Despite months of pleas by cycling advocates wanting protected bike lanes to be included in plans for Lower Broadway’s major redevelopment, City officials again presented a plan Thursday that instead diverts bike infrastructure to two, less-traveled parallel streets.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg threw his support behind those cyclists Thursday afternoon.
“I believe that if we are going to properly address mobility for the future, then it needs to be a priority,” Nirenberg told the Rivard Report in a phone interview before a public meeting about the project Thursday. “Broadway is a main artery into downtown. It needs to be safe, it needs to be multimodal. … We need to have a continuous, safe, separated bike lane the entire route.”
Traveling south from Hildebrand Avenue on Broadway to Houston Street, public right-of-way narrows from seven to three lanes of vehicular traffic today and has minimal, broken sidewalks and trees. The 3-mile street project will reduce vehicular lanes in most sections, widen sidewalks, add landscaping and shade, improve lighting, and include on-street parking in some sections, said Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1).
On the narrower lower mile of Broadway, from Houston Street to the Interstate 35 overpass, there’s just not enough room for all of that as well as a safe bike lane, Treviño and project designers said.
“I don’t buy it,” Nirenberg told the Rivard Report. “If we’re going to make a walkable, multimodel-friendly urban core of San Antonio, then this is our first test.”
If a bike lane were squeezed into Lower Broadway, Treviño said during and after the meeting, it would be a substandard one. “The No. 1 thing we should always adhere to is good design principles … keeping the public as safe as possible and account for all types of cyclists.”
Narrow, in-road bike lanes delineated by paint simply aren’t as safe for the novice or intermediate cyclists as the wide, protected lanes that the City will find funding for on Avenue B and North Alamo Street, said Treviño, whose district includes the project.
Voters approved $42 million “complete street” bond project to improve a 3-mile stretch of Broadway as part of the $850 million 2017 municipal bond package. An additional $14 million will come from state and federal sources for the southern, first phase, but the remaining $41 million in funding for the northern, second phase portion of the project from Mulberry to Burr Road has yet to be identified. The second phase will feature protected bike lanes separated from traffic.
Because the project was voter-approved and City Council has approved the design-build contractors for it, Council approval is not required for the design of the project to move forward as planned by the City’s department of Transportation and Capital Improvements (TCI), officials said.
Funding for the separated bike lanes on Avenue B and North Alamo Street is not yet identified, but the City is “committed to finding funding for that,” said Art Reinhardt, interim deputy director of TCI.
The area tax increment reinvestment zone and annual City budget are possible sources, he said. Large area property owners – GrayStreet Partners and Silver Ventures, which developed the Pearl – have committed to installing special traffic lights and assisting in some separated bike lanes on Avenue B.
According to TCI, the Lower Broadway section is slated for completion in December 2021. Work on Avenue B and North Alamo Street should be done by fall 2021.
Brian Martin, vice president of Bike San Antonio, a local cycling advocacy group, said the proposed bike lanes on Avenue B are a great start. “These sidewalks [on Broadway] are great, but people are going to ride their bikes and scooters on them,” Martin said.
Ultimately the Lower Broadway design favors vehicles over bicycles, he added, and “you’re going to have more fatalities.”
The design includes space for sporadic street parking or drop-off locations for valet or rideshare, Martin noted. That is space that could instead be used for a bike lane.
That’s not wide enough for a separated lane, Reinhardt said, adding that Avenue B has a tenth of the vehicular traffic that Broadway has.
Martin, and other cyclists at the meeting, disagreed that there isn’t room for meaningful bike infrastructure on Broadway.
“Something is better than nothing,” he said. While the narrow section of Broadway presents challenges, it’s not an engineering problem – it’s a “lack of political will.”
What was presented to the roughly 75 people that attended the meeting at Central Catholic High School on Thursday is essentially the same plan presented late last year to stakeholders. Some cyclists had hoped Thursday’s meeting would be an input session – an opportunity to change the proposed design, but it was a meeting to inform the community about the final design – not inform the design.
That doesn’t mean TCI isn’t listening, Reinhardt said. The design is 40 percent complete.
After developing plans for separated bike lanes on Avenue B and North Alamo with bike advocacy groups such as Bike San Antonio, the City decided not to host a larger public input meeting, a TCI spokesman said.
Before he was reelected for a second term this month, Nirenberg said installing more separated bike lanes was a priority for him and for Connect SA, a nonprofit quasi-governmental organization that is formulating a comprehensive multimodal transportation plan.
“If it hasn’t broken ground yet, then I would expect the voices of the community will provide for meaningful decision-making before a mistake is made,” he told the Rivard Report. “I’m certainly sharing my thoughts on that with [City] staff.”
After the meeting, Treviño weighed in on Nirenberg’s concerns.
“I think it’s unfortunate that I have to learn this from you and not from the mayor himself,” Treviño told the Rivard Report. “This is a project that I have worked on, that the bond committee that we carefully selected worked on and many people invested their time on. … I think the mistake is not recognizing that,”
“I, too, am listening to the bicycling community and believe that we are doing the right thing,” he said. “We’ve got our priorities right, and one of the most important things when it comes to our infrastructure is to make sure that we’re not inserting politics into well-designed projects.”