City, VIA, Bike Advocates Discuss Creating Safer Streets in San Antonio

Print Share on LinkedIn Comments More
(From left) Bryan Martin, Board Vice President and Community Outreach Coordinator of Bike San Antonio; Tim Mulry, Strategic Planner at VIA Metropolitan Transit; Arthur Reinhardt, Interim Deputy Director of Transportation & Capital Improvements for the City of San Antonio; Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5); and Sam Sadle, Senior Director of Government Relations and Strategic Development at Lime.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

(From left) Bryan Martin, board vice president and community outreach coordinator of Bike San Antonio; Tim Mulry, strategic planner at VIA Metropolitan Transit; Arthur Reinhardt, interim deputy director of Transportation & Capital Improvements for the City of San Antonio; Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5); and Sam Sadle, senior director of government relations and strategic development at Lime

When Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales was first campaigning to represent District 5 in 2013, she said she heard stories from residents about pedestrians who died crossing the street.

Someone told her their mother died while walking to St. Alphonsus church, Gonzales said. Another shared the story of a young boy who was killed in his neighborhood while crossing the street.

“I thought, ‘Why is this happening?’ We should have the ability to walk safely in our neighborhood,” she said. “Why is it so dangerous?”

More than 100 people gathered Monday evening at Alamo Beer Co. for a panel hosted by Tech Bloc, Lime, and Bike San Antonio about improving roadway safety. Panelists Gonzales, Art Reinhardt of the City’s Transportation and Capital Improvements Department (TCI), VIA Metropolitan Transit strategic planner Tim Mulry, and Bike San Antonio board member Bryan Martin discussed how to work together and build safer streets in San Antonio. Sam Sadle, senior director of government relations and strategic development at Lime, moderated the panel.

Gonzales was an early champion of the Vision Zero initiative, which the City adopted in 2015. The initiative aims to eliminate traffic fatalities, but San Antonio has yet to see a significant reduction in injuries and deaths on its roads. On average, 170 people die on San Antonio roadways and sidewalks each year, and that number hasn’t dipped much in the past four years, Gonzales said.

“We haven’t really moved the needle,” she said.

Much of the lack of improvement comes from San Antonians’ obstinance, Gonzales said. The city’s infrastructure revolves around automobiles, and people continue to choose to drive because it’s the easiest option. But the City cannot expect to see progress with alternative transportation options while also focusing its attention and resources on single-occupancy vehicles, she said.

“We can’t continue to say we’ll make it really easy to drive and give you all the options,” she said. “We just can’t. Our funding is limited and I believe we need to spend more attention on funding transportation alternatives. We have a city that is not sustainable for another 100 years. We need to start making those changes now and options that make it harder for people to drive.”

TCI interim Deputy Director Reinhardt said while driving remains the easiest way to move around, the City will struggle to get public buy-in on projects that promote alternative transportation.

“It’s really hard to do these other modes types of projects and get community support when we’re out in front of a neighborhood and talking about why we need to restrict parking for a dedicated bike lane or block access – it’s really hard because it’s so easy to drive,” he said.  “But we know if we don’t plan for that, in 20 years we’ll be looking back thinking, ‘Gee whiz.’”

(From left) Tech Bloc CEO David Heard and Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) speak in front of a large crowd at Alamo Beer.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

The audience for the Tech Bloc talk at Alamo Beer Co. fills the tents outside.

Though San Antonio is large, Reinhardt said the City has been able to focus its efforts on improving safety by looking at fatality and injury data. Between 2011 and 2015, 33 percent of all fatalities occurred on just 1 percent of San Antonio roadways.

“Those aren’t randomly occurring events,” Reinhardt said. “They really helped us hone [our focus]. Since 2017 we focused on those areas, improving connectivity.  We can’t expect someone to get off the bus and go half a mile down and cross at the signal.”

Martin pushed for more bicycle infrastructure to keep cyclists safe on San Antonio roads. Bike SA is advocating for protected bike lanes on Broadway, Commerce, and St. Mary’s streets – corridors that cyclists say need more investment.

“We had two cyclists pass away already this year,” he said. “It’s a big issue and we need to remember at the end of the day, when we see a cyclist on the road, that could be someone’s father, mother, what have you.”

Gonzales said bike advocates need to broaden their reach to include all non-car commuters. She hopes that Lime and other scooter companies could be the voice in the alternative transportation safety conversation that cycling advocates have lacked for decades. She said she was disappointed in City Council’s recent decision to limit e-scooters in San Antonio.

“It’s what we needed as transportation alternative advocates – a partner that really knows how to utilize technology and push an agenda that is more transportation-related,” she said. “One of the things about cycling and walking and the dominant system we have with public transit is that they’re all very old methods. I thought this would be a fresh way to work with another partner, and my hope is that it would lead to better infrastructure.”

Mulry said VIA wants to ensure its part of the overall discussion about improving road safety. That means working with the cycling community, with the City, and with any other alternative transportation that may pop up to help VIA customers travel safely to a bus stop.

“We know buses are safe, but it’s only safe when you get to the bus,” he said. “It always comes down to collaborating with other entities, making sure everyone is collaborative.”

Ultimately, San Antonio needs to see a significant culture shift before Vision Zero truly starts to take hold, Gonzales said.

“We need more advocacy at the local level,” she said. “It’s unique in San Antonio that you don’t have to lobby your electeds, because we’re already in support, but you need to lobby in many ways your own peers, so they change their behavior and get on board as well.”

11 thoughts on “City, VIA, Bike Advocates Discuss Creating Safer Streets in San Antonio

  1. Focusing resources where they are needed is key. Not every community has high usage for bike lanes. Not every community has high incidents of pedestrians fatalities. Then the city can expand from there.

    The reduction of scooters especially in the downtown area was a must. Additional more though must be given to their storage while not in use and regulation. A disorganized scooter system is not good for tourism.

  2. I disagree with the above comment on scooters…scooters are much safer than people in cars for people walking and biking and they help add momentum for better bike infrastructure.

    Three key things are important to reach vision zero goals:
    – political will, currently really lacking in SA
    – land use decisions that support biking and walking (also takes political will)
    – hiring TCI engineers that are forward thinking, progressive, not stuck in ideas from the 1970’s/80’s

  3. Tough Love is what San Antonio needs. Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales is absolutely right when she says: “We can’t continue to say we’ll make it really easy to drive and give you all the options,” she said. “We just can’t. Our funding is limited and I believe we need to spend more attention on funding transportation alternatives. We have a city that is not sustainable for another 100 years. We need to start making those changes now and options that make it harder for people to drive.”

    We spend half as much (in sale tax collection) then Houston and Dallas in public transportation… as visitor in both those cities I see the difference. When my husband and I moved to San Antonio without a car in 2016 were excited about the really cheap monthly bus pass. OH well we found out why within a couple trips trying to get around San Antonio. The bus pass is so cheap because buses hardly run, some not at all on the weekend and it can take 1-2 hours to get across town when you have to transfer. We try to bike as much as we can, but during the hot season I know I rely on the bus more because I can’t show up always dripping in sweat.

    So sadly after 3 years in San Antonio, living without a car by choice, I find I hit up friends for rides more and more. And it makes me sad. Do I spend 1.5 hours on a bus trying to get somewhere or do I hit up a friend who is happy to help to drive 20 minutes. Ugh. It’s terrible. I feel actually bad for San Antonio, ya’ll have really created a deep hole and a really hard uphill battle. Restricting and Tough Love will be the only way for change. No one is gonna volunteer for it. Also money talks and incentives. Give people financially reasons to not drive. But also more options… A LOT MORE OPTIONS that become the only ones, not just the one that’s gonna kill us off.

  4. Vision Zero isn’t working because the program includes reduced speed limits. No speed limits have been reduced in San Antonio.

    • 100% agree, I live near UTSA and Hausmann road was recently expanded into a beautiful street with wide sidewalks that are supposed to be multi-use paths (bike/walk). The speed limit is 45 mph, since the lanes are wide most people go upwards of 55 mph in this road, it essentially became another highway. Making it dangerous for the cyclists/walkers on the sidewalk/path.

      I feel like better street design could have be thought of so that cars are “forced” to go at most 40 mph. It is only a 2-3 mile long road, the difference in time to travel it at 40 vs 55 mph is literally 1:13 min, that is without taking in account other cars and the traffic lights.

      Even 40 mph can be deadly to pedestrians and cyclists but 55 mph is almost certain death (https://www.treehugger.com/cars/what-should-speed-limit-cars-cities.html).

      Also worth mentioning that at slower speeds, the traffic flows better because the distance between cars is reduced, potentially reducing traffic even further, making the lines at the lights shorter, and possibly compensating for the slower speed with better flow of traffic.

      Re-reading an old article posted here at RR, makes me feel like we are not moving ANYWHERE!!!!! (https://therivardreport.com/military-values-pedestrian-safety-dont-cities/)

  5. Hey Art, you blame lack of community buy-in for the fact that we have unsafe roads, but you don’t need community input to mandate wide lanes that encourage speeding. Yet, we have been more than willing to build these types of roads across our city without an ounce of concern for whether people would be better off with something else. Blaming the non-experts for our failure as experts is a cop-out, and we can do better. Groups like NACTO have already shown us how to build safer roads, and we can’t expect the general public to be the experts in this. That is literally what you’re paid for. No more excuses.

  6. Would love to see dedicated bus lanes on all highways. Make it more appealing to grab the bus and be on time than deal with traffic. This would get more cars off the road we well.

    • Agree, we must reimagine public transport in order to create the city we deserve. It’s a critical component in achieving almost any city goal.

  7. Prime time usage tolls work in a number of European cities to reduce car traffic. Especially why not toll fee the wealthy who choose to live in gated communities outside of SA or even in another county to avoid city taxes yet make use of our infrastructure to get to work, to shop, for entertainment, etc. Freeloaders should pay their fair share.

  8. You will have to pry my fingers off my steering wheel to get me out of my comfortable air conditioned automobile .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *