A procedural move to include bike lanes in the design for a lower Broadway Street renovation project failed Monday, but a separate zoning vote could still bring the issue before City Council for a vote next year.
Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5), chair of the City Council’s Transportation and Mobility Committee, failed to gain support from a majority of the committee in order to send the issue on to the full council and blamed City staff for what she called “a very deliberate attempt to circumvent” the committee process.
As she left the meeting, Gonzales told the Rivard Report she was “beyond furious” with the way City staff handled the committee meeting’s agenda. “I was hopeful that we would get it out of committee to have a full [Council] vetting,” she said.
For now, the $42 million three-mile project will continue to be developed as it was designed: without bike lanes on the lower mile of Broadway as it narrows and enters downtown – a plan that cycling advocates, Gonzales, and Mayor Ron Nirenberg have decried for months. Designers have said the street is not wide enough to safely accommodate all modes of transportation.
Gonzales and Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) supported taking the bike lane issue to a full City Council hearing, but Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) and Melissa Cabello Havrda (D6) were not. Councilman Clayton Perry (D10), the fifth member of the committee, was absent for the final discussion.
“I believe that we should have more mobility [and] more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly avenues,” Havrda said. “But I don’t want to make that statement [at the cost of] safety.”
The zoning process – another possible way for Council to vote on the Broadway street design – is slated to culminate in February or March next year, City officials said.
Consultants, City engineers, and other “subject matter experts” started work on the redevelopment of Broadway more than four years ago, Treviño said.
Changing the design now would “send a terrible message” that San Antonio builds infrastructure projects that counter expert safety recommendations, Treviño added. There is not an official groundbreaking date scheduled for the Broadway project.
Gene Dawson, president of Pape Dawson Engineers, gave an in-depth presentation on the traffic study the City hired his firm to do for the lower Broadway area.
The study outlined four options – including the current design – and how they impact traffic flow and safety for cars, mass transit, bikes, and pedestrians. The current option scored the highest because it considers the protected bike lane that will be built on Avenue B to bypass the narrowest sections of Broadway. Click here to download the presentation and here to watch the meeting, which includes video models (starting roughly at minute 13).
Because the surrounding highways downtown are at capacity, Broadway is used as a main north-south thoroughfare, Dawson said. Increased commercial and residential development in the area will only increase trips taken in the area.
“This is not hypothetical – this growth is coming,” he said. Models show that growth will add an additional 128,000 trips on Broadway on top of 18,000 trips taken today.
Bike lane advocates have said that removing a parking lane and narrowing the sidewalks on Broadway to include bike lanes would be a suitable compromise, but Dawson said such a move would be less than optimal because bus passengers would have to load and unload across the bike lanes and the physical barrier between them and vehicular traffic would be minimal, Dawson said.
“All of the options serve one of the modes [of transit] better over the other,” he said, but the current design – combined with bike lanes on Avenue B – serves the most people in the safest way.
Gonzales pointed to the bond language that called for bike facilities along Broadway.
“I believe it is our role to always question staff,” Gonzales said during the meeting. “[And to] ensure that what the voters approve actually gets done.”
Edward Guzman, a City attorney, pointed to language in the project scope that says such improvements will be implemented “as appropriate and within available funds.”
At the end of the meeting, Gonzales and Sandoval chided City staff for qualifying the discussion on the committee’s agenda as a “briefing” rather than an “action” item – one that requires a vote.
“Everybody knew that the Councilwoman [Gonzales] wanted this for action,” Sandoval said. “That is a purposeful oversight.”
Guzman clarified that a majority of the committee can force City staff to put the issue on a future full City Council meeting agenda. The subsequent informal poll of committee members indicated to staff that there was not majority support.
“I feel that this was a clear sabotage for this meeting. … It was a very deliberate attempt to circumvent the process, and I am beyond furious,” Gonzales told the Rivard Report.
Perry, who attended Dawson’s presentation but had to leave the meeting early, said he would not have supported a wider Council discussion. “This thing has been kicked around so much – we just need to get it done,” Perry said.
Gonzales also questioned the quality and quantity of public engagement that was carried out when formulating the design. Specifically, she was suspicious of Centro San Antonio’s involvement in preliminary meetings. The nonprofit, quasi-governmental resident and business membership organization advocates for the advancement of downtown and took on the role of facilitator during the early stages of the project.
Gonzales said that Centro’s close ties to the business community and its involvement in the project biased the design.
“I think that there was a conflict that merits a full Council discussion,” Gonzales said told the committee.
Trish DeBerry, a public relations executive who chairs the Centro board, said she was “insulted” by Gonzales’ insinuation.
“There was a very robust process regarding outreach,” DeBerry said, noting the dozens of meetings facilitated by Centro, the City’s Transportation and Capital Improvements department, and the transportation bond committee. “I think it’s really disappointing that we’re prioritizing politics over safety. … It’s very clear what the engineering experts are saying. It’s like trying to fit a size 10 foot in a size 8 boot.”
Centro hired consultant firm MIG, which designed initial sketches that were then used as part of the bond project vetting process. A self-appointed design review board was then formed out of stakeholders to review the specific details of the plan.
“Everyone was acting with high integrity and clear intent to do good by the bond language and to … serve a high-quality pedestrian experience,” said Matt Brown, Centro’s president and CEO. The current design “makes most people mostly satisfied … a compromise was found.”
For Havrda, hearing from multiple cyclists who testified at the meeting Monday helped her decide whether to continue the conversation.
“I don’t know that my mind was necessarily changed,” she said, but they stated they want the safest streets for them and their families.
“I believe that the safer option is to [have bike lanes] on Avenue B,” she said, noting that she hadn’t heard anyone argue that cyclists would be safer on Broadway.
But the corridor is not a zero-sum game when it comes to which streets should have bike lanes, Gonzales told the Rivard Report last week.
“We can have both,” she said.