San Antonio City Council unanimously agreed Thursday to use $6 million special area tax revenues to fund protected bike lanes on Avenue B and North Alamo Street — streets adjacent to Broadway Street — for one mile as it travels north from downtown.

The project was developed as a compromise for not having bike lanes on that portion of Broadway, three miles of which is slated to undergo a massive redevelopment during the next few years as part of the voter-approved 2017 bond.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg, and Councilwomen Shirley Gonzales (D5) and Ana Sandoval (D7) have advocated for months in favor of bike lanes on lower Broadway, but they’ve also supported them on Avenue B and North Alamo Street.

This map shows in green where separated bike lanes are proposed to be continued on Avenue B and North Alamo Street south of Interstate 35.
This map shows in green where separated bike lanes are proposed to be continued on Avenue B and North Alamo Street south of Interstate 35. Credit: Courtesy / City of San Antonio

“I want protected bike lanes on every city street,” Gonzales said. “I hope this spurs a transformation in the way we design our streets.”

Assistant City Manager Rod Sanchez, who oversees the City’s Transportation and Capital Improvement Department (TCI), said work will continue on finalizing the Broadway design, which currently foregoes protected bike lanes in favor of on-street parking. The lower Broadway project’s design will be 70 percent complete in January 2020, he said, and is slated to break ground in February.

There is still another opportunity to change the design through a zoning process, but that vote isn’t expected to reach Council until March next year, Sanchez said.

“Council could always weigh in and stop us, I suppose, but of course if we do that, it’s time and it’s money [that we have to spend],” he said. “I think Council had an opportunity to weigh in today, we heard from them, and we’re going to move on with the project.”

Gonzales doesn’t see the zoning vote as a path to change the lower Broadway design. “That’s just a technicality,” she said.

There weren’t enough votes on the Transporation and Mobility Committee to push the issue to a full Council discussion earlier this month, and there aren’t enough votes on Council, she said.

As part of the plan, Council also approved a contract amendment that allows Sundt Construction, the same firm that is working on the lower segment of Broadway, to carry out the construction of the new bike lanes. City engineers have said that lower Broadway street is too narrow to accommodate bike lanes while also serving the needs of residents and visitors; personal motor vehicles, buses, wide sidewalks, and parking and delivery lanes.

Space on Avenue B and North Alamo will allow engineers to create a bike track and bike lanes that are separated from vehicular traffic with a barrier, Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) said, which is a safer option than one that simply uses paint.

It’s an engineer’s job to “protect the public against irresponsible [design],” he said.

A traffic study and alternative design analysis, requested by Nirenberg and done by Pape Dawson Engineers, found that the existing lower Broadway design – along with North Alamo and Avenue B’s bike lanes – serves cars, pedestrians, and cyclists the best.

While City staff said they viewed Broadway and the adjacent streets as one project, Gonzales considers them separate and noted that cyclists shouldn’t be the ones that are diverted to side streets.

“It’s not the safest option [for Broadway], it’s the option that provided the most service for automobiles,” she said.

Gonzales and Nirenberg said regardless of what ends up built on Broadway, the battle has at least highlighted the need for better policies surrounding multimodal transportation.

“It feels like we’ve heard every bureaucratic excuse in the book to building anything other than a car-centric road in the heart of San Antonio,” Nirenberg said. “So from this day forward, I hope we can employe a truly equitable approach to these concerns, including a review of our bonds’ public input procedures, complete street policy, and all future pedestrian mobility plans.”

Work continues on ConnectSA, a comprehensive multimodal transportation plan, which is slated to update Council on its draft policies and funding plan in December.

City Manager Erik Walsh said the controversy surrounding the Broadway project is a result of the City’s inconsistent and slow deployment of bike lanes throughout San Antonio.

The City is dedicated to updating its Bike Master Plan and put funding behind doing that this year, Walsh said. “We need to continue to evolve and embrace some of the mobility issues that all cities in the country are dealing with.”

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org