If the City of San Antonio wants to implement a $42 million improvement project for Broadway Street, it will first need to update a nearly 10-year-old zoning plan for the area surrounding lower Broadway, city officials have determined.

Previously, City officials have said that no further action or vote is required by City Council in order for the voter-approved Broadway project to start. The need for a zoning change to execute the project opens the possibility of a full Council discussion and vote on whether bike lanes should be installed on the lower mile of the 3-mile project, a discussion bike-lane advocates on Council and in the community have long sought.

“[The need for a zoning change] gets at what we’ve been trying to say all along … this discussion of having connected bike lanes on Broadway is not new,” Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) said Friday. 

City engineers and consultants say there’s not enough room to safely add protected bike lanes on the lower, mile-long section of Broadway, where the City expects commercial growth. The current plan prioritizes wider sidewalks and a vehicle parking and service lane. Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Gonzales, and cycling advocates say the car-centric design ignores the broader vision for a multimodal city and that voters approved the “complete street” project with the understanding that bike lanes would be included.

Amid the wrangling over whether bike lanes should be included on lower Broadway, officials in the Planning Department discovered provisions of the 2010 River North Zoning plan, which includes a transportation design plan that calls for accommodations for “bus routes, pedestrian, bicyclists, as well as passenger cars.” 

A cross-section diagram in the transportation design plan shows a 5-foot bike lane suggested for lower Broadway from 3rd Street to Jones Avenue with one vehicle lane going each way, a center turning lane, and a parking lane.

Zoning does not typically impact street design, but it applies to Broadway and Avenue B because of the River North Zoning plan’s transportation plan. In order for the current Broadway street plan to go forward, the River North Zoning plan needs to be amended to reflect the planned redevelopment for those streets.

“The update will ensure that the zoning is consistent with the master plans subsequently approved by the City Council and will provide a more accurate picture of Broadway today,” Assistant City Manager Rod Sanchez told the Rivard Report via email.

Neither the 2011 Bike Master Plan nor the 2012 Downtown Transporation Study recommended bike lanes on Lower Broadway, Sanchez said.

There are also discrepancies in the River North Zoning Plan. The street diagram shows an 80-foot right-of-way, but lower Broadway actually narrows to 78 and 72 feet. The diagram for Avenue B shows two-way vehicular lanes, parking lanes, and sidewalk. Avenue B is currently a one-way street with a curb-protected bike lane.

The zoning change will be considered first by the Zoning Commission, which will make a recommendation ahead of a City Council vote. No meeting has been scheduled yet because the zoning change request has not yet been submitted by City staff.

The need for a zoning change was discovered by Planning Department staff while doing its due diligence for separate bike lane projects on Avenue B and North Alamo Street,  Sanchez said. The Midtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) board approved a $6 million for the projects in September.

“The action would simply clean up the outdated zoning that is currently in the code,” Sanchez said.

City Council would need to vote on whether to update the River North plan to adjust it for lower Broadway to be built without bike lanes and to allow for bike lanes to be built on Avenue B.

Construction crews work to reconstruct a street with a protected bike and pedestrian path along Avenue B near the Pearl.
Current street plans reroute bicycle traffic to Avenue B, which runs parallel to Broadway.

Nirenberg said the need for the zoning change shows that the City didn’t do its due diligence on the Broadway project, the biggest line item in the $850 million 2017 bond program.

“This is an extremely rare if not unprecedented situation,” Nirenberg said. “It’s curious and concerning that a project of this magnitude – of this scale – didn’t cross its T’s and dot its I’s to ensure that it matched the zoning that’s in place.”

But the fact that staff found the need for a zoning adjustment should not be cause for alarm, Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) said. “Credit goes to the staff. They saw it and they’re correcting it. … This is a complex city. That’s why we have people … and processes to address problems.”

While Nirenberg sees the zoning change as a vindication for the fight to include bike lanes on Broadway, Treviño says it’s the natural function of the Planning Department to adjust zoning as the City grows.

Treviño is opposed to changing the “professionally developed” plan for lower Broadway to include bike lanes.

The unexpected need for a zoning change is an indication that the Avenue B plan has not received a thorough vetting, Gonzales said. That project was largely seen as the City’s way of compromising with cycling advocates who wanted lanes on Broadway.

“It’s a desperate way to try to rectify that they took bike lanes out of Broadway when they should have been there in the beginning,” Gonzales said.

She supports the TIRZ-funded bike lanes, but does not think those are a substitute for bike lanes on Broadway.

“We can have both,” she said.

On Monday, another path that the Broadway bike lane discussion could take to Council may unfold when the Transportation and Mobility Committee hears an in-depth presentation from a traffic study consultant. Gonzales had requested such information be presented at a previous meeting, but it wasn’t included.

Whatever path the lower Broadway bike lane conversation takes to get to a Council discussion, Gonzales said, is fine by her. The committee could forward the conversation to a full council discussion, which could eventually lead to a vote on bike lanes on lower Broadway.

The committee comprises Gonzales, Treviño, Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7), Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda (D6), and Councilman Clayton Perry (D10).

“I hope it’s a good discussion on Monday and that will only provide more context for what we’re facing this issue,” said Nirenberg, who called for the traffic study and for City staff to develop other street design options.

“I do believe a Council discussion would help provide clarity … and closure,” Nirenberg said.

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@sareport.org