Editor’s Note: The following are Dr. Bill Shea’s prepared comments before the Texas Transportation Commission on Dec. 18, asking the commission to keep federal Transportation Alternatives Program funding (TAP) going towards urban trail projects for trail or protected bike/pedestrian projects. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) will issue a call for projects under this fund in early 2015 for areas with populations under 200,000. TAP is the primary source of funding for bike and pedestrian projects in the state. TxDOT intends to transfer 50% of the available $75 million to other purposes. Shea, Fred Ramirez from Corpus Christi, and Steve Gonzales from the Camino Real organization spoke about great projects that could be funded if the TTC does not divert $37 million annually of the federal TAP funds from bike/pedestrian projects.
According to BikeTexas Executive Director Robin Stallings, the TTC has diverted more than $100 million from bike/pedestrian projects to highway rest stops since 2001. TxDOT estimates $37 million remaining in TAP funds after transfers will be available in 2015 for areas with populations under 200,000, which leaves out San Antonio and the surrounding area. Watch a video of the meeting here. (Click on agenda item number 4B.)
I’m Dr. Bill Shea from San Antonio. I’m a medical doctor, and I’ve been practicing in San Antonio since 1993. I am CEO of Pegasus Wireless Healthcare. So my focus here is on the health of young San Antonians.
San Antonio has made good progress towards reducing obesity and its related health problems in recent years, yet we remain on the list of most overweight cities and have high rates of diabetes and heart disease as a result. Just ask Charles Barkley about “Fat Antonio.”
We are a military town, but many of our young people are not even fit enough to serve. A landmark study by Mission Readiness found that nationally, over 1/4 of young adults between the ages of 17 and 24 are Too Fat to Fight. I’m sure that number is even higher in San Antonio.
But it’s also improving. San Antonians have proven that given the right infrastructure, we will get out and work to get fit.
Our Síclovía open streets events attract 75,000 participants, families who walk, bike, run, roller skate, and Zumba their way to better health. Every City Council member wants this event in their district, because they know it will benefit their constituents. But this happens only twice a year – how do we give people the chance to safely be active on our street network the other 363 days of the year?
San Antonio has built an incredible network of 46 miles of greenway trails along our major creeks, in addition to new trail development along 13 miles of the San Antonio River, which you might know as the River Walk.
These trails have boosted the economic vitality of the areas they serve and provide attractive amenities for visitors and future residents. They also serve to help our city get fit.
Along the new portions of the River Walk, where you can walk and bike, counters show that the trail averages between 11,000 and 19,000 trips per month.
We just started officially counting users on our Greenway Trails last month, and in one month, with plenty of rainy days, 15,000 trips were made on just one of our major trails.
Even with all the glamour of the River Walk, our Greenway Trails that connect neighborhoods are seeing just as much bicycle and pedestrian traffic.
It’s not just recreation traffic. The Leon Creek Trail connects several major apartment developments with UTSA, allowing our young adults to choose a healthier commute to campus.
With all these great things, why am I here today?
Because we are sorely lacking the on-street infrastructure to allow people to make active and healthy transportation choices as part of their daily life.
Areas that badly need bike infrastructure don’t even have sidewalks. Where we do have sidewalks, they are too narrow, cracked, have utility poles next to them, and run inches away from 50-mile-an-hour traffic. Kids in middle school and high school are walking to school along highways and major arterial roads without sidewalks.
The TAP dollars in the MPO call for projects has been a drop in the bucket for what’s needed. San Antonians want to get out and be active, but need the safety of a trail or a closed street to make that happen.
$35 million could, in one year, build adequate sidewalks for every school, transforming not just our health outcomes, but also improving our test scores, as we allow for safe and active transportation to school.
We have more than 93,000 full-time college students in San Antonio, but most of our students do not have a safe way to walk or bike to campus. $35 million could create a network of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure around each of our campuses, allowing our young adults to easily add physical activity to their busy schedules.
Please use the TAP funds to make our streets safe so we have the chance to make healthy physical activity a part of our daily lives. Do not transfer TAP funds out of TAP.
*Featured/top image: The Texas Transportation Commission meeting on Dec. 18, 2014. Screenshot from video recording.