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UTC vote brings Downtown Bicycle Boulevard plan closer to reality

Monday, May 17, 2010 by Josh Rosenblatt

The Urban Transportation Commission voted last week to recommend a staff proposal for the controversial Downtown Bicycle Boulevard, which will involve treatments to both Nueces and Rio Grande streets from Cesar Chavez to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

 

Though the plan has faced criticism, the UTC joined the Downtown Commission, the Planning Commission, and the Design Commission in voting unanimously in favor the plan. Complaints have come both from pro-bike groups that feel it doesn’t go far enough and downtown business owners concerned about its potential adverse affect on economic.

 

Initially presented by Bicycle Program Manager Annick Beaudet on April 13, the plan returned this week as a 3-D video rendering of the boulevard, complete with music by David Byrne. In that video, commissioners saw exactly where on Nueces and Rio Grande the city would be placing the bicycle-only left-turn lanes, traffic circles, speed cushions, medians, sidewalk enhancements, angled parking spots, and other traffic calming treatments that define bicycle boulevards.

 

Also presenting at the meeting was Jeremy Zaborowski, associate project manager with Angelou Economics, hired by the city to conduct an economic impact analysis of the proposed boulevard. Zaborowski said the report was done to address concerns about possible adverse effects on property values and retail sales along the corridor.

 

Using other cities with bicycle boulevards as case studies, Zaborowski said, Angelou did a retail analysis to project the economic impact the bike boulevard would have over the next 10 years. What they learned is that most likely there would be no adverse impact in terms of vehicular traffic or parking, meaning those traveling to the area by car for the sake of shopping would not be deterred.

 

“That’s the long and short in terms of retail,” Zaborowski said. “We saw no place (geographically) where there were adverse effects due to bicycle (boulevards).”

 

According to the presentation, the additional bicyclists coming to the area as a result of the Downtown Bicycle Boulevard would bring between $500,000 and $1.45 million to the corridor in retail sales over the next 10 years. Combined with the wages brought in from the construction of the corridor, Zaborowski said, the city is looking at a potential 10-year economic impact of between $1.2 and $1.6 million.

 

But, the study dealt almost entirely with the effect of the corridor on retail sales. And as speakers opposed to the boulevard and some of the commissioners themselves were quick to point out, those portions of Rio Grande and Nueces that would be affected by the bike boulevard are zoned predominately Downtown Mixed Use (DMU), not retail. Therefore, they said, the report’s focus on the boulevard’s effect on retail, rather than on commercial businesses, was misguided.

 

Commissioner Sheila Holbrook-White asked Zaborowski about this apparent discrepancy. “Part of the challenge,” she said, “is that there’s a disconnect between looking at retail and looking at commercial. That’s the thing I heard overwhelmingly, that you’re not looking at the right measure. You’re looking at retail for an area that’s zoned CMU and commercial.”

 

Zaborowski responded that though Angelou was able to get a hold of information about retail sales, “I have no access to information concerning commercial business.”

 

Beaudet assured the commissioners that Angelou did the “best they could do with available date from the comptroller’s office” and that it would be “business as usual for motor vehicles” doing business downtown.

 

“There’s no change to accessing those commercial businesses,” she said. “There’s no change to anybody coming to a law office, a medical office. Everybody who’s a client will still be able to get there.” She said city staff took into consideration the fears of business owners along the corridor when they designed the boulevard plan, making sure there would be no turning or parking movements that “will be odd in any way” and that might deter drivers from driving and doing business along the corridor.

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