Scott Ball / Rivard Report
As designers near completion of the street layout for the multimillion redevelopment of Broadway, the City of San Antonio is taking one more look at what other amenities would need to be sacrificed to accommodate protected bike lanes.
The City will meet with two stakeholder groups, made up of area property owners and developers, over the next two weeks to show them alternatives that designers worked on last week, Deputy City Manager Peter Zanoni told the Rivard Report on Friday. The City is considering hosting more public input sessions, too, since bike advocacy groups lobbied for the change and since the arrival of electronic scooters.
Whether the City hosts broader community input sessions, Zanoni said, will be largely based on feedback from stakeholder groups: developers, businesses, institutions such as the Witte Museum, and others along the commercial – and increasingly residential – corridor.
“We want to take one more look with the community on the design of Broadway,” Zanoni said. “It’s getting to the point where it’s almost too late. We have to land on a design.”
The City has been formulating a plan with stakeholders for the project – to transform a car-centric street into a vibrant, multimodal boulevard – for more than a year. The preliminary plan is to reduce vehicle travel lanes and prioritize wide sidewalks and other features.
But with limited rights-of-way in some sections, something has to give; bike advocates say it shouldn’t be protected bike lanes, while many (not all) of the property and business owners along Broadway support wide sidewalks and parking to encourage more business and space for on-sidewalk amenities.
The design team is working on various scenarios in which a turn lane, sidewalk width, parking, or even travel lanes could be given up for a protected bike lane, Zanoni said.
The north/south bike facilities for the corridor, according to the preliminary proposal completed last year, switch from designated bike lanes to protected or separated (with a barrier), back to designated (painted), to no bike lanes on Broadway before the route is diverted onto both Avenue B and North Alamo Street. Bike advocates and some urban design enthusiasts have taken issue with that kind of patchwork infrastructure – if the City wants to support the existing bike traffic and encourage fewer cars on the road, then consistency and safety are key elements.
The electronic scooter’s foray into the streetscape has raised questions about how pedestrians, bikes, e-scooters, and cyclists can “share the road” without designated space for people moving slower than cars but faster than pedestrians.
Because of the proliferation of e-scooters, Zanoni said, the City is considering the need to start “working with a much greater stakeholder group [on the design]. … The conversation about pedestrian and multimodal safety is at an all-time high.”
But the City has goals for Broadway that go beyond bike and scooter lanes, said Bill Shown, managing director of real estate for Silver Ventures, which developed the Pearl. Shade, seating, car-hailing drop-off points, bus stops, and landscaping all contribute to the experience and vitality of a street – which would be lost if a protected or designated bike lane took all that space.
“In an effort to try to accommodate bikes in those narrow parts of Broadway, we’ll wind up with a street that pleases no one,” he said. “This is not pro-bike or anti-bike, this is pro-good design.
“There’s just not enough right-of-way to accommodate [cyclists] and everything else in the narrow streets,” he said. “It’s not disrespectful [to bikes] …. there’s so many more pedestrians, drivers, and other users [of the street]. How is it that [bikes] trump all of them?”
The first part of the project, funded with $27 million from the $42 million allocated to the Broadway project from the City’s 2017 bond program, stretches from East Houston Street to Interstate 35 (just south of the Pearl). That lower section is slated for completion in 2021. The entire three-mile project will cost an estimated $97 million. State and federal sources will contribute $14 million to the upper section of phase 1 that will use about $15 million of the bond allocation. Construction for the second phase, from Mulberry to Burr Road, is not yet funded, though the design work has started.
Bike San Antonio, a local cycling advocacy group, started a petition for protected bike lanes on all of Broadway in September as project designers worked on finalizing plans. The group was included in stakeholder meetings, but the resulting design was not what it was expecting. As of Friday afternoon, 683 petitions have been collected online and about 200 have been collected from the area, said Janel Sterbentz, founder and director of Bike San Antonio.
“Broadway is a major bike route for cyclists because it is a direct route from the north into downtown,” she said. “Cyclists don’t use Avenue B because that would just take them out of their way.”
San Antonio is installing more “complete streets,” but not fast enough to meet the goal of tripling the total miles to 6,465 miles in 2020. San Antonio had 2,155 miles in 2010, according to the nonprofit SA2020, which tracks the city’s progress in key metrics, and has added just 240 miles seven years later for a total of 2,395 in 2017. It has about three years to add more than 4,000 miles.
A preliminary outline of the City and Bexar County’s joint comprehensive, multimodal transportation plan also calls for more bike infrastructure: 40 miles of “micromobility” lanes for bikes and e-scooters by 2025.
Residents have said they want complete streets, Sterbentz said, adding that San Antonio even has a complete street ordinance, and as the “backbone” of downtown traffic Broadway can exemplify that priority. (The ordinance does not require such facilities, rather it requires consideration of pedestrians, cyclists, and motor vehicles.)
“It could be a symbol of what San Antonio stands for,” she said.
But Avenue B and North Alamo Street are less-traveled thoroughfares, Shown said. “It’s safer and more comfortable” for cyclists of a wider range of age and ability. SilverVentures is collaborating with GrayStreet Partners, which also owns several properties around Broadway, on enhancing Avenue B.
Sterbentz questions the process surrounding how the City collected input and feedback on the street design. Bike San Antonio and other advocacy groups have been included in design discussions, but she said she does not think there has been adequate community engagement.
There have been several stakeholder meetings and at least one public Bicycle Mobility Advisory Committee meeting to discuss the design, but not a broader, City-hosted meeting for the community.
Depending on stakeholder input over the next two weeks, Zanoni said, the City is “contemplating a three-step approach to engage the community” that could include a community survey, a tele-town hall, and a Facebook Live video.
City Council recently approved new public participation guidelines aimed at improving the City’s outreach strategies, but the City has held public meetings to collect input on higher-profile bond projects before the new guidelines were adopted.
Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), whose district includes downtown and the Broadway Corridor, said the City needs to take a balanced approach when designing for multiple uses.
“I can’t speak to the nuance of [the design] just yet, but I think that we have to be ready to find a design solution that’s balanced,” Treviño said. “[The road’s] width changes … so the ability to do certain things changes. It can’t be everything to everyone.”
E-scooters are allowed to ride on sidewalks under the City’s pilot regulations that are up for review later this month due to safety concerns, but it’s unclear if they can or should share the roads in the same way bikes try to, Treviño said.
Lumping scooters and bikes into the same traffic category could be “layered with unintended consequences,” he said, adding that the issue will require a thoughtful approach.
Treviño said the soon-to-be-hired pedestrian mobility officer will drastically improve mobility advocacy and public participation when designing street projects big and small in the future. Funding for the position was approved with the city’s 2019 budget.
The City has interviewed some applicants for the job, Zanoni said, but they did not have the expertise the City desired so it has hired a recruiter to seek out possible applicants.
“There’s different interests” vying for that public space, said Warren Wilkinson, executive director of Centro San Antonio. “The best thing anybody can do is continue to sit at the table. … But nobody gets 100 percent of what they want.”
When it comes to needs or wants of pedestrians – locals and visitors, Wilkinson added, “there’s no unified voice” or association advocating for them.
Centro hired California-based design firm MIG to work on conceptual designs for the Broadway’s potential that were used to “sell the bond package,” Wilkinson said. “We’re making sure that … the final products live up to the basic concepts.”
The downtown advocacy nonprofit is not picking a “side” in the bike lane discussion, said Eddie Romero, Centro’s vice president of marketing and community engagement, but its mission is to find “what is going to benefit the broader community and hold true to the vision of Broadway as transformational and as a destination.”