A cyclist waits for traffic to pass in the median of Broadway near Mulberry.
A cyclist in the median of Broadway Street prepares to merge with traffic. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

A City-commissioned traffic study on street design options for lower Broadway Street was completed this week. Designs including bike lanes received lower scores than the design that did not because consultants assumed protected bike lanes would be installed on adjacent streets.

The conclusion of the analysis by Pape-Dawson Engineers was to recommend the design as originally proposed – without bike lanes – to provide the best scenario for “vehicles, pedestrians, transit, and … utility lanes for parking/rideshare and loading and unloading,” according to a memo the consultant firm sent to the City’s Transportation and Capital Improvements (TCI) department.

The option that includes protected bike lanes would, according to the study, sacrifice “existing on-street parking currently along lower Broadway near Jones Avenue and provide less opportunity for landscaping/trees and low impact development features.” 

The study was triggered by a request from Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who believes protected bike lanes should be featured on the entire length of the three-mile, $42 million Broadway redevelopment. As designed so far, the project only includes bike lanes on the northern two miles of the project starting at Hildebrand Avenue.

“We can see with this new analysis, that old car-first assumptions and priorities yield the same results: more congestion and less space for alternatives,” Nirenberg said via text. “It’s time to get serious about building modern, multimodal infrastructure.”

Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), who represents the area downtown and north of downtown where the street project is located, said Council should trust the professionals the City hired to design the project.

“I’m going to go with what the reports are saying,” Treviño said, and trust City staff’s original recommendation.

He has also questioned the mayor’s and Council’s authority to weigh in on the design of streets funded by bond packages.

“No elected official should ever be in a position to pressure a design professional when it comes to life safety issues,” Treviño said. “This is not something we should be doing.”

The Council’s Transporation and Mobility Committee will review the study on Sept. 16. Click here to download a copy of the Pape-Dawson study.

Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D4), who chairs that committee, said she supports the design that includes protected bike lanes on lower Broadway, but disagrees with the analysis as a whole.

“I was extremely disappointed with the process that they went about getting the results,” Gonzales said, noting that, while the study includes vehicular traffic numbers, it does not for pedestrians and cyclists.

The study notes that it used “a traffic simulation model for all roadway users and movements, including cars and trucks, transit, pedestrians, bikes, and on-street parking” to establish a baseline of the current traffic and adjusted for future growth in the area.

While it includes a diversion to Avenue B or North Alamo Street for cyclists as a consideration for the study, it does not take into account how other streets would absorb vehicular traffic, Gonzales noted.

“To date, in the 6 years that I’ve been [on Council] I’ve never seen our TCI department propose a design where single-occupancy vehicles were not prioritized,” she said. “There are more creative options.”

Funding for Avenue B or North Alamo Street would depend on if an area tax revenue board is willing to fund it. It’s unclear how much those projects would cost, but area property owners and developers have said they would chip in.

“According to [the National Association of City Transportation Officials], the ideal right-of-way to fit all modes of transportation on a downtown thoroughfare like Broadway is 122 feet … however currently there is only 78 feet of right-of-way available,” the report states. “Trying to accommodate all modes of transportation into a 78-foot cross-section will lead to poor operations for all modes, as well as create safety issues throughout the corridor.”

Here’s an overview of the options explored by the traffic study as provided by Pape-Dawson.

These three options for lower Broadway Street will be presented to the City Council's Transporation and Mobility Committee in September.
These three options for lower Broadway Street will be presented to the City Council’s Transporation and Mobility Committee in September.

Option 1 is the current 40% design-build plan which provides four travel lanes, two lanes in each direction, with on-street parking, 11-17- foot sidewalks, and bike/micromobility lanes on Avenue B. “

Option 2 is a three-lane cross section; two southbound lanes and one northbound lane, with a protected bike/micromobility lane on the east side, on-street parking and a bike/micromobility lane on the west side, and 13-foot sidewalks. It should be noted that the westside bike/micromobility lane does not have the NACTO recommended buffer for safety between the on-street parking and bike/micromobility lane.”

Option 3 is a four-lane cross section with protected bike/mobility lanes on both sides, no on-street parking, and 11-foot sidewalks. “

The third option is the closest to what cycling advocates and the mayor have been asking for: protected lanes traveling both directions. The problem, however, arises for buses that will have to pick up and drop off passengers into bike lanes.

That’s why design professionals are tasked with designing streets, Treviño said. “[They understand that] these street elements are going to intersect and collide … literally they can collide.”

The parking lane also serves as a pick-up and drop-off lane as well as a bus stop, he said. “I think we need some parking.”

An online petition was launched last month to call for bike lanes on that southernmost stretch of Broadway. More than 1,200 people have signed it. Cycling advocacy group Bike San Antonio started two other petitions before that, which gathered more than 900 total signatures.

It’s unclear why Pape-Dawson only studied the section from Interstate 35 to Pecan Street when the project will extend two blocks south to Houston Street. That is the most narrow portion of the project. TCI officials could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Nirenberg said a more complete picture of the traffic situation is needed.

“I will work with Transportation Committee Chair Shirley Gonzales and our Council colleagues to examine the whole picture,” Nirenberg said. “We need a more comprehensive analysis that evaluates the traffic flow that Alamo Street and other routes will absorb, reducing the number of vehicles on Broadway.”

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. She was the San Antonio Report's...