$700,000 Street Plan Includes Removal of Bike Lanes

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The South Flores Street bike lane ends at SW Military Drive. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

The South Flores Street bike lane currently ends at SW Military Drive. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Several initiatives and policies over the past decade have demonstrated that the citizens of San Antonio, in general, want a more pedestrian and bike-friendly streetscape.

So a proposed project that includes using $300,000 of taxpayer dollars to remove bike lanes from South Flores Street is understandably galvanizing opposition.

Last year South Flores was converted from a four-lane, motor vehicle-only street to two-lane street with a center turning lane, with bike lanes on both sides. Most of South Flores has sidewalks –however disconnected and in disrepair.

Tensions were high Monday night when more than 100 people – and about half as many bikes – filled the Morrill Elementary School cafeteria to hear a presentation from City staff about the $700,400 bike route development and bike lane removal project that will be presented to City Council later this month. The room was divided between those in favor of bike lane removal and those opposed, each side interrupting the other throughout the meeting and cheering on its own speakers.

A packed Morrill Elementary School cafeteria during the South Flores Improvement Project update meeting on May 19, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

A packed Morrill Elementary School cafeteria during the South Flores Improvement Project update meeting on May 19, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Out of the four alternative routes, the staff-recommended Theo/Malone route, is the most expensive. (See presentation slide below and click here to download a project summary presentation from the April 21 meeting and here for last Monday night’s presentation.) This meeting was held so city staff could present its recommendation to the community before it goes to Council, probably next week.

Click here for City Council agendas, usually uploaded at least 48 hours before meetings.

The Theo/Malone route calls for $400,000 to be used to rehabilitate roads and bike routes on Mission Road and White Avenue. About $300,000 will be used to remove 2.3 miles of bike lanes on South Flores Street and restore it to four-lanes.

Contrary to previous speculations, the money used to remove bike lanes will not come out of $1 million budgeted to improve or add bike facilities, but will come from accumulated project savings, according to Assistant Director of the City’s Department of Transportation and Capital Improvements (TCI) Arthur Reinhardt.

4-21-14 Public Meeting_south flores bike alternative Routes_mapslide

Red dotted line = E. Hart re-route through Padre Dr.
Blue dotted line = Sayers re-route through Roosevelt Ave.
Green dotted line = Alamo/Probandt Option
Yellow dotted line = Theo/Malone Re-route through Padre Dr.
Grey dotted line = Existing section of South Flores
Orange = San Antonio River/Mission Trail System
Blue dots = Begin/end points

Until Monday evening, the “S. Flores Street Improvement Project” meetings, as called by the City, have been overwhelmingly one-sided, according to attendees on both sides. Southside residents and business owners in favor of the South Flores lane removal have consistently shown up and outnumbered those opposed since post-project meetings started in December of 2013.

The fourth meeting on Monday, however, was more representative of the strong division in the Southside community  – both sides hold public safety as the top priority, but have different ideas about what infrastructure achieves it.

Looking south on South Flores Street. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Looking south on South Flores Street. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

When the city reduced vehicular lanes in 2013, supporters claim traffic became worse and the roads became dangerous as cars try to pass slower traffic by using the center turning lane. A crosswalk attendant said she’s seen cars impatiently pass buses in school zones.

Ruben Espronceda, Southside resident and sporadic publisher, was one of the most vocal supporters of the lane removal.

“This is a commercial corridor – a lifeblood of the community,” he said, adding that businesses on South Flores have lost business. A grocery/convenience store manager attested to a loss of business since the change, but another business owner and cyclist said he had experienced no change.

4-21-14 Public Meeting_project background of South flores bike lanes

Word of the removal recently spread throughout the biking community via social media and printed flyers, bringing Southside residents and business owners in opposition to the bike lane removal to the discussion table. Those opposed to the lane removal said that doing so would not remove bike traffic on S. Flores, but would make it more dangerous for bikes. Opponents also point to a traffic study commissioned by the City on the street that found nominal traffic impairment caused by the bike lanes.

“If you take away the bike lanes, you’re not going to take away the cyclists,” said cyclist Jacky Swan. “We have every right to take up that (right) lane anyway,” but why take away bike facilities that make the street safer?

City staff confirmed that the study, performed over a three-day period (an industry standard), revealed a mere 9-25 second delay. Most of the delay was attributed to VIA bus stops.

Bikes of stakeholders line the walls and hallways during the South Flores Improvement Project update meeting on May 19, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Bikes of stakeholders line the walls and hallways during the South Flores Improvement Project update meeting on May 19, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

“Post-project studies have shown that corridor is handling same traffic volume as pre-project and the roadway is operating in safer and more efficient manner,” stated a City presentation slide.

But many residents remain convinced by first-hand, anecdotal evidence that the street has become dangerous and it may be too little too late from bike lane advocates if City Council approves the Theo/Malone alternative route plan as-is.

Either way, it seems City staff has a valuable lesson to take home from this heated debate: community awareness and input is key when implementing change – especially if it involves a highly visible, well-trafficked street.

The South Flores Improvement Project is part of the Council approved 2011 Bike Master Plan, informed by several public meetings and approved by City Council. But there was no project update meeting in the Southside before construction began on South Flores. Both sides agree there should have been more communication about the specific implementation of the Bike Master Plan on South Flores.

“This could have been very different,” said District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran after the meeting. If the community was made aware of this project from the start, she added, “they probably would have found a compromise.”

District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran takes note of citizen concerns during the South Flores Improvement Project update meeting on May 19, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran takes note of citizen concerns during the South Flores Improvement Project update meeting on May 19, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Viagran, who was not serving on City Council at the time of the project’s start in her District, rides her bike in the neighborhood frequently. “I rode my bike on South Flores before the bike lanes,” she said. “But (residents) mostly use Mission Road … regardless of where bike lanes are, everyone needs to share the road. Period.”

As for the rancorous atmosphere during the meeting: “This isn’t about ‘us’ versus ‘them,'” she said, just because one side wants that particular bike lane removed, doesn’t mean they don’t like the idea of a more bike-friendly community. “Many of them ride bikes themselves.”

Bike sharrow. Courtesy of PeopleForBikes.

Bike sharrow. Courtesy of PeopleForBikes.

It’s not bikes that their against, they just want their two lanes back on Flores, which is not technically wide enough for a sharrow (shared lane with painted bike graphic).

The first goal of the South Flores project was, and continues to be, “multimodal, utilitarian use of the roadway and the second goal is to get folks to the mission trail system,” Reinhardt said during a phone interview before Monday’s meeting. “It’s a difficult  project … (the City) has to be conscious of the citizens that have to deal with (these changes) everyday. Folks are unhappy so we’re working to find the ideal solution.”

Transportation and Capital Improvements Assistant Director Arthur Reinhardt asks citizens to use the microphone during the South Flores Improvement Project update meeting on May 19, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Iris Dimmick / Rivard Report

Transportation and Capital Improvements Assistant Director Arthur Reinhardt directs citizens to the microphone during the South Flores Improvement Project update meeting on May 19, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

As the Bike Master Plan begins more projects further away from downtown, the City will take extra precaution with neighborhoods that aren’t used to accommodating bicycles.

“The street network is for the entire city,” Julia Murphy, special projects manager for the City of San Antonio’s Office of Sustainability, said. “We will do a better job” communicating in the future.

This $300,000 back-track on street infrastructure may serve as a good reminder to do so – and would set a complicated precedent.

*Featured/top image: The South Flores Street bike lane currently ends at SW Military Drive. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Related Stories:

Bike|Beat: A Pachanga Promoting Bicycle Awareness

Riding Bikes to the Quarry: A Slightly Treacherous Adventure

Bike Advocate to San Antonio: Why Are You Moving Backwards?

The Gorilla in the Room: One Cyclist Death Too Many

The Feed: The Future of Cycling in San Antonio

34 thoughts on “$700,000 Street Plan Includes Removal of Bike Lanes

  1. Re-routing the bike lanes dismisses are larger, more important point. The bike lanes make the road safer for all users, not just cyclists. The 3-lane configuration is recommended by the Federal Highway Administration to improve safety for cyclists, pedestrians and motorists. On average, one pedestrian is killed every week in San Antonio, and those pedestrians killed are often children, senior citizens, or disabled. Moving bike lanes may accommodate cyclists on an adjacent street, but it does nothing to protect pedestrians on S. Flores. Rather than taking a step back on S. Flores, this configuration should be deployed much more widely across the city. SA20202 and the city’s master plan call for reduced automobile use. The area in question has seven school zones. Reducing motor vehicle speed and use is perfectly appropriate. Bicycle lanes are just one tool to achieve those goals.

    • Damn, Kevin.

      I just.now.realized.Shirley.is.your.wife. /D’oh!

      She did a DAMN good job rebutting the proposed ordinances today and I am immensely proud of her efforts to defeat it. She was the lone voice of reason and displayed real leadership on behalf of all cyclists today. Sadly, we needed five more council people with her level of understanding of the issue.

      On the contrary, I remain severely disappointed in Councilwoman Viagran for lacking the political courage to do what was right. While I will concede that she was in a tough position in that she already got skewered by her constituents over the Mission Trails trailer park rezoning debacle earlier this month, she failed to display any political courage (aka leadership) to buck them again and preserver what she knew was right.

      Further, I find Viagran’s reasoning disingenuous in that she cited “safety for all road users” as her rationale for supporting the ordinance to remove the lanes. Yet under questioning from Mayor Castro, city staff (including planning engineers) admitted that NO evidence existed to support the contention that the existing bike lanes presented a safety hazard. They further even admitted that NO evidence exists to support that moving the bike lanes to Mission Rd. was any more or less safe than the status quo. In other words, City Council voted 10-1 to spend $700,000 in tax money to appease a vocal minority of mostly elderly residents who were butt-hurt that they weren’t first consulted before the road diet occurred.

      Finally, to claim that the community overwhelmingly wanted the bike lanes removed was itself false as it ignored the majority of cyclists in attendance at the May 19 meeting- the same meeting that city staff cut short from an hour to 40 minutes to avoid any possible conflict between the previously obnoxious and rude residents and the much younger cyclist majority in attendance. Talk about muting voices and not being heard.

      In the end, as is customary, the rest of council followed the local District 3’s (Viagran) position and voted to remove the lanes. Commitment and leadership to preserve the vision of SA2020 be damned.

      • The perception is the majority of voters drive as their sole means of transportation, and that road capacity to support autos is more important than walkability or cycling. One man’s view…reducing road capacity or motorist convenience is politically risky. Motorist convenience is almost always achieved at the expense walkability and cycling. Any alternative transportation project that is challenged will invariably pit motorist convenience against whatever the other project is, whether that is walking, cycling or transit. However, stating that position openly just sounds wrong, so the conversation takes a different note. The arguments become either 1) subsidizing alternative transportation is a waste of money, 2) there are not enough users of the alternative project being discussed, or 3) the alternative transportation project creates safety problems.

        Those arguments, in almost every case, are invalid if you dig into the facts. I looked at the data presented by St. Leo’s that the 3-lane configuration on S. Flores was dangerous. The data had duplicates (many accidents were reported twice, probably from each vehicle involved), and most of the accidents were at Military, Southcross, and two other intersections near schools. I doubt the 3-lane configuration of Flores was a contributing factor in those accidents, and rigorous study of accidents at those sites was not done to my knowledge. It is quite possible reverting to 4-lanes on S. Flores will increase accidents on the street, and at those specific intersections. However, the facts did not matter. Safety was a convenient tagline, even if the argument they made had no merit or data to support it. It’s way more palatable to say you converted the road to 4-lanes because of safety than to say you did it in spite of safety consequences just because it seemed politically popular.

        So, what is the answer? Again, in my opinion, find the rare elected official that is willing to take the political risk to support alternative transportation modes and support them. There may be other alternatives, but in the many years I’ve had an interest in this topic, I haven’t found another one that seems to deliver results. The city staff executed the bicycle master plan, but when they needed support from the elected officials, they were left hanging. My guess is they will be much more reluctant to pursue road diet projects in the future, or any other alternative transportation projects. One council member is simply not enough support from elected officials.

        I personally am disappointed in those that agreed with Shirley, but still voted to remove the bike lanes. Even though Krier was quick to jump into action when that child was killed in his district, his and Gallagher’s votes were no surprise. Just look at their positions on the SAWS impact fee issue. They are staunchly sprawl minded. Councilmen Lopez and Nirenberg make a lot of public statements about environmental issues, but their actions consistently speak louder than their words, that the environment is not really that important when compared to the interests of development at the fringe. I thought in this case they might be inclined to support the bike lanes for the sake of SA2020, but didn’t believe they’d be strongly committed. However, councilwoman Taylor, mayor Castro, and councilman Saldana did surprise me. I believe they are committed to SA2020, alternative transportation, and urbanization, and thought they would vote that way. I cannot understand their positions.

        I haven’t ridden since last Friday…I need to ride!

  2. I wish the city could do something about the two block only bike lane on South Alamo between Ceaser Chavez and S. Presa in Southtown. We desperately need more parking spaces with all the restaurants open for lunch. This bike lane makes no sense since it is only two blocks long and does not connect to any other bike routes. Without the bike lane we could have at least twelve more parking spaces.

    • If they are going to spend money and want to bring in more business and travelers; How about some modernized climate-controlled skyways ? Maybe even bike lanes over the city? Traffic below, pedestrians above. It would have to be enclosed to prevent the occasional “jumper”, always think ahead.

  3. This is why the south side has a hard time attracting people. Maybe with the addition of high end apartments on Mission we will get to have what most of rest of the city has with out the nay sayers always wanting to keep things from changing.

  4. Where are they planning to get the money for this.
    A lot less “unfortunate incidents” would occur if pedestrians and bicyclist would obey the walk crossing signs, use the cross-walks, not dart in and out of traffic on bikes, not run stop-signs or red-lights on bikes, not drink and ride a bicycle–especially on first Friday, and just gain some common sense.
    As for the driver’s, stop doing anything else besides operating the car when you drive. Maybe then you will see someone’s deaf and half-blind grandma crossing an intersection at two in the morning to get to the next bar.

    What the city needs to put money into is EDUCATION, it’s obvious the mass majority of the area is under-educated!!!

  5. Benefit or lack of benefit arguments aside..

    These bike lanes are nothing but paint on the road correct?

    I ask because I find it pretty absurd that “removing” them would cost $300,000. For 2.3 miles? Is the paint made with gold plated unicorn’s tears?

    This is a wonderful example of government inefficiency at it’s worst.

  6. @David,

    How dare you force your book-learning upon me! You people come into my community and tell me how I’m supposed to be?! The fancy word for that escapes me…likely due to my inadequate education.

  7. In addition to better planned bike lanes, added sidewalks and pedestrian crossings; the community as a whole requires educational programs with an aim to more effective and efficient interactions amongst the above including motorists.

  8. How can we hope to be viewed as a progressive and sustainable city if we take measures to start removing bike lanes? Really, SA? Not okay.

  9. Robert Rivard, has no one pointed out the absurdities and irony of CoSA giving away the safest north south bike access through town: S. Main? We knew this would not work, we jumped up and down, we saw drawings we knew would not work. And guess what? They don’t. And now short months later, here we are. Seems some council persons who at first advocated for permanent bike and pedestrian access on S. Main could have stuck to their guns more than 5 seconds:/

  10. It seems like more and more laws are being made for those common sense situations that require people to think before hand.

  11. I hope someone points out that without a bike lane, cyclists should use the entire width of a standard lane for their safety and motorists are required to vacate the lane of the vulnerable user per the Safe Passing Ordinance. Pedestrians will be the big loser as they have to again watch for vehicles in two lanes in each direction when they cross the street.

  12. At once time I was considering buying a house in san antonio. I was looking around flores street specifically because of the bike lanes. This would have pissed me off so much.

  13. The safest place to ride your bike is probably the sidewalk, since the risk of there being any pedestrians in most parts of town is infinitesimal.

  14. Awesome. $700,000 that could be spent on doing something useful in SA is now going to be spent on removing bike lanes that, according to the city’s recent study, didn’t cause any of the problems that the anti-bike lane people claimed. It will be interesting to see how these folks respond to us now taking the full lane.

  15. As a cyclist/commuter there are some areas of town that I just don’t feel safe occupying a full lane and feel safer in a bike lane… The city is taking a step back by removing bike lanes in my opinion, given the increasing number of two wheeled self powered commuters here. As more citizens are discovering the physical, economical and environmental benefits of bicycle commuting there should be more consideration when revamping existing or planning future infrastructure.

  16. Thanks Iris and The Rivard Report for reporting on the issue. I’m extremely disappointed with the outcome but I’m glad that it was well reported on and really appreciated the facts presented in the story. Even though the council members I wrote ultimately voted to remove the lanes I’m glad I was informed about the situation so that I could make my voice heard. It’s really disturbing that such a misuse of money was allowed even though the traffic survey didn’t point to a significant degradation of travel time….

  17. Can we form a protest? I say all cyclist commuters gather somewhere on a certain day and ride around on all lanes to show just how needed bicycle lanes are….either way, bicycles have same rights of way as a motor vehicle 😉

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