For the next three years, people using a major commercial thoroughfare connecting downtown to San Antonio’s North Side can expect construction and detours as part of a $43 million street redevelopment project.
The goal is to make Broadway Street serve more than just motor vehicles by improving intersections, landscaping, curbs, and sidewalks while adding separated bike lanes to certain segments. The southernmost mile of the street won’t have bike lanes, a decision that drew controversy at the time it was made.
The first phase of road construction was originally slated for completion this year, but the city worked with local utilities to align the project with planned maintenance along Broadway. That will stretch the timeline for completion into 2023.
“We try to do that on all our projects, just to make sure we don’t have somebody cutting a big trench in our nice new street two years after we’ve built it,” said David McBeth, assistant city engineer, of the current work being done on the street by CPS Energy and SAWS.
The entire 2.2-mile, 2017 bond project is estimated to be completed by the end of 2024.
Construction started on the southern mile, from East Houston Street to Interstate 35 just south of the Pearl, last year, with several blocks of Broadway being closed at a time. Unlike most other activities, the work wasn’t slowed by the coronavirus pandemic, officials said.
“We were able to work through pretty much everything,” said James Wucinski, the city’s project manager for the Broadway Street Corridor Bond Project. However, the city is starting to see some delayed effects of the pandemic to supply chains.
“Some materials look like they might start having longer lead times,” Wucinski said. “And then the availability of certain things … might not be there.”
Partnering with utilities and stretching the timeline will not increase the price tag for the original project because contract prices are “locked in,” he said.
For some businesses along Broadway, the road closures have led to frustrated customers and a decrease in walk-in traffic.
“One time I even thought [the city] should compensate businesses for these kinds of things, but I guess it’s out of their control,” said Cris Hampton, who works at Herweck’s art supply store at 300 Broadway.
The store, which first opened in 1948, has placed makeshift signs outside to direct customers to use the North Alamo Street or 4th Street entrance to its parking lot.
“We receive phone calls and we have to guide people on how to [get here],” Hampton said. “People are pretty frustrated. It was very easy to get to their favorite art supply store. Now with construction, it’s very difficult.”
The city sends regular construction updates to area businesses and routinely updates a website dedicated to the corridor project.
Hampton was unaware that the ultimate goal was to provide a more walkable, greener street experience. “But if that’s coming to us, that’s gonna be great,” he said, noting the planned shade trees would be welcomed by pedestrians and customers.
Meanwhile, KLRN-TV’s office and studio at 501 Broadway have been able to function normally during the construction.
“The city made sure we had access to both our parking lots during the entire construction process,” said Shari St Clair, director of news and production for the local PBS affiliate. “It’s not been a problem for us.”
Bike lanes coming to Avenue B and Alamo Street
While the lower stretch of Broadway continues to be closed to traffic, construction of protected bike lanes on Avenue B and Alamo Street is scheduled to start this month. Mayor Ron Nirenberg, some council members, and cycling advocates lobbied heavily for such bike facilities to be added on the southernmost section of Broadway but were unsuccessful.
Separated, or protected, lanes have some kind of physical barrier between them and vehicular traffic, while dedicated lanes are usually just marked with paint.
A traffic study and alternative design analysis, which Nirenberg requested, found that it would be safer — and better serve more street users — to provide bike lanes on adjacent streets where the traffic is slower.
City Council unanimously agreed in 2019 to use $6 million in special area tax revenues to fund protected bike lanes on Avenue B and North Alamo Street. That work will likely be completed within a year, Wucinski said.
Bryan Martin, executive director of the local advocacy group Bike San Antonio, was part of the push to include bike lanes on Broadway and supported the plan to put bike lanes on Avenue B and North Alamo Street.
“I think if you build it, they’ll use it — especially novice cyclists,” Martin said, but he’d like to see clear directions for those cyclists when the bike lane diverges off of or on to Broadway.
“There are so many tourists here on scooters. … They’re not gonna figure that out, we need to help them and make it more obvious.”
Other cyclists, such as local commuters, will continue to use lower Broadway even if there aren’t designated or protected lanes, he noted.
The next phase of construction, from Interstate 35 north to East Mulberry Avenue, is expected to start in 2022. This mile of Broadway will feature both separated and dedicated bike lanes.
The third part of the project, from Mulberry Avenue north to Hildebrand Avenue, is still unfunded. It may be included in the coming 2022 bond.
Martin is optimistic that once the protected bike lanes on the north section of a revamped Broadway are seen and utilized, the public will demand more in future street projects.
“They’ll want it for miles,” he said.