A record number of cyclists have been riding along the streets and greenways of San Antonio since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Bike shops began selling out of bikes last spring, and have struggled to keep up with demand since.
The time to build comprehensive bike infrastructure in San Antonio is now. With a population of 1.5 million, the city is the sixth-largest in the U.S., and continues to be the fastest-growing, outpacing any other major metropolitan area. Still, statistics and local wisdom show it’s behind in providing citizens with a safe, interconnected bicycle network.
In May of 2019, People for Bikes reported that San Antonio had a bike-friendly score of 1.5 out of 5 stars based on ridership, safety, network, reach, and acceleration, ranking it 284th out of 512 cities. That number has decreased to 1.2 according to the organization’s latest data–a problem that is reflected statewide. Despite the fact that more than 4 million Texans ride bicycles each year, Texas is at the lower end of bicycle-friendly states in terms of current laws enacted to protect people on bikes (ranked 30 out of 50, according to the League of American Bicyclists).
San Antonio’s bike community is growing exponentially, and while motorists may be starting to take bicycles seriously, the reality is the city is not safe for cyclists. People continue to be killed on San Antonio roadways while riding. The overwhelming reason San Antonio residents don’t ride bikes more often is they don’t feel safe riding in traffic, but the lack of bike infrastructure gives them no other option.
Over the last four years, Bike San Antonio has been hard at work improving bike safety. We’ve engaged in meaningful outreach with bike groups throughout the city, including SATX Social Ride, Activate SA, Pedal SATX, and Earn-a-Bike. We’ve hosted public events such as Street Skills Classes and walk and bike nights. We’ve spoken to city planners and architects with the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (AAMPO) and Public Works department, as well as elected representatives on the San Antonio City Council, to advocate bike infrastructure. By participating in questionnaires and online surveys, we’re increasing public participation to make our elected officials aware of which streets are priorities for public safety.
On October 27, 2019, Bike San Antonio and Bronko Bikes hosted the inaugural “Ride Broadway with City Council and the Mayor” to advocate a protected bike lane on Lower Broadway Street. Broadway was one of the 50 major citywide projects included in the $850-million municipal bond package approved by voters and passed by City Council in 2017. It committed funds to build 200 miles of sidewalks, bike amenities, and multi-use paths over the next five years. $42 million of this funding is devoted to transportation, drainage, public facilities, and recreation on the southern portion of the street, which is now under construction.
Riders from across San Antonio, the SATX Social Ride, Wild Dawgs, Storm, Zombie Bike Club, Give 3 Feet, and San Antonio S’well Cycle flocked to the event. They joined Mayor Ron Nirenberg, City Council Representatives Shirley Gonzales (D5) and Ana Sandoval (D7) in a ride down the busy corridor in support of bike lanes.
Bike SA board members also attended a virtual CoSA meeting on August 6, 2020, to advocate bike infrastructure on Commerce Street from St. Mary’s to Santa Rosa Avenue. We urged the City to comply with the Complete Streets policy that the San Antonio-Bexar County Transportation Policy Board adopted in March 2009, and that City Council approved on Sept. 29, 2011.
The City’s Department of Planning and Community Development recognized the need for Complete Streets more than a decade ago, and the proposed Complete Streets policy requires city roads to be planned, designed, built, and maintained for all users, with requirements for developers to consider bike lanes, wide sidewalks, and pedestrian buffers, among other amenities.
San Antonio was recognized in this recent report, “Safe Streets in American Cities,” for setting Complete Streets policies, and has made strides in safe paths for walking and biking. Much more work is needed, however, for our roadways to accommodate users of all ages and ability levels by providing a holistic approach to multi-modal transit.
We continue to support the Vision Zero SA initiative and the full implementation of the 2011 Bike Master Plan, which recommends a 1,768-mile network of bike facilities, including 861 miles of bike lanes, 12 miles of bike boulevards, 228 miles of multi-use paths and cycle tracks, and 500 or more additional miles of wide shoulders and signed routes. The plan outlined 17 miles of bike lanes and paths to be constructed, including the designation of Howard W. Peak Greenway Trails as connectors linking bike infrastructure across San Antonio, and the addition of protected bike lanes on major thoroughfares. We’d like to see the recommended improvements put into action.
Bike San Antonio’s board members have aligned the following projects with our Strategic Plan of Take Action, Bike Rides, Community Engagement, and Bicycle Safety through Education and plans, which will be presented at upcoming meetings:
- Stop funding/planning more greenway miles until committed greenways are funded/given completion dates.
- Build a continuous E/W corridor through downtown that connects to Broadway protected lanes
- Build the “Tito Bradshaw Memorial Bikeway” that connects to a downtown corridor and extends to at least 410 East. Ensure the Bradshaw family/community is consulted in this process.
- Create an E/W corridor that connects to a downtown corridor and extends to at least 410 West.
- More public meetings about Roosevelt Avenue
- Public Works shall maintain an up-to-date website of all protected bike corridors.
- Do something concrete to get more bike racks out there.
Advocacy is our #1 goal. Communication with property owners, businesses, and designers is key to securing bikes a place on the road. Continued outreach and marketing will help grow a broader, more inclusive coalition of cycling advocates from diverse demographics and neighborhoods throughout San Antonio, helping create fair and equitable bike infrastructure for streets designated within the Bike Master Plan and beyond.
Working with the AAMPO and groups that receive federal funding to implement local plans will help Bike SA unite municipalities and agencies to build a truly connected network, provide public bike education programs, and leverage funding at the county, state, and federal levels to improve connectivity to roadways outside Bexar County.
We’ll continue to seek out large projects that offer buffered or protected bike lanes and that link gridded areas inside 410 to curvilinear streets and neighborhoods outside 410. In addition, bike safety can be greatly increased at intersections. Cyclists prefer not to take neighborhood streets because they have to stop at every intersection and face poorer street quality, as well as dogs, lighting, and other obstacles.
Over the last couple years, we’ve welcomed two new board members: Alex Papanastassiou served as Bike SA’s Executive Director until he had to leave the group early this year due to other commitments. We are happy to have Tina Beecham on board with us as our new Vice President. Tina is a Trek advocate and founder of Pedal SATX who works with Bike World, People for Bikes, and Black Girls Do Bike, which has close to 500 members and more than 86 chapters nationwide. Tina’s commitment is to strengthening bike advocacy in San Antonio through various practices, including surveys to gather input on streets lacking bike amenities, and to secure better funding sources. She stresses the importance of safety and action in improving bike education.
There’s no doubt that bike riding is growing in Texas. The increasing number of bike riders on the streets is leading state legislators to introduce bills addressing traffic and bike safety. We also need protection for multiple road users. H.B. 554, introduced in the Texas House of Representatives in the 2021 legislative session, for instance, requires motorists to provide a three-foot distance between a car and a bike and truck drivers to provide six feet of safe passing space. H.B. 3325, the “Crash Not Accident” bill filed by State. Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-District 43, changes the terminology to describe transportation-related accidents as crashes. This April, a second bill was voted unanimously out of the Texas House Committee on Transportation and recommended to be sent to the Local & Consent calendar.
Unfortunately, however, laws are not enough to save the lives that have been cut short by bike crashes. Earlier this month, San Antonio witnessed the tragic loss of another cyclist who was near and dear to the community. Beatrice Gonzales was riding with her friends when she was struck by a drunk driver in front of Central Catholic High School on St. Mary’s Street. It was like any other night when cyclists enjoy riding, until disaster struck.
This kind of thing can’t keep happening. Bike San Antonio is determined to see San Antonio become a bike-friendly city for all. Please stay tuned and visit our social media channels to see the excellent work we’re devoting to building bike infrastructure in our home city.