City Council Removes South Flores 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.

City Council approved a $700,000 plan Thursday to remove 2.3 miles of bike lanes on South Flores Street and improve an existing, alternative bike route on nearby Mission Road.

The ordinance passed 10-1 with District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales casting the only dissenting vote. Several crowded public meetings leading up to the vote had indicated a strong turn-out for Thursday’s meeting – but only a couple dozen citizens were there for this particular agenda item.

“It’s common that we (council members) don’t go into other districts and tell them what to do,” Gonzales said. “But this is in District 5 now, too … and this goes against every single step we’ve taken” to make San Antonio a bike-friendly community.

The South Flores Street bike lanes are in Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran’s District 4, while a portion of the alternate route recommended by staff is in District 5.

District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales

District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales

Gonzales passionately connected the bike lane/complete street concept to several SA2020 initiatives reinforced at Council’s Wednesday B Session.

“Transportation, family well-being, air quality, health and fitness,” Gonzales said. “I don’t believe we did enough to show the community why this is important.”

Council and citizen statements on both sides of the issue cited safety as the overriding concern. Those in favor of bike lanes removal claimed conditions have worsened since that section of South Flores Street was reduced from four to two lanes of vehicle traffic. Bike lane advocates disagreed and cited the traffic-calming effects of the nearly $1 million complete street project, which included bike lanes from East Mitchell Street to SW Military Avenue on South Flores, completed in Spring 2013.

(Read More: $700,000 Street Plan Includes Removal of Bike Lanes)

“It’s important that we distinguish between a safety issue and people feeling inconvenienced,” Mayor Julián Castro said.

The most powerful testimony that spoke to this, he said, was from Robert Villafranca, representing Harlandale Independent School District.

“Anybody (involved) in public policy … needs to pay attention” when the a school district raises a safety concern, Castro said, . “(even though) the statistics don’t reflect a safety issue.”

The three-day, industry standard traffic impact study conducted by the City and San Antonio Police Department recorded a negligible travel time impact on South Flores Street after the bike lanes were added, and a 4 percent decrease in accidents.

SAPD crash data as presented by City staff at a public meeting on May 20, 2014. Note the range/scale of the graph, 174 to 186.
SAPD crash data as presented by City staff at a public meeting on May 20, 2014. Note the range/scale of the graph, 174 to 186.

From May 2012 to April 2013, 186 crashes involving motor vehicles, pedestrians and bicycles were reported. From May 2013 to April 2014, 178 crashes were reported. Download the Transportation and Capital Improvements’ presentation here.

“We support health initiatives … bike lanes are welcome,” said Villafranca, Harlandale ISD administrator for operations. “But these (bike lanes) put our students, staff and community members at risk of an accident.”

Villafranca cited school staff and faulty-observed hazards of the new street; children “darting between cars,” buses unable to navigate a crowded street, and lines of impatient drivers waiting behind buses.

“I’m very disappointed,” said Jack Sanford, San Antonio representative for the nonprofit BikeTexas, the state’s leading cycling advocacy group. “The idea that bike lanes are making (the street) unsafe for school children is preposterous.”

If anything, Sanford said, the street diet project slowed down traffic for the eight school zones on South Flores – creating a safer environment for vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists. In order to satisfy a few residents that have convinced themselves bike lanes are too inconvenient, he said, the City has taken a step away from its own multimodal goals.

(Read More: Southsider Reflects on Potential Bike Lane Removal)

Dr. Edward Kern and Jack Sanford disagree over the removal of bike lanes on South Flores Street but engage in a respectful dialogue after the City Council vote to remove the lanes May 29, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Dr. Edward Kern and Jack Sanford disagree over the approved removal of bike lanes on South Flores Street but engage in a respectful dialogue after the City Council vote May 29, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

“We would be responsible for the next person that got hit” if we don’t remove the bike lanes, said District 10 Councilman Mike Gallagher in response to Villafranca’s statements. “That should be our number one concern. Safety.”

Local residents and business owners were not given enough input into the South Flores project, City staff has acknowledged at several post-project meetings.

“We learned a valuable lesson on outreach,” said Transportation and Capital Improvements Assistant Director Arthur Reinhardt. More communication will be crucial for future projects that involve a reduction of traditional, vehicular amenities on main streets.

Therein lies the problem, Sanford said after the meeting. “Quiet streets don’t need bike lanes.”

Before casting his vote to remove the bike lanes, Castro emphasized that this decision should not be seen as a precedent.

“It is our policy that we will create bike lanes when we work on streets or create (new) streets,” Castro said, referring to the 2011 Bike Master Plan. “I’m uncomfortable with the idea that every time we’ll have to ask permission to do that … because we have (an approved master plan) that lets us do that.

“If we start asking everybody in our city then we’ll have a hodgepodge” of bike routes instead of a network that connects recreational, residential and commercial corridors.

From the Transportation and Capital Improvements' presentation to City Council on May 29, 2014.

From the Transportation and Capital Improvements’ presentation to City Council on May 29, 2014.

“The process was messed up,” said District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg. “I’m at a loss of information here … so I have to go with the District 3 (Viagran’s) recommendation.”

A group of about 10 citizens representing the COPS Metro Alliance and Trinity Lutheran Church – both located on South Flores Street – rallied together in support for the lane removal for the citizens to be heard session.

“We live here, we know our traffic,” said Gloria Mora of Metro Alliance. “If they had asked (the community first) they wouldn’t have wasted $1 million.”

District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran speaks with COPS Metro Alliance and Trinity Lutheran Church representatives after City Council approved bike lane removal on South Flores Street. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran speaks with COPS Metro Alliance and Trinity Lutheran Church representatives after City Council approved bike lane removal on South Flores Street. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Tom Swift, a local artist who lives on South Flores Street, said he and fellow cyclists are “extremely frustrated that this issue turned into a safety issue … it’s just a way to confuse and distract from the reality. It’s about the bigger picture – (alternative transportation) access and ultimately air quality.”

Restoring South Flores Street to a four-lane street could take about six months, Viagran said, if the project is expedited. It’s likely that “share the road” signs will be installed as well.

Also approved during Thursday’s meeting was an ordinance requiring new street projects to prohibit parking in bike lanes. About 100 miles of existing streets with this contradictory set-up will be “grandfathered in,” said Reinhardt, because these streets are not wide enough to accommodate a separate bike lane.  About 53 miles, however, have been identified for review to either remove parking or add a separated bike lane between parking and vehicular traffic.

“No parking is eliminated by this particular ordinance,” he said. Each street will be analyzed on a case-by-case basis. And yes, “there will be outreach” this time, Reinhardt said.

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

Related Stories:

Southsider Reflects on Potential Bike Lane Removal

$700,000 Street Plan Includes Removal of Bike Lanes

Bike|Beat: A Pachanga Promoting Bicycle Awareness

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

The Gorilla in the Room: One Cyclist Death Too Many

27 thoughts on “City Council Removes South Flores Bike Lanes

  1. The lanes are to be removed under the guise of ‘safety’ yet the cities own study proves (albeit in a small sample size) that safety actually improved with the advent of the bike lanes.

    Funny.

    • @ Rob

      The 8 fewer crashes is hardly an improvement and it’s very likely that over a longer timespan (say, 10 years), you might see similar variation year-over-year. This is probably why there is only a two-year comparison. In fact, the graph has many problems with it. As the article mentions, the scale is very misleading. That, and it doesn’t take into account the overall context of the street conditions in either year (e.g. construction or lack thereof, new businesses, light work, etc.). I would also suggest it actually weakens the argument because of the misleading nature of the data. It undermines the argument’s credibility no matter how correct it is.

      Nitpicking aside, this is very disappointing decision in terms of the overall evolution of the city’s center and the south side. I have a feeling over the next several years, this decision may come back to bite them when cyclists start taking up the whole right lane. In fact, that sounds like a great idea for a peaceful protest.

    • More precisely, the logic expressed at the council meeting was (my translation):

      1. The data shows there was a slight improvement in safety
      2. The citizens’ claims of a safety problem really looks to be an argument about perceived inconvenience to motorists
      3. Data shows there was no impact to motorist convenience
      4. We agree reverting the street to 4-lanes contradicts SA2020, Complete Streets, and the Bicycle Master Plan
      5. The city stands steadfastly in support of Complete Streets, the Bicycle Master Plan, and SA2020
      6. We are going ignore all of this and take the bike lanes off Flores anyway, return Flores to 4-lanes, and accept the increased risk to pedestrians, promote more automobile trips, faster speeds on Flores, and seek citizen opposition to future projects that might somehow encourage any shift from the auto culture.
      7. We remained fully committed to the principles of electricity. That is to say, we remain fully committed to SA2020, the Bicycle Master Plan, and Complete Streets, unless it is too difficult, then we remain fully committed to the path of least resistance.
      8. Now city staff, go out and implement the hard stuff, but please don’t expect support from the elected officials.

  2. remember that episode of Seinfeld when Kramer re-striped the highway lane in the middle of the night using a paint roller?

  3. Very lame. S. Flores doesn’t need more car lanes. The traffic is fine the way it is and shoving all the riders to picturesque roads is all very well for leisure riding…but many people actually COMMUTE on bikes too. Too bad the City is going backwards on this for no good reason that i can see.

  4. In atypical Rangel fashion I’m not going to craft a long diatribe in response to the removal of the S. Flores bike lanes at my expense, tantamount to the epitome of “adding insult to injury”. I never rode those lanes. I never needed to. Now I can’t. Big deal. Every lane is a bike lane. They already screwed up the bike lanes on North (or Lower. Or whatever the f*ck) Broadway and replaced them with an ultrawide “sharrows” lane that is meaningless except that now there is room for cars to pass cyclists unsafely at will because they do not understand that, just because there is room to, it does not give you the legal right to pass in the same lane. That’s not what that lane is for. But I digress. The fact remains that city council is running scared of being displaced and will do anything to retain whatever voters they can to keep them in place. Which is ironic because it’s not a well paid position, rarely leads to a larger office for most of them, and they obviously have no real interest in making the city more progressive. Why do they make stupid decisions like the bike lane removal? Besides fear, of course? Because they can. It’s the same reason the HDRC goes apeshit every time someone in Southtown wants to paint their house without permission. Someone people get a boners from signing on the dotted line to exercise a minute bit of power over someone else. It’s the same thing that makes that shitty Bill Millers manager force their employee to pick up a box they dropped. Or the reason that Dollar Store cashier takes 10 minutes to makes change before they check you out. It’s the only power they have and they will use it whether it needs to be or not. City Council clearly is demonstrating that they are both afraid of upsetting residents that are, apparently, more important than others and that they can do it with impunity and against black and white studies strongly suggesting (if not outright proving) the incorrectness of their decision. These same residents will be the ones to get up in arms and complain when “gentrification” comes knocking and they want to save their neighborhoods from developers who are even MORE important to city council. Sh*t flows downhill and money goes the other direction.

    So take your little win, ill-informed residents of the “So-Flo” corridor.

    Someone else will be coming to take more important things from you than our bike lanes in the near future. And guess what? I’ll be SMH riding down the middle of a full traffic lane while nice new middle-class people water their condo lawns on what used to be your property.

  5. In cities, like this one, where there is more than enough space to provide cyclists with with well thought out, lets call them, “Urban Bicycle Routes”, they lack the creativity and intelligence to provide them. Unless is its someone else calling the shots besides the residents……I would suggest or advise them to study well Urbanized cities like Amsterdam, Barcelona, NYC, Chicago etc.. and understand how bike routes work in their cities and see what the city needs to function properly.

  6. Meh a bunch of middle class hipster fixed gear bike riders are upset they were unable to gentrify a neighborhood.

    I would say cry me a river, but yal got the San Antonio River Reach and are making progress on kicking people out along the banks…

    What we think we need and what we have been taught to consume becomes very relative…

    Consuming urban middle class culture will have it’s effects on our blue collar history here in SA.

  7. This is unfortunate. Totally agree with Lorenzo, biking and walking makes for a friendlier, more livable city.

  8. I heard both sides disagreeing about the impact on the youth in the neighborhood, that cars are bad for youth or bikes are bad for youth. But did anyone actually ask the kids in the neighborhood what they thought? After all, everything we are planning and constructing will primarily impact them, not us. How much of a voice do they have in what happens to the community?

  9. “About 53 miles, however, have been identified for review to either remove parking or add a separated bike lane between parking and vehicular traffic.”

    So when cyclists end up being killed by people opening their car doors into the so called separated bike lane, will the city throw away $16,130,434 to remove them?

    These paint markings provide nothing but a false notion of safety.

    I ride a bike. Often as a commuter. For years in Boston I rode a 12 mile commute each way. Never felt the need for a bike lane. In fact I vehemently disagree with much of the opinions so called new urbanism claims as fact.

    If a group of cyclists are going to demand special accommodation on the roads then perhaps it is time to reinstate bicycle licensing to fund such accommodations. A dedicated bicycle tax that could actually fund real improvements such as segregated bicycle ROW such as common in Europe. Those ROW are superior to the facade of “bike sharrows” and paint on the road.

  10. Wow. I can’t get over how many folks posted comments against this decision… Just curious how many let their city council person know your views?

  11. The city is divided among political lines so it’s hard to move forward with plans no matter what the proposal.

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