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

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West Malone as it stands today. A recent count by the City of San Antonio showed that dozens of people used Theo and Malone bike lanes during rush hour traffic. Many more people would likely bike on these roads if the bike lanes were improved. Photo © BikeTexas.

West Malone as it stands today. A recent count by the City of San Antonio showed that dozens of people used Theo and Malone bike lanes during rush hour traffic. Many more people would likely bike on these roads if the bike lanes were improved. Photo © BikeTexas.

Jack Sanford is a Program Manager at BikeTexasIf you had $14 million to reconstruct a road in your neighborhood, how would you do it? Wouldn’t you at least try to make it safe for everyone who uses the road?

The City of San Antonio is spending $14 million to improve Theo Avenue and West Malone Street between S. Flores and Nogalitos Streets.  The money is from a bond package approved by voters in 2012 that promised to improve, or at least maintain, the existing bicycle lanes. However, the City’s Capital Improvements Management Services (CIMS) department held a “public” meeting in April 2013 and recommended that the bike lanes be removed.

West Malone as it stands today. A recent count by the City of San Antonio showed that dozens of people used Theo and Malone bike lanes during rush hour traffic. Many more people would likely bike on these roads if the bike lanes were improved. Photo © BikeTexas.

West Malone as it stands today. A recent count by the City of San Antonio showed that dozens of people used Theo and Malone bike lanes during rush hour traffic. Many more people would likely bike on these roads if the bike lanes were improved. Photo © BikeTexas.

While these are regional roads for the bicycle network, they only invited residents of Theo and W. Malone Streets. Other key players were not informed of the meeting until after it had taken place, making the meeting less public than most.

CIMS presented four different options to the 35 residents who showed up that night. According to the minutes, as they presented the first option – which removed on-street parking in favor of wider sidewalks and room for trees – the first question to be asked was, “Why is a bike lane needed?”

At this point any number of answers would have been acceptable:

Any of those responses would have been great. But at the bare minimum the response should have included the statement that bicycle lanes are needed because that’s what is in the bond language, that’s what the voters approved and that’s what the MPO approved in its decision to match funds for this project.

Instead, according to the minutes, the CIMS representative “noted that Option 1 has a bike lane in it but there are other options that will be shown that remove the bike lane.”

CIMS' best option for people on bikes presented at the April 2013 public meeting. This option shows a multiuse path 8' wide, even though the recommended minimum width for a multiuse path is 10'. It also has a travel lane 15' wide, even though standard travel lane width is 11'. (Photo from City of San Antonio Capital Improvements Management Services)

Option 2, CIMS’ best option for people on bikes presented at the April 2013 public meeting. However, this option’s multi-use pathway is too narrow and the vehicle traffic is wider than standards require. Rendering from Capital Improvements Management Services’ presentation.

Download CIMS’ public presentation here and see the minutes from the meeting here.

CIMS recommends the option that removes the bike lane.

Theo and W. Malone Streets are key corridors for people on bikes, offering one of the only semi-safe east-west routes south of downtown.

Students from nearby Burbank High School learn basic bike handling and signaling skills on the only bike lanes in the area on – you guessed it – Theo and W. Malone Streets.

A recent bicycle count by the City showed that dozens of cyclists use the roads every day during rush hours. In terms of the bicycling network, it’s a regional road. Yet CIMS treated this major bicycling corridor like a purely local issue, and ignored both the bond language and City ordinances and guidance that support building safe bicycling facilities. They did not notify the City’s Special Projects Manager for San Antonio Bikes, Julia Murphy about this meeting.

No one presented any of the positive benefits to the community of improving the roads for all users, so attendees at the meeting did not get a complete picture of what bicycle accommodations can do for their street and their community.  Without all the information, it’s no wonder the small gathering simply agreed with CIMS’ recommendation.

Option 4, the option CIMS recommended, which represents a huge downgrade for the safety of people on bikes. Rendering from Capital Improvements Management Services presentation.

Option 4, the option CIMS recommended, which represents a huge downgrade for the safety of people on bikes. Rendering from Capital Improvements Management Services presentation.

The option that CIMS recommended should have never been produced or shown to the public as an option – much less presented as the recommended option. It represents a huge step backwards for the streets and for the City of San Antonio as whole. The bike lanes on Theo and W. Malone Streets are nearly historic as they were part of the very first efforts to install bike lanes in the city.

Even the most bicycle-friendly of CIMS’ options showed how lacking this department is when it comes to designing for bikes. The best option presented (see first rendering) included on-street parking and an eight foot wide, multi-use path to replace the bike lane, which would help buffer residents from loud truck traffic. The Federal Highway Administration recommended minimum width of a multi-use path is 10 feet– basically a wide sidewalk shared by people walking, biking, pushing strollers, using wheelchairs, etc.

Instead of doing even the bare minimum for a multi-use path, they gave this option a 15 foot travel lane for cars, when the standard width for a vehicle lane is 11-feet, with 12 feet considered generous. Wider lanes also encourage higher speeds.

This could be an isolated incident, and CIMS may get it right on the dozens of other major bond projects they oversee, but after hearing from CIMS Director Mike Frisbie, that prospect does not seem likely.

At the Alamo Region Livability Summit in August, CIMS Director Mike Frisbie asserted that some cyclists prefer to be mixing with traffic rather than riding in bike lanes, and therefore accommodating bicycles in a project can sometimes be achieved with no accommodations at all. This attitude seems to be permeating his department, such that removing bike lanes in favor of signed routes can be called a safe accommodation for bicycling.

San Antonio departments like CIMS should be following the City’s own vision and policy guidance by building roads that are safe for a wide range of people who want to bike. BikeTexas’ own survey from 2013 shows that Texans who bike overwhelmingly prefer separated facilities, like cycle tracks. A 2011 study in the peer-reviewed journal Injury Prevention, showed that cycle tracks had 2.5 more times as many cyclists than reference streets, and that the injury rate on the cycle tracks was 28 percent lower.

CIMS needs to do their homework. Instead of presenting options that go against the bond language that voters approved, or options that barely achieve the minimum to accommodate bicycles and pedestrians, they should be looking to examples that actually encourage biking and walking. There are many of these examples available, with detailed guidance on how to construct them found in the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) Bikeway Design Guide.

A protected bicycle lane, or cycle track, is what should be built with our tax dollars. This is an option that will make it safer for people to choose a bike as transportation, and more pleasant for pedestrians and residents Instead CIMS has chosen to make this road less safe for cyclists, and promote more and faster automobile traffic.

San Antonio deserves the best – or at least better than the worst.

 

Get involved – sign the petition for improving, and not removing bike lanes on Theo Malone at www.biketexas.org/theomalone. 

Jack Sanford is a Program Manager at BikeTexas, the only state-wide bicycle and pedestrian advocacy organization. Jack was born and raised in San Antonio and serves as the BikeTexas liaison for the city. He also serves as the BikeTexas representative on the  Bicycle Mobility Advisory Committee of the San Antonio-Bexar County MPO. You can reach BikeTexas at mail@biketexas.org,facebook.com/biketexas, or @BikeTexas.

 

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23 thoughts on “Bike Advocate to San Antonio: Why Are You Moving Backwards?

      • Derek, actually YOU are the one who should stuff it. Carlos is just saying what everyone knows about SA, but most are too proud to admit. The utter incompetence with which CIMS handled this issue is a perfect example thereof. As long as SA’s so-called “leadership” remains proudly ignorant, keeps aiming for mediocrity and hitting slightly short of it while stubbornly claiming greatness, we’ll continue to have a 3rd-world trash town and wonder why progressive cities don’t take us seriously.

  1. Is this really a high traffic path for bicyclists? If it isn’t then it doesn’t matter but if it is then Houston, we have a problem.

    • This is a high traffic set of roads period, because it’s the best east-west connection. There are very few places in the city that currently have high bicycle traffic, because we don’t have a complete network of very safe facilities. This is a great opportunity to build a very safe facility, it’s part of what the bond package was intended to do, and that will help this important traffic route feel safe for more people who want to bike.

  2. For $14M, you’d think we could get a street improvement that, you know, -improves- the urban condition. Not more of this same 3rd-world incompetence that defines most of SA.

  3. Read the story in today’s San Antonio Business Journal (available online) about City Manager Sculley combining CIMS with the Public Works department starting Jan. 2 with Mike Frisbie, the CIMS leader who flubbed this planning project, as the head of the new combined department. Let’s hope that Sculley is going to oversee Frisbie to assure that he becomes more aware of the city’s policies (Complete Streets ordinance and SA2020 guidelines to produce a walking and biking friendly city), or his new tenure will likely lead to a public fiasco far beyond this southside localized one mentioned in the article here.

    • I smell a rat. Can the city send Frisbie of CIMS to the Texas Trails and Active Transportation Conference 2014 so he can be enlightened? Engineers, Planners, Advocates, Bike Share Directors, Bike/Ped city staff, city leaders, and global leaders will all be there to talk about multi-modal mode share, and why it makes sense.

  4. I’m always driving down those streets and I rarely see anyone use those lanes, unfortunately. People on this side of town don’t really observe any bike laws at all–they ride on the sidewalks, ride against traffic, etc. I don’t think they should remove them, but it’d probably help if they were used more.

  5. The question we should all just ask ourselves is “If they are already there, what does it hurt to keep them there?” Honestly, how do bike lanes make things worse for the motorist? The people living by them should be so thankful that they have some visible barrier to calm traffic through their neighborhood.

    Besides that, the MPO publishes maps that show the bicycle facilities. How would it look politically if someone relied on that map to ride from point A to point B, saw that there was a lane on Theo/Malone, and then they ride over there to find out that it is missing? It looks bad all around.

  6. Alamo RMA spent $140 million at 281 & 1604 and didn’t include bike lanes. As a result, it is impossible to ride a bike to certain businesses in the project area (unless you’re willing to risk your life by riding in the same lane as 60 mph traffic).

    A local non-profit had a lawsuit to compel an environmental impact study for the project, but it was defeated when the judge, lacking common sense, ruled that the $140 million highway expansion did not increase the capacity of the interchange. If the EIS had been required, there would be bike lanes there today.

    But thanks to Express-News and people who moved north of 1604 expecting taxpayers to subsidize their developments, public opinion turned against the environmental study and we’ve got the car-dominated, bicycle hostile, neighborhood that the E-N editorial staff so desired.

    • Thanks for bringing that up Robert. BikeTexas fought the RMA on that after we saw that the project erased the eight-foot shoulders that so many people on bikes had been using. They eventually agreed to alter the lane configuration to have a 14-foot outside lane with signage indicating to watch out for bikes. Which is a huge step backwards for the safety of cyclists.

      One reason that they justified taking this step back, is that the larger project for 1604 from Bandera to I-35 is supposed to include a wide multi-use path on each side of 1604 the entire stretch. But without pressure from people who want safer biking facilities, the RMA is very likely to drop that from their plans.

      In a similar situation to the 281 interchange, the RMA board voted against an EIS for this massive project, despite strong objections from some board members.

  7. The city is going to do what it wants, no matter how much y’all fight amongst yourselves on social media…

  8. Nicely done. Keep raising awareness. If SA2020 is to have a prayer, it’s important for us to keep pressure on the officials entrusted with this work. CIMS has this all wrong and Mike Frisbie needs an education! Perhaps he should be invited out for a ride sometime so he can get a realtime example of the conditions bicyclists in the city face.

    • Thanks Tami. SA2020 is a great vision, but it appears from the outside looking in that no one who has the power to enact that vision actually cares all that much about it. Hopefully that can change. It would go a long way if the Mayor and City Council pressed staff to do more towards finding creative ways to start meeting the goals of SA2020 now.

  9. I use these streets regularly and if they were not there I would probably ride my bike less. It provides me with a direct route to the Mission Reach trail from my home. It makes no sense for me to drive somewhere to ride my bike in a safe area.

    • Thanks Patty. Please contact shirley.gonzales@sanantonio.gov, the city council member from your area, if you have not already. When you sign the petition at biketexas.org/theo-malone we’ll send you an email with some talking points you can use. But the basic message is this – tell her you want better bike lanes, not less bike lanes.

  10. the bike lanes in san antonio are a JOKE, seriously, no one maintains them, there is more glass and gravel and cars in the bike lanes which is why you see more of us in the regular lanes and WE WILL NOT STOP, don’t like that I’m not fast enough, go around me, but give me my distance, i love this city, seriously, i do, the bike lanes issue is a major joke and you can’t shut us up, we are LOUD and numerous and fed up with it, so to hell with your “bike lane” BS, we continue to fight the good fight one day at a time, spend the money on useful things like parks and wildlife, pollution prevention, and teaching the people on welfare skills so they can join the workforce like the rest of us

  11. There’s a public meeting tonight about Theo/Malone. Staff from the new Transportation and Capital Improvements department (the merged Public Works and CIMS) will present their design of the street. Purportedly it will have bike lanes. BikeTexas is asking anyone who bikes in the area to come out and request that the bike lanes be improved by widening the bike lanes, applying a painted buffer, and narrowing the vehicle travel lanes to 10′.

    Thursday, February 27 at 6pm
    Palm Heights Community Center
    1201 W. Malone Ave., San Antonio, TX, 78225

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