The San Luis Obispo City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to move forward with the preferred option of the controversial “bike boulevard” between downtown and Foothill Boulevard — but with compromise after an intense four-hour discussion that packed two rooms at City Hall.
The council voted 4-0, with Councilmember Carlyn Christianson absent, to implement initial phases of the Anholm Bikeway Plan and delay decision on removing 58 parking spaces on Broad and Chorro streets for buffered bike lanes, proposed for a later phase of the plan.
The approved first and second phases of the bike and roadway improvements include adding bike safety features such as traffic-calming measures, street lighting and route signage on four streets on the route.
The Council still could decide to implement protected bike lanes on Broad and Chorro in a third phase if it feels they’re needed after further assessment in coming months and years.
A protected bikeway, or cycle track, is a path that runs adjacent to vehicle traffic on a roadway separated by dividers such as curbs, posts or planters.
Councilman Dan Rivoire said he was inclined to vote in favor of the full version of the preferred project, but he noted the public divide and wanted to represent his constituents, including the contingent in opposition to the plan. Thus, he sided with a more tempered approach.
“I’m really concerned about the contentious situation that we’re in as a community and how we might be able to proceed,” Rivoire said.
The initial phasing includes bike-safety measures in the controversial middle section of the corridor near residential homes, including Broad and Chorro streets north of Highway 101.
And the initial phase also will involve bike and street safety upgrades on the north and south ends of the corridor, including protected bike lanes in two sections that don’t directly border residential homes.
The approved protected bikeways will be installed in a section of Ramona Drive near the Foothill Plaza Shopping Center (which will connect to a bike pathway through the LDS Church to Foothill Boulevard as part of a pending right-of-way agreement) and on Chorro Street south of Lincoln to Palm Street.
The Ramona section removes about 15 street parking spots near the Foothill shopping center, which wasn’t controversial.
But the possibility of removing street parking near homes drew significant public criticism from many area residents, some saying it would “destroy the neighborhood” and create safety hazards for those trying to get in and out of their driveways.
On the other hand, many cyclists argued it would help prevent collisions and make them feel more secure riding between Cal Poly, schools, the Foothill Boulevard shopping center and downtown.
“I bike to work every day by myself, but I didn’t bike tonight,” said San Luis Obispo resident Shannon Klisch. “It’s not because I don’t have the gear. We have helmets. We have bike lights. It’s because I brought my young daughter. I don’t trust the drivers....I support the preferred alternative.”
Another resident, Bob Shanbrom, who said he frequently rides his bicycle throughout the city, believes the streets are safe for cycling as they are and recommended no changes.
“I ride the current bike boulevard maybe 10 to 15 trips per week and that, to me, is one of the safest sections of cycling in town,” Shanbrom said. “It’s fine from Lincoln to Ramona (streets).”
The council decided against implementing an alternative bike improvement option using a less traveled portion of Lincoln Street, after city staff members said that plan likely wouldn’t be effective because it’s not the shortest route from downtown to Foothill Boulevard and cyclists likely would avoid it.
The proposed preferred project was estimated to cost $1.3 million, which could come from city allocated funds, SB1 gas tax money and grants. But the city will need to re-evaluate the cost of the middle portion of the project on Chorro and Broad, and precisely which traffic calming measures it will use.
Luke Schwartz, a city transportation planner, said that traffic-calming measures often include speed humps, raised intersections that encourage cars to slow down or traffic circles. The speed limit of 25 mph on Chorro and Broad streets legally can’t be reduced any further, Schwartz said.
“We’ll be coordinating with the community to determine what types of traffic calming measures to use,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz said the approved protected bike lane sections on Ramona and Chorro will be the first in the county.
Mayor Heidi Harmon said she would like the community to embrace the idea of bike pathways to facilitate city goals to reduce vehicle pollution and help prevent climate change.
The city’s goal is to increase commuter bicycle ridership to 20 percent from its current level of 7 percent.
“We have to balance listening to the community with the vision we’re setting for ourselves,” Harmon said. “We have to do something real and bold so we can say this is a community prioritizing another form of transportation other than an automobile. We have to make this shift. Losing your parking spot in front of your house is nothing compared with shifts coming from changing climate.”