Southsider Reflects on Potential Bike Lane Removal

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Looking south on S. Flores St. at Mitchell St. The Bicycle lanes extend between Cevallos St. and Military Dr. Here the lanes pass in front of Bolner’s Meat Market. Photo by Rafael Mancilla.

Looking south on South Flores Street at Mitchell Street. The Bicycle lanes extend between Cevallos Street and SW Military Drive. Here the lanes pass in front of Bolner’s Meat Market.

I live on the Southside of San Antonio. I grew up right off South Flores. I attended the public schools down here. My parents live off South Flores Street just past Military Drive. I commute in and out of downtown and across town on these bike lanes. I use these bike lanes. So when I heard that we could potentially be removing these lanes, I attended the council meeting to listen to what this community had to say about this issue first hand.

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

I attended the public hearing Monday evening at Morrill Elementary School on the Southside of San Antonio. The topic on the table was bicycle lanes on South Flores Street and how upset many were over these bicycle lanes slowing down traffic and the business along this section of street. Others were upset that the City had proposed to remove the bike lanes.

Transportation and Capital Improvements Assistant Director Arthur Reinhardt asks citizens to use the microphone during the South Flores Improvement Project update meeting on May 19, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Iris Dimmick / Rivard Report

Transportation and Capital Improvements Assistant Director Arthur Reinhardt directs citizens to the microphone during the South Flores Improvement Project update meeting on May 19, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

I walked in several minutes late because I was at work across town and had to commute to this meeting from the north end of downtown. I used the bike lanes on Broadway Street, Main Avenue and South Flores Street to get to the meeting. As I entered, the energy in the meeting was already tense. A huge group of cyclists had turned out to show their support for keeping the bike lanes. People were taking turns, speaking out for and against the lanes. Those against the bike lanes commented on cyclists who wouldn’t move over in a lane when approached by vehicles from behind, or they asked why there was a need for lanes on Mission Road and South Flores Street.

Cyclists countered that they also own vehicles, but choose to ride bicycles and have as much right to the road as any other taxpayer.

The South Flores and Southcross, an example of a priority two project. Existing street was not wide enough; therefore, a reduction in the number of vehicular traffic lanes was required to install bicycle lanes. Courtesy of the City of San Antonio.

The intersection of South Flores Street and Southcross Boulevard. Existing street was not wide enough; therefore, a
reduction in the number of vehicular traffic lanes was required to install bicycle lanes. Courtesy of the City of San Antonio.

I sat back and listened to both sides attempting to be as empathetic as possible. There wasn’t enough time for everyone and every comment, and at times, neither side showed much patience with the other.

Excepting a few comments, most people on both sides made valid points. I couldn’t help but think the real issue on South Flores is traffic, a street with more vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians that one street can handle all at once.

A packed Morrill Elementary School cafeteria during the South Flores Improvement Project update meeting on May 19, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

A packed Morrill Elementary School cafeteria during the South Flores Improvement Project update meeting on May 19, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Commuting cyclists are people working to find a satisfactory and economical way to get around the city. But San Antonio is a growing city and with that comes the burden of discovering a way for all to share the roads.

I’m from San Antonio. I was born at the Robert B. Green Hospital downtown. My family lived in a neighborhood which is now under the landscape of the UTSA Downtown Campus. When my family moved, we never left a two mile radius of downtown San Antonio. So I mean, literally, I am from right here down the street.

With the exception of my time away in the military, I have watched San Antonio grow immensely in the last 20 years. I remember Houston Street when it was a series of boarded up storefronts. I remember the King William neighborhood before it was “Southtown,” when Beauregard’s off South Alamo was the cool place (I know, I wasn’t old enough to be in there but I was in there), when you could grab a sandwich or groceries at A&E on South Alamo.

Bolner’s on South Flores still sold groceries along with the meat market which it still is and doing a great job at it. And some of you may remember a tiny restaurant next to Bolner’s called the Rainbow Café. My Dad and I would walk in there to get tacos some mornings. My point is that these places may have all changed or gone away but that is okay. All have made way for a growing city that is many times better than what it once was.

We’ve seen The Pearl Brewery renovated into a vibrant, still growing mecca of dining, shopping and living. The Eastside is blossoming nicely. Southtown has become one the coolest areas to live in San Antonio for its scene (you have to be in it to know). The River Walk extension has come along and future extensions to and from the Westside of town are in the works. On that note, it is only a matter of time before the Southside and the South Flores Street corridor begin to show major change.

It’s already happening. My Dad used to tell me about the day “when the Riverwalk comes this way.” I thought he was nuts, but in the back of my head I had this feeling he was right. It’s happening sooner than expected. I thought I had another 10 years, but progress seems to be just around the corner. We now have the cool Fruteria where South Flores meets downtown. Just south of that we have Dorćol Distilling Co. and the 1906 Gallery, which host monthly events.

The patio space connecting studios and galleries on S. Flores at Lone Star Blvd. host the bulk of Second Saturday activity. During the evening, this patio will be packed with artists, patrons, and friends enjoying music, beer, and (of course) art. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

The patio space connecting studios and galleries on S. Flores at Lone Star Blvd. host the bulk of Second Saturday activity. During the evening, this patio will be packed with artists, patrons, and friends enjoying music, beer, and (of course) art. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

I thought these new bike lanes were part of future planning for this corridor, designed in an anticipation of an even greater influx of people with a lifestyle similar to that of the other growing communities around downtown.

Maybe my community is afraid of change. I don’t blame people. Change can be scary. People trying to implement new ideas into a neighborhood, like riding a bike in traffic to go to the store or to get to work, can be scary if people in that neighborhood are not used to doing it regularly.

As I observed the room filled with people debating bicycle lanes, I noticed many of those who opposed bike lanes were people from an older generation. They were Baby Boomers or older. If they are anything like my parents, who are now pushing 60 and 70, their idea of a bicycle is a memory of childhood, a toy you rode in a park, on the sidewalk, or in the street in front of the house when the street was clear of vehicles. Bicycles were a leisure item.

Night riders. No Helmets. Photo by David Rangel.

Night riders. No Helmets. Photo by David Rangel.

Those present in favor of bike lanes where mostly – not all – young adults. I was one of them. If they are anything like me, riding a bicycle is a leisure pastime, but it is also a way of life. We ride for fun but we also ride to get around town. We ride to get to work, to family or friendly gatherings. Here is another idea: We ride because unlike our parents and grandparents, we don’t have a future of endless fuel to burn in our vehicles, rubber to burn on our roads to our bright future. Our future is a place with limited natural resources.

The American Dream of our parents was The House with the picket fence, The Shining Fast New Car. Some of them are lucky enough to be living it. Some of them are still chasing it. They come from a generation that was unconcerned with the environmental consequences of building their dreams. I don’t blame them. Humans are creatures of habit and conforming attitudes. They were living their lives as they knew or are living their lives as they know. Either way, as it stands now, they won’t have to live with the cost or consequences of building and chasing their dreams. WE DO.

What do we do about it? With a fast growing city like San Antonio there is no doubt the people in that Southside community are feeling the push and squeeze of this city’s attempt to accommodate that growth and offer alternative means of transportation.

Riding a bike is another mode of transport. Even though a lot of us cyclists own vehicles and pay taxes along with everyone else, we use our vehicles for longer trips. We reserve them for the trips that can’t be accomplished with human pedaling power.

We do this because we don’t want to grow old and fall into poor health. We do this to enjoy a physically active life. We do it to stay young and to hang out with our friends or to meet new friends. We do it to save our environment that we love and do not want to lose. We do it because we want to minimize our life dependence on The Grid. We don’t want to be tied to high gas prices, environmental pollution which melts polar icecaps and kills polar bears. Yeah, polar bears, Google it.

*Featured/top image: Looking south on South Flores Street at Mitchell Street. The Bicycle lanes extend between Cevallos Street and SW Military Drive. Here the lanes pass in front of Bolner’s Meat Market. Photo by Rafael Mancilla.

Related Stories:

$700,000 Street Plan Includes Removal of Bike Lanes

Bike|Beat: A Pachanga Promoting Bicycle Awareness

Riding Bikes to the Quarry: A Slightly Treacherous Adventure

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

The Gorilla in the Room: One Cyclist Death Too Many

20 thoughts on “Southsider Reflects on Potential Bike Lane Removal

  1. Rafael, Thank you for your great column on the S. Flores bike lanes. Hope they stay open and hope we get more of them everywhere. The point you make about “S. Flores simply having too much traffic” (I realize you were talking about farther south) connects to our downtown efforts to keep S. Main Ave. an open thoroughfare for all – cars, bikes, pedestrians – because THE FLOW NEEDS IT. Alas, we failed, and South Flores congestion will be getting more dramatic very soon.

  2. I think the bike lanes represent a cultural shift. The lanes do not come from a blue collar perspective, but from a privileged white collar one. One where bike owners spend the same amount on a bike, as a car would cost. Cyclist culture is one that I believe holds a smug value that does not transcend the cultural values held by many San Antonians.

    So what’s the solution? I am not sure. I imagine a cyclists solution is that people ride bikes more, which isn’t the worst idea ever. But San Antonio is spread out, and taking a family around on bicycles would be interesting to say the least (possible, but a huge cultural shift).

    I think mass public transportation makes more sense then bike lanes.

    Having a public transportation system that efficiently gets people around town in a timely fashion would be more beneficial in say a summer of 60 days of 100 degree weather. Which has been known to happen.

    Our city is the 7th largest not in population, but physical size. And because of this, cycling around our city just does not seem to be a viable solution. In my opinion it would be way cooler to have bike only paths and trail systems as to cut down on the potential for cyclist/car collisions.

    And having had a concussion from not wearing a helmet, I find it interesting the idea that grown adults “defy logic” by thinking it’s cool not to wear one. Then again it’s survival of the fitest.

    So the bottom smug line:

    I think the current crop of cyclists just wanna live in a quicksilver movie:

    http://youtu.be/gPTu2F450sk

    • Yeah, if I saw more trees I could hide under to escape the sun then I would definitely ride more often. That’s the problem. Bike lanes really don’t solve the problem. Bike paths and mass transit systems do.

      Bike lanes are impractical because the usage of them is low. People like the mission trails. People like the Medina Greenway. Sorry but the lanes have to go.

      Okay. I have an idea. Let us put all our attention into the LSTAR and hope they can fill our transportation needs. Drop the Street Car stuff and drop another 10 cent tax from here to Georgetown. Why not?

    • With respect, that’s ignorant nonsense. Sure, there are plenty of well-to-do folks who have multi-thousand dollar bikes, but drive around the South side and the inner city and you’ll see large numbers of ordinary young people riding reasonably priced bikes. In a city filled with obesity, bike use should be encouraged, not ridiculed and incorrectly characterized as “smug” or somehow the exclusive domain of rich people.

  3. Thanks for this perspective – I think it’s really well written. I think we can look at New York City when we talk about our central business district. Talk about congested streets, NYC really has them, but they’ve found that reducing the number of lanes and promoting bike activity has reduced overall traffic and commute times. We aren’t NYC but I think encouraging a growing trend towards pedestrian, mass transit and bicycle activity in the urban core will be a long term investment that will pay off nicely, although there may be some uncomfortable moments in between.

  4. Nicely written piece, Rafael. Joey, I think you are promoting some negative stereotypes with regards to people who ride bikes. Speaking for myself and my partner, we are in our 50’s and we live in a near downtown neighborhood. We are lucky to have decent bikes that we purchased through a series of trades as well as selling bikes we were no longer using – they don’t cost anywhere near as much as a car! Yes, there are some spendy specialty road bikes out there, but that’s not the case for most of the riders that I see on our downtown streets heading to work, school, or out doing errands. So many times it makes more sense for us to just hop on a bike instead of driving our cars into already heavily congested areas with limited (or expensive) parking options. Yes, this kind of mindset does represent a different way of thinking in this part of the world, but keep in mind that bicycles are a common mode of transportation around the country and the world. Well designed bike lanes and an educated population makes it a safer transportation option for all, young and old. Wear your helmets and ride safe! Be good to each other – a little tolerance goes a long way.

    • Thanks for your input Tami. I’ve often wondered if there is a section in our Texas Drivers Education courses which focuses on educating new drivers about sharing the road with cyclists. I haven’t looked at that courses description since I took mine in high school.
      Scott, I was in Seattle three weeks ago and I was impressed with how the city managed to install full two-way painted bike lanes with stop lights included. It seems like a dream to me at the moment that we could ever have something like that.

  5. If these bike lanes were redesigned to address safety and mobility concerns, that would be a good use of money, instead tearing them out is regressing. Along with better cycling infrastructure, education and awareness campaigns are key to succeeding in winning over the public. Great points made in this article from a city who is examining all sides and investing

    • FredandCarol,
      Thank you! This is a great article from the Boston Globe. I enjoyed reading about cycling education beginning in early childhood at home, at school and as a part of driver’s ed.

  6. I like the article. It was nice. That whole area needs bike lanes. I am worried about getting hit when I travel there by car so imagine how freaked out I am when I ride a bike.

    Anyway, I don’t get the “limited natural resources” talk. Dude, we have reserves of the stuff hidden in places all over the world. Governments keep the stuff for later use to start wars, affect inflation, and other useful reasons. I think you should focus on the earth friendly argument.

    We have these resources but we don’t want to use them because of natural reason one, two, so on and so forth.

    Also, Ever since the city of San Antonio started their grand annexation plans the city’s southside boundary has changed. I don’t believe you can call that part of town the southside nowadays. It’s San Antonio Central or Central San Antonio, heck let’s just call it downtown. Everything from Southcross Rd to Mauermann Rd near Toyota can be considered the southside.

    Sorry! I’m not trying to troll. I just like discussion for discussions sake.

  7. Normally, I don’t comment about comments, but joey, the idea that cyclists are from a privileged white collar class is an example of cognitive dissonance at it’s finest. Daily commuters and weekend warriors are quite culturally different. To paint all cyclists with one brush is to marginalize and ignore the fact that they are just as diverse and complex as any group which gets stereotyped and marginalized. I commute to school on my bike and it cost $500. My car cost $5,000. Your statements about some elitist cyclist culture are inane and baseless. In fact, I went two years without a car and I was in the best health of my life until… I got hit by a car. If that doesn’t reak of privileged white collar status…The other commuters I see are like me in that we are trying to live a lifestyle that makes sense. We use fewer and less resources and are much more efficient with the ones we do use. I would counter that driving a car to the gym to ride a stationary bike is more indicative of white collar privilege, but maybe that’s just me. Your premise invalidates your whole argument, although I do agree that the mass transit infrastructure in this city is weak, the idea that mass transit is somehow more in line with San Antonio cultural values doesn’t seem to hold water either, unless you consider the long and storied history of the river taxi. Maybe our presence on the roads subconsciously irritates you because you don’t have the guts to ditch the car and start doing the little things that can add up to make a big difference. There is no single solution to the problems facing a growing urban area, so we need bike lanes and public transit. Automobiles are not going anywhere anytime soon, but cultures do change, that’s what history is. We can deny it or actively participate in shaping tomorrow.

  8. Excellent article! You highlight the cultural shift that is happening, and I believe that’s the core of the problem. The current culture in San Antonio, and the U.S. in general, revolves around the automobile. The belief is automobiles are an instrument of their freedom. However, I see the automobile as a limitation of freedom. People should be free to NOT drive. There are tremendous negative consequences from reliance on autos for every trip. The city is projected to grow more rapidly in the next 15 years than it has in the past 15 years. The city can be a better place in 15 years than today if that growth is accommodated in the existing city limits than if we double the geographic size of the city to accommodate that new population. Ultimately, that means less need for autos, and a huge cultural shift, but a better place to live. Bike lanes meet the needs of less experienced and confident riders. Experienced riders are more tolerant of traffic and will ride in spite of traffic or lack of cycling facilities. I see bike lanes as a tool to transition the city from auto-dominant to people-dominant. I’m sure that’s the greatest fear of the auto culture.

  9. Last summer the doctor told me I was in extreme danger of heart attack if I didn’t get my blood pressure down (I am a scant 38 yrs old with 160/100). Tried diet and vitamins, no effect after 3 months. Gave that up and started riding my bike to work. One month later I had a normal blood pressure. Trade-off? I’m 3x more likely to die in a road accident (per mile ridden). I ride a Craigslist special with an e-motor for hill assistance. You want smug: motorist on cell phones. Worried about the size of the city? Think more local. Windcrest used to be way outside town. The city limits are where they are BECAUSE of cars. I live in Tobin and get as far out as 1604 every other month. Nothing I need out there.

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