Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Designs for the portion of Broadway Street stretching from downtown San Antonio north to Hildebrand Avenue are almost finalized, but some cycling advocates aren't pleased with the lack of bike lanes on sections of the proposed $42 million "complete street" project.
"[The design] makes one group of travelers more important than another group," said Lydia Kelly, board member of the nonprofit BikeTexas. "They're putting [cyclists] on side streets. We're an afterthought."
Broadway is a major thoroughfare with as many as seven lanes of vehicular traffic at Hildebrand Avenue that narrows as it travels south to three lanes at its terminus at East Houston Street. The car-centric commercial corridor also hosts several apartment complexes and thriving cultural amenities such as the Witte Museum and The DoSeum – but it's largely considered a dead zone for pedestrians and cyclists. Portions of its sidewalks are damaged and often too narrow, and cyclists "share the road" with vehicles without dedicated lanes.
Funding to improve Broadway as a multimodal corridor came as part of the $850 million municipal bond that San Antonio voters approved in 2017. An additional $14 million will come from state and federal sources.
The proposal for the upper segment of Broadway, broken into two phases, features separated and dedicated bike lanes. Separated, or protected, lanes have some kind of physical barrier between them and vehicular traffic, whereas dedicated lanes are usually marked with paint. The lower phase of the project from East Houston Street to Interstate 35 (just south of the Pearl) is slated for completion in 2021, but does not include such bike facilities.
The latest diagrams of the new street show reduced vehicular lanes, wider sidewalks, enhanced lighting, relocated utility lines, and space for trees and landscaping – but as cyclists travel south, they would find that bike lanes stop at Josephine Street (just north of the Pearl) and are diverted to Avenue B or North Alamo Street in order to accommodate other priorities as Broadway approaches downtown.
"It's not possible to do protected [or dedicated] bike lanes there unless we eliminate one or two other elements," said Deputy City Manager Peter Zanoni. "It's not that we don't want [install bike lanes], it's just that something has to give ... we could eliminate a whole [vehicle] travel lane or reduce sidewalks."
The City is still accepting feedback through its Transportation and Capital Improvements department. Citizens can contact Richard Grochowski, TCI's Broadway project manager, at 210-207-7640 or Richard.Grochowski@sanantonio.gov. The final design concept is slated for completion in December; it does not require a City Council vote.
TCI will host a public meeting and open house later this winter or in early spring 2019 to hear community input, a spokesperson told the Rivard Report on Tuesday afternoon.
The consensus among land owners and developers was to prioritize wide, promenade-like sidewalks, Zanoni said, to encourage street cafés and other activations.
San Antonio has a Complete Street Ordinance – aimed at supporting a more healthy population and sustainable city – but it doesn’t technically require all streets to accommodate all modes of transportation. Rather, it requires the consideration of cyclists, pedestrians, and others.
"I don't think [designers are] thinking out[side] the box enough" to accommodate cyclists, Kelly said.
Planners could employ a combination of slightly narrower sidewalks, which are proposed south of Josephine, and parking/landscaping space to accommodate a bike lane, she said.
Cyclists don't expect to have protected, separated bike paths, she added, but "everyone deserves to have a portion of that roadway.
"We want to see the bike lane continuous because Broadway is a major thoroughfare," Kelly said. "It's going to affect how other streets are designed and developed."
Sidewalks don't have to be sacrificed, said Peter French, director of development for GrayStreet Partners which owns large swaths of property on and around Broadway.
"I think every street should be designed so that it's safe enough for people to cycle on," French said. "More cyclists on more streets make it safer. .... The tradeoff should be driving lanes before anything else."
Some residents, commuters, and visitors who frequent the area are concerned that decreasing traffic lanes will increase congestion on Broadway.
If San Antonio truly wants to see less cars on the road, as is outlined in its longterm SA Tomorrow comprehensive plan, it needs to start building a city that moves less cars and more people, French said. "People will find a way to get from here to there that they believe works for them."
As is, the plan for Broadway is not ideal, French said, but it allows for multimodal opportunities, and the stakeholder-public input process has been inclusive.
GrayStreet is collaborating with Pearl developer Silver Ventures on enhancing Avenue B as it curves back toward Broadway under Interstate 35, he said. "It's an opportunity to get separate bike lanes under there."
As San Antonio grows, conversations surrounding transportation will only become more important, said Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1). That's why he advocated for a pedestrian mobility officer (PMO) in the fiscal year 2019 budget, he said, a full-time position dedicated to overseeing mobility and safety programs and developing a pedestrian master plan.
"That person needs to be in the thick of this," Treviño said, to ensure sidewalks and bike lanes aren't afterthoughts. "We've just got to start doing this and stop talking about it."
The City of San Antonio is interviewing several internal and external candidates for the newly-created PMO position this week, Zanoni said. While the title doesn't include "bike" or "cycling," the PMO will play a key role in determining how major road projects such as Broadway Street incorporate – or don't – protected space for cyclists and those riding e-scooters.
Meanwhile, the nonprofit ConnectSA formed by Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff has a Dec. 21 deadline to develop a plan for a new multimodal transportation system that would be put before voters by the end of 2019.
The Bike Master Plan, created in 2011 and updated in 2013, is severely outdated, Zanoni said, and the new PMO will likely have a hand in helping the City update that plan while "relentlessly advocating" for better bike facilities.
As for Broadway, the conversation is not over yet.
"The more people talk about it now, the better," he said.