SAN ANTONIO – The city of San Antonio ripped out four concrete barriers and reduced the size of two others in front of a downtown church just months after they were built, following pressure from a prominent real estate developer, records obtained by KSAT Investigates show.
City officials last month defended the construction project, a protected bike lane in front of First Presbyterian Church, after church leaders told KSAT the work was not communicated to them properly.
Voters approved the bike lanes as part of a larger $42 million 2017 municipal bond project.
The bike lane portion of the project is nearing completion, but executing the plan has not come without speedbumps.
Not only was part of the project torn down and rebuilt, records show, but KSAT cameras found that many cyclists either do not realize the lanes are there, or they are choosing not to use them.
Email records obtained by KSAT through a public information request show that in October 2021, Ed Cross, a prominent San Antonio real estate developer and parishioner of First Presbyterian, contacted city leaders with concerns about the then-ongoing construction of raised dividers along N. Alamo St.
“This is a surprise to the church and to me as no one from COSA (City of San Antonio) staff or Sundt (construction company) inquired beforehand,” wrote Cross on Oct. 4, 2021.
Cross included photos of the concrete islands being built.
An assistant city engineer responded to Cross days later and provided bullet points on all of the ways city staff had communicated the project, including a virtual public meeting in June 2020 that the church was on the email list for.
The staffer said a city employee also had “ongoing communication with the church before and during construction of this portion of the project,” records show.
Rev. Dr. Bob Fuller, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church, told KSAT last month the protected bike lane has created several hardships and dangers along N. Alamo, including taking away parking for churchgoers who are senior citizens or disabled.
Fuller told KSAT the city broke ground before the church could properly respond, and did not work with the church on the parameters of the project.
“It was done in a way that caught the church by surprise,” said Fuller.
A second church member who was involved in discussions with the city about removing the concrete islands asked to remain anonymous.
He called the dividers a burden on churchgoers that impacted funerals and weddings and said the church was unaware of the project until after the islands were already being built.
Assistant City Manager Rod Sanchez, who oversees the Public Works Department, pushed back on criticism of the project from members of the church.
“We feel we’ve been very diligent about letting stakeholders know about the project, what’s coming. I don’t believe they were caught off guard. I don’t think they quite understood what the design looked like,” said Sanchez, who added last month that portion of the Broadway bond project was weeks from being completed.
City officials and church leaders eventually met about the project after Cross worked to arrange a meeting, records show.
“Christmas is fast approaching!”
On November 15, 2021, Cross told public works employees the issue needed to be resolved before Christmas.
Three days later, email records show Cross outlining to the city seven items both sides “agreed to address.”
“We confirm agreement on your summary,” an assistant city engineer responded the same day, records show.
On December 5, 2021, Cross again emailed public works employees for an update on the project being revamped, writing, “as Christmas is fast approaching!”
Cross again asked for an update on the work three days later, records show.
Sanchez said the contractor eventually removed four of the concrete islands and adjusted the size of two others.
The work was completed around the third week of December 2021, according to city records.
According to emails, Cross on Dec. 18, 2021, thanked public works employees “for a job both well and timely done!”
Cross did not respond to calls from KSAT seeking comment for this story.
“They had a good point so we relooked at it and reworked the site a little bit for them,” said Sanchez.
He denied the assertion that Cross was directing city staff on how to carry out a voter-funded bond project.
“We were very much in charge of the project. We were committed to the voters of the bond project, that there would be a protected bike lane,” said Sanchez. “The way I see it, Ed got the ball rolling. He got us in contact with the church leaders and our conversations really were with the church leaders who were asking for all this.”
City officials confirmed the cost to modify the concrete islands was approximately $17,000.
Sanchez said the money came from bond project funds and that the city budgets for contingencies like this.
The entire bike lane project on N. Alamo St. between 4th Street and McCullough Avenue cost approximately $450,000, officials said.
Bike lane barely in use
KSAT spent parts of four days recording footage for this story.
During those periods, a vast majority of people riding bicycles and scooters along N. Alamo St. did not utilize the protected bike lane.
Sanchez said the city may work with the cycling community to have a riding event through that area to increase the visibility of the bike lane.
The lane had a large asphalt mound with a temporary wood ramp installed.
Officials called the ramp a temporary fix so bus passengers can get on and off of VIA buses that have been temporarily rerouted to that section of N. Alamo St.
Separately, an SUV turning onto N. Alamo St. struck one of the concrete islands as KSAT was recording footage of the church.
The entire Broadway Street Corridor project is scheduled for completion sometime in 2024, officials have previously said.