SLO bikeway plan moves forward again after City Council is accused of sneaky tricks

A cyclist bikes toward Cal Poly in the green bike lane along California Boulevard, which was added to increase safety for bicyclists.
A cyclist bikes toward Cal Poly in the green bike lane along California Boulevard, which was added to increase safety for bicyclists. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Opponents of San Luis Obispo's bike safety route plan accused the City Council of breaking open-government rules by "sneakily" moving ahead with a plan to divert traffic on Broad Street when the council shifted its priorities in February.

On Tuesday, the city denied committing any wrongdoing at its Feb. 20 meeting, where it prioritized re-routing cars off Broad Street to make it safer for bicyclists two weeks after indicating it would try traffic-calming measures first and pursue more aggressive measures later.

As a result of the outcry, the council re-opened its bikeway discussion in order to include public input and comments on the opposition to fast-tracking the traffic-diversion idea.

After the discussion, the council rescinded its Feb. 20 vote and then re-voted the same way, 4-1 with Councilwoman Andy Pease dissenting.

The city's Anholm Bicycle Plan aims to make the corridor between Cal Poly and downtown safer for cyclists as the city works toward a goal of increasing the city's commutership using alternative forms of transportation from 7 percent to 20 percent.

The proposed Broad Street diversions (large cement blocks in the middle of Broad) would steer cars onto neighboring streets as cyclists travel between Foothill Boulevard and downtown. The route is popular among commuters headed to and from Cal Poly and area schools.

San Luis Obispo residents speak in support and opposition of the city's Anholm Bikeway Plan between downtown SLO and Foothill Boulevard. After a four-hour discussion, the city voted to approve the plan with a compromise — a delay on removing 58 pa

Future engineering reports and further public input are still needed before the City Council decides whether to finalize any diversions on Broad, but the council majority expressed its desire to pursue the measures as a way to protect cyclists.

"I want to take a serious look at making this a true, safe space for cyclists," said Councilman Dan Rivoire. "We've looked at the best practices done elsewhere to provide safe streets and encourage a healthy lifestyle. ... We've never told anyone they can’t drive a car. We just want to empower people to be able to choose their transportation options."

The San Luis Obispo City Council is looking to improve bicycle commuting and make city streets safer for cyclists. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

The comprehensive bike plan is set to take place is three phases over the next few years. It includes a host of non-controversial measures to both slow down cars — such as speed humps or other traffic-calming devices — and create protected bike lanes to the north and south of the route.

The troublesome middle section of the corridor, closest to where many residents live, remains the sticking point, with opponents decrying options that take away on-street parking with new protected bike lanes or divert vehicle traffic near their homes.

Some of the opponents felt a compromise had been reached after a Feb. 6 meeting at which the council decided to pursue traffic-calming measures in initial phases to see if that would create a safe bike corridor without resorting to traffic diversions or new bike lanes in the middle section.

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San Luis Obispo residents Richard Schmidt and Keith Gurney — leaders of a neighborhood group opposing the more intensive safety measures — sent a letter to the city accusing it of a Brown Act violation on Feb. 20, altering its Feb. 6 decision on the plan.

Schimdt told The Tribune the agenda didn't clearly warn the public of the council's decision to change the bike plan and it wasn't announced in the council agenda section for controversial items.

"The item never should have been on the consent agenda," Schmidt said. "The consent agenda is for 'non-controversial' items only. After the previous three-hour contentious hearing (on Feb. 6), can anyone describe significantly changing the adopted plan as non-controversial?"

Schmidt added that by "sneakily reopening this matter, without proper notice ... the council violated the trust residents should be able to hold for their city government and proved they are not trustworthy partners."

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

But in a staff report, City Attorney Christine Dietrick wrote the item was properly announced to the public 72 hours before the meeting, and the council acted within its discretion to modify the existing plan.

"There was no Brown Act violation related to the council's action," Dietrick wrote. "The council engaged in the public process of deliberating, arriving at concurrence on the amendments and taking action on a properly noticed agenda item that was clearly sufficient to apprise the public that the Anholm Bike Plan was up for discussion and action."

Still, one neighborhood opponent accused the council of unfairly buckling to pressure from cycling advocates.

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"I just think that it’s very damaging not only to the citizens, residents and taxpayers, but to yourselves," said Anholm resident Lydia Mourenza. "It looks like you were overtaken by bike groups who complained about what you did."

Anholm resident Garrett Otto supported the council's next steps forward.

"I don’t believe there’s any violation of the Brown Act," Otto said. "We’ve been at this discussion for two-and-a-half years. All we’re asking for is that we move forward in the early phases so that we can see how it either encourages more cyclists or reduces speeds."