San Antonio’s Transportation System: Evolution or Revolution?

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San Antonio needs better public transportation

San Antonio needs better public transportation

scott ericksenBack in 1994, when I was hired on at the San Antonio-Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), the staff was smaller and everybody covered more things. So in addition to being the first public involvement coordinator, I became the first “Hike and Bike guy” as an additional duty.

Back then, when I mentioned walking or bicycling as a form of transportation, people just laughed.

Fast forward 19 years – now when we mention bicycling or walking, it’s cool. So what happened? I’d like to think that the MPO’s transportation planning process played a significant role in changing attitudes towards alternative transit. And that process continues to play out with the MPO’s latest update to the long-range transportation plan, Mobility 2040.

Mobility2040_LogoMPOs were created by federal law back in the 1960s to provide a regional forum for local, county and state governing bodies to cooperatively decide how federal gas tax dollars will be used for transportation. For many years MPOs were essentially rubberstamp organizations for the state highway departments.

In 1991, Congress passed the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) and moved MPOs into the driver’s seat regarding how federal and, here in Texas, state gas tax dollars would be allocated for transportation projects. Currently, that is about $200 million annually for this MPO.

ISTEA required MPOs to create long-range, multi-modal transportation plans with a planning horizon of 25 years. Why 25 years? These things take time. A good example locally is Wurzbach Parkway, a project that was conceived about 20 years ago and is just now getting close to completion.

Why multimodal? A “good” transportation system is comprised of overlapping modal networks, i.e., sidewalks, bike lanes, roads and transit routes. These different modes of travel need to connect safely and efficiently to provide travelers more than just one choice for getting from point A to point B.

http://www.texashighwayman.com/prj_wurzbach.shtml

The Wurzbach Parkway was designed, in three stages, to provide an alternative and direct east-west thoroughfare between Loops 410 and 1604 across the Northside thus removing longer-distance through traffic from the off-kilter and incomplete grid of northern San Antonio. Courtesy of TexasHighwayMan.com.

San Antonio’s first long-range Metropolitan Transportation Plan was Transvision 2015, adopted in 1994.

Thanks to early transportation planners and people, like TxDOT’s San Antonio District Engineer Raymond Stotzer and VIA Transit’s General Manager Wayne Cook, San Antonio was already blessed with an exceptional highway system and bus company.

The road system, however, was a mixed blessing in that it contributed a great deal to San Antonio sprawling across the countryside.

One of the goals in Transvision 2015, however, was the creation in 1995 of a Bicycle Mobility Task Force (now called the Bicycle Mobility Advisory Committee or BMAC).

The first chairman was a young City Councilman named Howard Peak, who went on to become the mayor and established San Antonio’s new Greenways Hike and Bike Trails. Another City Councilman later became the Bike Committee chairman and also went on to become Mayor Julián Castro.

Long before he was elected as Mayor in 2009, former District 7 Councilman and BMTF Chairman Julián Castro addresses a crowd gathered to promote the 2003 Hike and Bike Month. Courtesy of Scott Ericksen.

Long before he was elected as Mayor in 2009, former District 7 Councilman and BMTF Chairman Julián Castro addresses a crowd gathered to promote the 2003 Hike and Bike Month. Courtesy of Scott Ericksen.

So far, BMAC has achieved many cycling goals for San Antonio, especially with the first Bicycle Master Plan recently updated by the city.

What finally put San Antonio into the big leagues for cycling, however, was the coincidence of three major factors: a large jolt of federal stimulus dollars, Mayor Julián Castro and City Manager Sheryl Sculley, who have goals of changing San Antonio from a Fat City to a Fit City.

With the emergence of bikes on buses, the Greenways Hike and Bike Trails, the Mission and Museum Reaches, San Antonio B-Cycle and about 250 miles of bike facilities, San Antonio is now poised to move from a bronze to a silver or gold level in the League of American Bicyclists‘ “Bicycle Friendly Cities” competition.

So we now have cars, bikes and mass transit (buses, Primo Bus Rapid Transit and likely modern streetcars) included in our master plans – and they still need continual structural work and funding – but the last frontier in our multimodal effort is now to improve the lot of the lowly pedestrian.

The MPO’s Pedestrian Safety Action Plan (PSAP), along with the City’s Complete Streets ordinance, are moving, albeit slowly, to raise interest and awareness of the public and elected officials about the urgent need for better sidewalks, crosswalks and curb cuts.

Safe routes for kids walking to school and American with Disabilities (ADA) compliant sidewalks for disabled persons trying to use the transit system are needed to make ours a world-class transportation system.

As you can seee, some streets in San Antonio lack very basic pedestrian amenities. Photo courtesy of SAmetroplan.org.

As you can seee, some streets in San Antonio lack very basic pedestrian infrastructure. Photo courtesy of SAmetroplan.org.

All of these modes need to be addressed in the new Mobility 2040 Transportation Plan. Everyone knows a good transportation system is vital to our community’s economy, environment, health and quality of life.

By 2040, our metro area will have nearly 1.5 million new residents, raising our population to more than 3.4 million people. Now, imagine traveling with an additional million or so cars and trucks on our roadways.

Courtesy of www.sametroplan.org.

Courtesy of SAmetroplan.org.

Public input is vital to good planning, so we need input from all sectors of the community at the Mobility 2040 public meetings. Please also note that we are adding two virtual online meetings to our list of eight physical meetings (see schedule graphic below or at Mobility2040.org).

Remember, the MPO plans to keep you moving and we hope you will help us by getting involved in developing Mobility 2040.

Find out more at www.mobility2040.org.

Find out more at Mobility2040.org.

 

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Scott Ericksen spent the majority of his life traveling, first as an Air Force dependent and then as an Army officer. He retired at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas as a Lieutenant Colonel with 23 years of military service in 1989. For the next few years he directed a downtown beautification project and then worked with a private public relations and marketing firm. In July 1994, he joined the San Antonio-Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization and is now the Public Involvement Coordinator. Scott holds a BA degree in International Relations from the University of California, an MS degree in Management Science from Central Texas University , and an MA degree in Public Administration from University of Texas – San Antonio.

 

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