B was a safer and parallel alternative to Broadway, reserving Broadway for other key mobility infrastructure.
Both sides however, supported the implementation of a safe, dedicated bike path. A key topic that appeared to be absent from this discussion was how the bike lanes in either case would offer any sort of complete protected commute for cyclists traveling to and from places north of Hildebrand, or anywhere else for that matter. Those who advocated for bikes on Broadway argued that Broadway should be a complete street, which for them implied that it needed bike lanes.
As someone familiar with local transportation, I believe that a protected, physically buffered two-way cycle track is absolutely necessary to provide quality and safety for cyclists. This cannot, however, be a last-minute add-on. It requires public discussion and an understanding of commute pathways that can collectively result in a 100-mile network of continuous protected veloway – or a “micromobility highway” – that neighborhoods can safely and effectively tie into across the city.
In 2015, our community was called to the table and spent two years in conversation with the City of San Antonio and VIA Metropolitan Transit discussing what we wanted to see in terms of public investment in the transit system, and how the city should grow as one million additional residents are welcomed to San Antonio by 2040. As part of the VIA Reimagined plan, residents wanted to see improvements to the existing bus system and innovations in technology in addition to investment in a fully dedicated Advanced Rapid Transit (ART) system.
If there is an argument to be made about making Broadway a complete street, the discussion would do best to include considerations for dedicated bus lanes since it is one of today’s busiest transit streets in San Antonio. This does not only imply that bus lanes may be warranted for Broadway but supports the idea of prioritizing a quality pedestrian environment.
Today, there are more than 5,500 people riding buses every day on routes that traverse Broadway. Riders are carried by 14 buses every hour in each direction, making it one of the most heavily traveled transit corridors in the city. It’s likely that there are times of day when more people are on those few buses than people in all the many cars on Broadway. Those riding the buses are coming into downtown from parts of the city located north or northeast of Hildebrand and Alamo Heights. For this and other reasons, Broadway, along with Austin Highway, Perrin Beitel and Nacogdoches comprise the Northeast Corridor slated to be a full ART route connecting several communities with downtown.
According to the plan, other ART corridors would include San Pedro Avenue, Fredericksburg Road, West Commerce Street, East Houston Street and Roosevelt Avenue, forming an 80-mile “transit highway” network of dedicated lanes, allowing the most people possible to take the safest, fastest and most reliable transit route to where they need to go, even while bringing their bike along for the ride.
Passengers getting off the bus are going to different places, sometimes needing to walk several blocks, so safe sidewalks are a critical component to a safe and reliable transit network. Avenue B is 300 feet from Broadway, less than a 1-minute ride away, and has low traffic volumes, making it well-suited for a protected cycle track. This is a fair and reasonable alternative.
The concept of complete streets often is discussed in street planning, and it is crucial to building a navigable city. To be a complete street, the design must aim to accommodate various users in addition to drivers, including children, people with disabilities, and older adults. Complete streets are meant to improve equity, safety, and public health, and they can do this by providing a high-quality traveling environment for users of many travel modes, often in the same space. However, to be complete, a street does not need to specifically include protected bike lanes or dedicated bus lanes any more than it needs to guarantee every driver make it through the first or even second green light.
To maximize the quality and safety for all users of the roadway, sometimes individual travel modes are most appropriately accommodated on parallel streets heading in the same direction. In order to understand the best fit for one travel mode over another, we need to understand a particular mode’s complete network and who it is trying to serve. By considering complete streets alone without the context of complete networks, we tend to get tunnel vision when considering a specific roadway and sometimes lose sight of the larger transportation network, as was the case with the recent discussions about Broadway.
This appears to be the case for both those advocating for bike lanes on Broadway and those advocating for parking on Broadway. When looking at on-street parking, once you’ve accounted for bus stops, right turns and driveways, it’s a lot less impactful then it may appear when illustrated as a convincing street cross-section. On-street parking would take up lots of space just to create the illusion of direct access that can only be enjoyed by some who get lucky enough to find a spot.
A key element that has been missing from this debate is a comprehensive bike master plan fit for the 2020s and beyond. While our city has gone through that planning process once before, almost 10 years have passed since that time, and the local bike and micromobility game has progressed quite a bit since our last community bike discussion. Like VIA’s vision for a comprehensive network of ART lanes fed by a better bus system and flexible enough to accommodate new technologies that can improve the transit experience, we need a vision for a network of protected cycle track that prioritizes the quality and safety of cyclists regardless of today’s quantity of cyclists.
We need a complete network for key bike lane connections into that system to allow people on bikes from all over the city to access the primary veloway to get where they need to go. A new vision for cyclists should include ways to allow people to service their bikes conveniently when necessary or share bikes when their use is less frequent. The bike network should be flexible enough to accommodate new innovations like e-scooters and e-bikes as well. That is the discussion we should be clamoring for if we want real change for cyclists. If you want to demand action on the future of cycling safety across San Antonio, let’s stop thinking about bike lanes one road project at a time. Demand a complete bike network and work with our leaders to deliver it.