How do you measure three feet? A yard stick or tape measure will certainly do the trick, but how do you measure three feet when walking, riding a bicycle, or driving a car?
While standing at the corner of South Alamo and St. Mary’s Streets Tuesday afternoon, Councilmember Shirley Gonzales (D5) suggested that travelers of all modes consider using their imaginations to visualize the distance that the City’s safe passing ordinance requires between roadway users. The City’s Office of Sustainability’s San Antonio Bikes program offered three cowboy hats or about a dozen paletas as an example of its #My3Feet campaign that asks San Antonians, “What’s your three feet?”
More than 300 bicycle-related crashes, about 800 pedestrian-related crashes, and 54 pedestrian deaths were recorded by the Transportation and Capital Improvements (TCI) department in San Antonio last year.
The ordinance, passed in 2010 in response to an uptick of vehicle initiated crashes with cyclists, is hard to enforce and therefore is hard to measure its effectiveness. Officer Steven Bazany, who serves on the San Antonio Police Department’s Bike Patrol, said that while a few tickets were issued last year during the SAPD’s sting operations, they’re under the general directive to hand out warnings unless the driver appears to be intentionally reckless.
It’s difficult for officers – in a car or on a bike – to assess how closely a vehicle is passing a cyclist while on patrol. And even if a Bike Patrol officer is close enough to see a violation, they can’t catch up to issue a ticket, Bazany said. Sting operations have been effective because they include the use of a vehicle patrol unit.
“We haven’t written very many tickets, it’s very subjective,” Bazany said. “We’ve been writing warnings to get people to understand that there is a (safe passing) ordinance. … People are still surprised by it. They’re not aware that there is a rule – or at least that’s what they tell us.”
The City launched the #My3Feet awareness campaign at the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) just in time for fall, when more people are getting out on two wheels to enjoy the weather – especially during this Sunday’s Síclovía event.
“Today is a good example of that,” Treviño said, noting the breeze and lower-than-100 degree weather. Treviño stood alongside Gonzales, Sustainability Director Douglas Melnick, and TCI Director and City Engineer Mike Frisbie, who each echoed a call for roadway safety.
“We all deserve to make it safely to our destination,” Melnick said.
Through the Vision Zero initiative, the City’s Complete Streets policy, and an increase of funding going to streets, sidewalks, and maintenance in the next fiscal year, Frisbie said, “San Antonio will expand its network of bike infrastructure (because) fatalities are unacceptable.”
The MPO, which recently received a Silver Bike Friendly Business Award from the League of American Cyclists, continues to host its free Street Skills courses, a free 45-minute, off-bike session to help teenage and adult riders of all skill levels understand safety tips, techniques, rules of the road, and gain confidence when riding in mixed traffic. Click here for details about tomorrow night’s class. The popular classes typically fill up fast.
Councilmember Gonzales, who rides her bike regularly with her family, is chair of the MPO’s Bicycle Mobility Advisory Committee and serves on its policy board.
San Antonio is one of five bike-friendly cities in Texas designated by the League of American Cyclists, but local bike infrastructure and culture advocate Christian Sandoval, owner of Earn-A-Bike Co-op, said the community is “not yet united … it feels like someone dropped 5,000 cyclists into San Antonio and now they don’t know what to do.”
Sandoval and other avid cyclists are gathering tomorrow evening at the American Institute of Architects-San Antonio office at 1344 S. Flores St. for the inaugural meeting of the San Antonio Bike Collective, a community group aimed at organizing local bike advocates. From bike theft to roadway infrastructure, he said, “we need a rallying point outside of (governmental organizations) to get real change.”
*Top image: Councilmember Shirley Gonzales’ husband, Kevin Barton, rides up to the press conference. Photo by Scott Ball.