Pedestrian Safety and City Planning in San Antonio

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District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales' 2014 Fiesta Medal.

District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales' 2014 Fiesta Medal.

Pedestrian and cycling safety is one of my top priorities. Walking and cycling are important transportation modes throughout District 5. It is not uncommon to pass through an intersection in District 5 that is occupied by more pedestrians than motorists. Like many of the people in my District, I too walk and ride. I walk to work, ride my bike to City Hall, and ride for exercise through all parts of the city. My husband commutes by bike. District 5 residents depend on walking and cycling, but unfortunately they are exposed to disproportionate risk from motor vehicle collisions and inadequate facilities. As we’ve built a city around the automobile, we’ve neglected to meet the needs of pedestrians and cyclists.

Pedestrian and cyclist fatalities and serious injuries repeatedly emphasize this point. The city’s built environment, built around the automobile, and a culture of auto-dominance, results in a community that disproportionately kills and seriously injures pedestrians and cyclists.

This Mulberry Avenue bike lane is too narrow to offer cyclists a safe space from passing vehicles. Photo courtesy of COSA/Office of Sustainability

This Mulberry Avenue bike lane is too narrow to offer cyclists a safe space from passing vehicles. Photo courtesy of COSA/Office of Sustainability

There were 218 accidents involving motorists and non-motorists in San Antonio’s urban area in the five-year period from 2003 to 2007. 98 percent of those accidents resulted in serious injury or death to the pedestrian or cyclist. During this period, accidents involving cyclists and pedestrians accounted for just one percent of all crashes, but 30 percent of fatalities. During my first eight months in office, eight pedestrians have been seriously injured or killed in District 5 alone. On average, there is a pedestrian killed in San Antonio every week of the year. Those who suffer the most are children, the elderly, and those with disabilities.

San Antonio is growing, and as a result faces enormous pressures and challenges to accommodate that growth. Air quality, transportation, energy, water resources, and the well-being of our city’s core are all under pressure. As we tackle these issues in Council, it occurs to me these are not independent, but interrelated issues. I am repeatedly drawn to SA2020 as the community vision for San Antonio’s future, and as my guidance. SA2020 captures the community’s vision in specific goals related to transportation, water, energy, health and well-being. However, SA2020 does not provide a plan to achieve these goals, and as the most recent SA2020 progress report shows, we are on negative trends with many goals related to transportation, environment, water, and walkability. Achieving and exceeding the SA2020 goals, and ensuring a better San Antonio for our children, requires a plan that approaches these issues jointly.

Síclovía 2014. Photo by Page Graham.

Síclovía 2014 in Southtown, San Antonio. Photo by Page Graham.

The City of San Antonio is updating the Master Plan. The 2010 Comprehensive Master Plan Framework addresses these concerns. Notably, the 2010 Master Plan Framework includes goals to improve walkability, cycling, and transit as transportation modes. The 2010 Master Plan Framework includes goals to accommodate population growth, and doing so within the existing city limits, and to protect air quality by reducing fossil fuel consumption. Those goals are consistent with the goals stated in SA2020, and if achieved, would move San Antonio toward a sustainable future. However, the reality is policy and public investment at the local, state, and federal levels conflict with these goals. I believe this is, at least in part, because we have not fully committed to achieving these goals. Achieving these goals means recognizing they are best achieved with land use and transportation policies that reduce automobile use and increase use of walking, cycling and transit. Achieving these goals means deliberately planning, and implementing projects, to reduce automobile use while making walking, cycling, and use of public transit the preferred transportation modes.

I enjoy walking, cycling, and using quality public transit for transportation. However, the ability to walk, cycle and support quality public transportation depends on a built environment that prioritizes people over automobiles. The standard for land use and transportation decisions in San Antonio should be the ability to achieve the goals stated in our vision documents, such as SA2020 and our city Master Plan. The goals in these documents can be more than just wishes, they can be achieved, but only if we address the land use and transportation policies that keep them out of our reach.

Land use policies are implemented through zoning. Current zoning policies assume the automobile will be the primary mode of transit, while the development patterns that support walking, cycling, and public transit are alternative development patterns. Walkability means elevating the alternative development patterns to become the primary development patterns. City planners know how to achieve walkability, but they need support from elected officials to change our entrenched habits of auto-dominant development.

San Antonio is expected to continue to grow rapidly. Accommodating these new residents does present challenges, but it also presents opportunity. It is the opportunity to grow the population within the existing developed area of the city to achieve the density needed to support a quality pedestrian oriented environment that has less impact on air quality, less impact on water resources, fewer traffic fatalities, and provides better quality of life for all citizens, particularly children, the elderly and those who cannot drive. It is my goal, and my passion, to lead the city in that direction.

*Featured/top image: District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales’ 2014 Fiesta Medal.

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3 thoughts on “Pedestrian Safety and City Planning in San Antonio

  1. there is NO bike lane on Mulberry. A bike lane is marked with signs and pavement markings. That pavement to the right of the fog line is at best a shoulder. Mulberry is a bike route, signifying it is a low traffic road and motorists and cyclists are to share the lane.

  2. Enforce the San Antonio Safe Passing Ordinance
    (b) An operator of a motor vehicle passing a vulnerable road user operating on a highway or
    street shall:
    (1) vacate the lane in which the vulnerable road user is located if the highway has two
    or more marked lanes running in the same direction; or
    (2) pass the vulnerable road user at a safe distance.

  3. Amen. My top priority: It’s embarrassing that we still allow telephone poles to remain planted in the middle of sidewalks. The fact that new sidewalk improvements now (barely) provide enough room for a wheelchair to get around the preexisting pole does not eliminate the danger and inconvenience associated with forced slaloming. This symbol of pedestrian neglect needs to be eliminated, even if adjacent property owners have to endure losing a tiny chunk of property.

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