Traffic Study Delays Council Committee’s Review of Bike Lanes on Broadway

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Stephanie Marquez / Rivard Report

A downtown cyclist rides north on Broadway Street.

Next week several Council members will receive an update on plans to revamp a three-mile stretch of Broadway Street, but City staff is not ready to present the alternative design that includes bike lanes on the full length of the major thoroughfare, according to officials.

“[City] staff has informed me they don’t have all the data necessary to give a full report, so they will give us a status update,” Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5), who chairs the new Transportation and Mobility Committee, said Thursday. Gonzales said she had hoped the discussion would be the first the committee tackles.

A traffic impact study on adding a protected bike lane on Broadway and removing a vehicular traffic lane from Josephine Street to Houston Street is not yet complete, a spokesman for the City’s Transportation and Capital Improvements said Friday. After that work is completed, which is expected to be in September, the five-member committee will be fully briefed. That likely will lead to a discussion by the full Council, which could direct TCI staff to change the proposed design that has separated bike lanes for the only the two miles of Broadway from Hildebrand Avenue to Josephine Street.

More than five weeks ago, Mayor Ron Nirenberg requested an alternative design amid anger in the cycling community over plans to divert bike lanes to adjacent streets when Broadway narrows and approaches downtown. Instead of adding bike lanes, City and consultant designers prioritized wide sidewalks, on-street parking, and three vehicular lanes. Nirenberg, Gonzales, and some Council members would like to see protected bike lanes – but others, including Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), have advocated for following City staff’s recommendation.

The Transportation and Mobility Committee, which Nirenberg restructured at the start of his second term, will meet for the first time on Monday, Aug. 19, at 2 p.m. Click here to download the agenda.

Voters approved the $42 million Broadway overhaul as part of the City’s bond package in 2017.

“My full support of the bond money that went towards Broadway was always [with the understanding] that we would have connected bike lanes all the way through,”  Gonzales said during a panel discussion Thursday on the economic benefits of multimodal infrastructure. The series of panels, called “Transit on Tap,” is organized by a community group called ReadySAGo.

Stephanie Marquez / Rivard Report

Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) discusses bike lanes at Ready SA Go’s Transit on Tap event at the Friendly Spot.

Broadway has become a center point in discussions about prioritizing bike facilities, and the issue gained more attention after the deaths of two prominent cyclists earlier this year. But Treviño has said plans for the street have become unnecessarily politicized, pointing to a yet-unfunded compromise to develop Alamo Street and Avenue B into safer, fully separated thoroughfares for bikes instead of trying to “squeeze in” parking and vehicular lanes, Treviño said.

Cycling advocates say property owners and developers – many of whom want parking and room for pedestrian and commercial activity on sidewalks – have taken over.

The board of Tech Bloc, which advocates for initiatives that bolster the tech industry and attract the creative class to San Antonio, has yet to take an official stance on Broadway, said CEO David Heard, a panelist on Thursday.

Generally, the group favors bike lanes, walkability, and all multimodal initiatives, he said, but after meeting with the design consultant who worked on the Broadway plan, it became clear that it’s more complicated than being pro- or anti-bike.

“We’re not sure we agree [with the proposal to divert bike lanes], but then again he makes a compelling case,” Heard said. “Our basic belief is that there’s always a way [forward.]. There’s got to be a solution. Perhaps if there were more people invited to the table, perhaps if can all we slow down and think.”

There has been a “spirited debate” among the board and membership, he said. At least one member, Winslow Swart, started an online petition calling for bike lanes on Broadway. That’s in addition to a petition started months ago by cycling advocacy group Bike San Antonio

Panelist Madison Smith, a partner at local architecture firm Overland Partners, suggested that a path forward could be found by identifying the common interests of stakeholders.

“Figure out where the highest point of agreement is,” Smith said, suggesting that point might be that people want transportation options. “Get a conversation, not a fight.”

Stephanie Marquez / Rivard Report

Ready SA Go live streams the Transit on Tap panel discussion.

Disagreeing with what an attendee said during the Q&A portion of the panel, Smith said developers are not “the enemy.”

Design strategies for so-called “complete streets” for all modes of transportation are well-established, Smith said. “What we need on this is a different conversation. Especially one that doesn’t start with drawing a line in the sand.”

Whatever ends up happening on Broadway Street doesn’t have to be permanent, said Smith, whose office is located off Broadway.

“Broadway could be a laboratory corridor,” he said, where the City could experiment with separated bike lanes and use it as an example that can be used for future street projects.

Gonzales filed a Council consideration request on Thursday that calls for a comprehensive review of TCI’s policies regarding street design and how they support or detract from its goals to prevent pedestrian and cyclist deaths in San Antonio. She wants to revise the City’s guidance manual for street design, bolster land-use policies that relate to streets, and implement training programs that focus on the Vision Zero and complete street policies.

Gonzales seeks to fully “institutionalize” complete street design in the City of San Antonio, according to the request.

“[This does not] have to be a car-centric society,” said panel moderator Linda Alvarado-Vela, a manager at the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. “There is an economic benefit from having other options and other modes available to our citizens.”

Separated bike lanes protect pedestrians and vehicles, too, said Jim Carrillo, a certified planner and vice president of Halff Associates, an engineering, architecture, and planning firm.

“When you take a street and it’s not just going to be about moving cars on it … it’s going to be slowing us down and sharing those streets with others, then you can enjoy and appreciate what’s on those streets,” Carrillo said, including the area’s culture, identity, and commerce.

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