SLO council has a compromise for bike boulevard: Reroute cars off Broad Street

Just as it appeared that a controversial bikeway plan connecting San Luis Obispo’s downtown to Foothill Boulevard was decided, the City Council switched gears this week and brought back a proposal to divert car traffic off a section of Broad Street on the city’s north end.

On Tuesday, while reaffirming its bikeway plan approved Feb. 6, the City Council directed its transportation planners to reconsider a proposal from an earlier plan, which would reroute cars on Broad Street between Meinecke and Lincoln streets.

It would do so using traffic diverters — raised humps or street ornament fixtures that block through-traffic to make cycling safer and more accessible. Diverters are currently in place at the city intersection of Morro and Buchon streets.

Council members want to create a safe “bike boulevard” on the north end where high volumes of cars and cyclists travel in close proximity.

After further consideration, Councilman Dan Rivoire said traffic-calming measures approved by the council on Feb. 6 in the controversial middle section didn’t go far enough to make the corridor safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

The Feb. 6 decision came after hours of public comment and extensive community debate, including a controversial letter from former Mayor Ken Schwartz that compared the proposal to “urban rape” of a tranquil neighborhood. The letter drew a sharp rebuke from current Mayor Heidi Harmon, who said it was in bad taste and insensitive to sexual assault victims.

In a 4-1 vote Tuesday, with Councilwoman Andy Pease dissenting, council members approved further planning of Broad Street traffic diversions to create a safer route for cyclists and avoid removing on-street parking outside the homes of area residents.

bike map
The San Luis Obispo City Council wants to reconsider an earlier option that called for installing traffic diversions on Broad Street to route cars off to other streets and make Broad safer for bikes. City of San Luis Obispo

Removal of streetside parking to accommodate buffered bike lanes is a disputed aspect of the plan that still could be implemented in future years if this round of safety measures don’t produce intended results.

“My sense is that the traffic-calming plan, in and of itself, will be insufficient to meet the major city goal of striving to achieve a 20 percent mode share and allowing people using all forms of transportation to get around,” Rivoire said. “... We need a robust traffic plan, including diversion of traffic off of Broad to truly create that shared experience, while respecting what we heard from the community.”

The council views the corridor as a key step in its hopes to reach a goal of getting 20 percent of its commuters to use bicycles, while also reducing citywide vehicle emissions. The city also has a Vision Zero initiative to work toward a goal of zero traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries by 2030. About 6 to 8 percent of city commuters currently use bicycles to get around, according to San Luis Obispo’s transportation officials.

On Feb. 6, the council didn’t reject the idea of removing parking outright but delayed an option to remove parking in a middle section along Chorro and Broad that could allow for buffered bike lanes. The new proposal could be a compromise between neighbors and bike safety advocates.

“The council’s direction asks neighbors and community members whether they’re willing to accept the traffic diversions on Broad Street in lieu of keeping on-street parking — or potentially not having one-way streets through the middle section of the corridor,” Hudson told The Tribune.

Street Dividers010
Traffic diverters at Morro and Buchon streets in San Luis Obispo stop vehicles from traveling through the intersection while allowing cyclists to pass through. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

But project opponent Richard Schmidt wrote to the council in advance of the meeting, arguing they shouldn’t be reopening discussions about adding new measures.

“This neighborhood has suffered through years of planning abuse,” Schmidt wrote. “The resolution you reached last time (on Feb. 6) was a compromise we must all live with — the neighborhood, and even the tiny but loud bike fanatic group. You need to deal with adopting the resolution, and stop torturing the neighborhood.”

City studies previously have shown that diversion of cars from Broad Street would increase traffic on Chorro, Meinecke and Lincoln streets, exceeding established maximum neighborhood traffic thresholds. The City Council would need to pass a General Plan amendment to complete the Broad Street diversion project and overrule those existing limits.

Hudson acknowledged the difficulties in trying to squeeze major bike safety improvements on streets not designed to accommodate them.

“It really is a challenge trying to find a solution where we’re trying to retrofit a facility into a neighborhood that wasn’t designed to accommodate that facility,” Hudson said at Tuesday’s meeting. “That is really what has happened here.”

Rivoire said he hopes that more vehicle drivers will use Santa Rosa Street as a thoroughfare between downtown and Foothill, rather than smaller Chorro Street (which runs parallel to Broad).

More public outreach by the city, including a community forum, will take place before the council formally votes on adding the Broad Street diversion. The city would still have to plan precisely what diversinary measures they would use and where on the roadway.

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