Síclovía often feels like a parallel universe – one where bikes and other human-powered modes of transit reign supreme over the car and truck, at least for one day. 

On Sunday, all of Broadway from Mahncke Park to downtown was one big, wide-open lane for cyclists, scooterers, skaters, runners, joggers, walkers, and people in wheelchairs. The twice-annual event organized by the YMCA of Greater San Antonio draws tens of thousands of people to downtown to a route cleared of automobiles, motorcycles, and buses. Sunday’s route also closed off parts of East Travis, North Alamo, and Fourth streets. 

“You get to see everything you wouldn’t see as you’re driving fast in a car,” said Jamie Campbell, a Cibolo resident who attended with her 9-year-old daughter. “You can just take your time, but I don’t think I’d come down here if there weren’t bike lanes or a dedicated area because it’s so busy.”

This September, Síclovía came at a time of intense public debate over the future of Broadway, where City officials have proposed a more than $40 million redevelopment that doesn’t include protected bike lanes along Broadway’s narrowest segments downtown. 

The street has become symbolic in the debate over whether the future of transportation in San Antonio involves carving out physical space for bikes and other vehicle alternatives. At a panel discussion last week, Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) said she considers Broadway the “weather vane” for adding bike lanes to new road projects. 

“If we do not make the decision that this is the complete street of today, when are we going to make it?” Sandoval asked then. 

Like others who came downtown on Sunday, Campbell hasn’t been following all the twists and turns of the bike lanes on Broadway debate. She said bike lanes physically separated from traffic by barriers, for example, might not be necessary. She instead suggested using rumble strips that tell a driver when he or she is veering into a bike lane. 

But ideas like that aren’t part of the current design for Broadway, which prioritizes wider sidewalks and vehicle traffic over bicycle traffic on the major downtown artery. City officials are moving forward on a design that shifts protected bike lanes to parts of Avenue B and Alamo Street. 

At this point, only a significant City Council intervention could add protected bike lanes to lower Broadway. The current plan for the 3-mile street project will reduce vehicular lanes in most sections, widen sidewalks to 10 feet, add landscaping and shade, improve lighting, and include on-street parking in some sections, with no bike lanes. Voters approved $42 million in bond for Broadway’s reconstruction in 2017. 

At Síclovía, attendees were divided in their thoughts on the best way to approach the problem. But they all agreed on one thing: Broadway on a normal day is not a safe place to ride a bike.

“My disagreement is that the actual drivers need to be taught that a bike has the same rights as a vehicle,” said Willie Lopez, a South Side resident who lives near the Interstate 35/Interstate 10 interchange but sometimes rides downtown. 
“Sometimes, I don’t get no respect,” Lopez continued. “They’ll tell me, ‘Move off the road, use the sidewalk.’ But hey, I’ve got the same rights you do.” 

If drivers respected cyclists’ rights, Broadway could stay pretty much the same as it is, Lopez said. 

Kyle and Clarissa Dockery, a married couple who live on the Southeast Side, rode roller skates at Síclovía on Sunday instead of their typical bikes. Clarissa Dockery, who grew up near Broadway, said it’s always been a “scary street,” used only by serious cyclists and people riding as their only means of transportation to get to work.

“My dad’s an experienced rider, he builds bicycles, he’s been riding his whole life,” she said. “He always takes the [whole] lane when we ride together. He makes sure that we’re following him and that we’re following safety rules. But we don’t ride that way on our own. It’s a much scarier ordeal for us on our own.” 

She added that protected bike lanes would make Broadway much safer for tourists who visit downtown and the Pearl and rent e-bikes and scooters. 

“Scary” is also the word South Side resident Carmelo Serna Jr. used for riding on Broadway on a normal day. At Síclovía, he rode his fixed-gear at a comfortable pace, wearing a patch on his backpack that read “Give 3 Feet.” 

“It’s hard to get on the sidewalk,” Serna said of a typical Broadway experience. “There’s people walking as well. Cars expect you to get on the sidewalk. And the speed limit – who does the speed limit anyway?” 

Serna has been following the Broadway debate and said he wants to see “a protected bike lane with a barrier,” as well as a change in driver culture to give people 3 feet of passing space at a minimum. 

“This is a corridor here,” Serna continued. “The Zoo’s right here, the DoSeum. So I think it’s great for everyone if we could just have a good protected bike lane.” 

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.