Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Transportation is a hot topic in San Antonio. One need only look to the recent mayoral forums that have taken place all over the city. Even though a slew of forums have heavily catered to other topics, candidates or moderators time and time again find ways to bring up the city’s pitfalls, successes, and future plans regarding transportation. With 1 million new residents projected to move to the greater San Antonio area by 2040, it’s no surprise that regional and city-wide transportation is on everyone’s mind.
On Tuesday, hundreds of San Antonians came to Yanaguana Garden and later headed to Brick at Blue Star to participate in a transportation game night hosted by LOOP, the Rivard Report, the Austin Monitor, and Glasshouse Policy, a policy crowdsourcing think tank based in Austin.
The event is the latest installment of Place Changing, the Rivard Report‘s periodic event and article series.
During the first portion of the night at Yanaguana, attendees talked with policy makers and civic leaders about regional transportation solutions and sustainable city growth. Later in the night, they headed to the second location at Brick in a very unique way. In the same spirit that encompassed the overall goal of the event – to generate discussion about how transportation options can be improved – attendees participated in a Multimodal Street Ride and were assigned a specific mode of transportation to get to their destination.
Attendees Carlos Anchondo and Kyle Noonan chose to ride bikes to the event.
“I’ve used B-Cycle mostly recreationally to visit the Missions or to do cultural things around San Antonio,” said Anchondo, as he reflected after his ride to Blue Star. “B-Cycle is easy to use in terms of taking out a bike from a dock and returning it. I like that they offer monthly and year-long memberships that are available online.”
Anchondo believes that if trail systems were to expand and connect to downtown, the amount of cyclists in the city would increase.
“I think people in San Antonio want an active lifestyle and systems like B-Cycle are a great way to be active, but also to get where you want to go and to do it quickly,” he said.
Noonan believes that San Antonio residents are becoming more aware of cyclists and learning how to share the roads.
“I think that [the city is] starting to grow that [attitude of] ‘Hey, we need to share the road with bikes,'” he said. “I don’t see them all the time, but I am noticing more and more that these little bike lanes are popping up on the side. B-Cycle is making it really easy for people, which I appreciate because cars are expensive and gas is expensive.”
Joey Pawlik opted to ride the VIA bus for the event. Although he enjoyed his experience and said the amenities were up to par, Pawlik thinks one of the main challenges VIA faces is providing faster bus service.
“I live a little bit further out and my car is in the shop right now so I had to take the VIA bus to work one day and it took me an hour instead of the normal 15 minutes it takes in my car,” he said. “Efficiency could be better.”
VIA CEO Jeffrey Arndt addressed the crowd at Brick and talked about the future of VIA. He said he and his team are working on providing more buses and faster service to San Antonio.
“There are actually some things that VIA is not good at,” Arndt said. “We are not good at moving people from suburbia – way up 1604 – into the inner core. That is not an efficient service.”
Arndt said he is looking for ways to partner with other transportation companies like Uber and Lyft to bring those people into the transit system. A more reliable bus system will be pivotal to address the large influx of new residents coming in 2040, Arndt added, and VIA is working on more efficient ways for riders to hop on and off buses in an efficient manner that doesn’t just require loose change.
To begin the game night, groups used an interactive online tool to reimagine Central Texas streets and collaborate on solutions for San Antonio’s future transit issues. Mayoral candidate and District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg joined a team and participated in the competition, where judges determined the winning team based on balanced land-use, safety, and aesthetics of their plan.
Mayor Ivy Taylor and Manuel Medina, who also are running for mayor in a group of 14 candidates, were invited to the event, but were unable to attend.
Nirenberg called transportation “the challenge of our lifetime,” and stressed the importance of properly funding VIA so the bus system becomes the foundation of a strong public transportation system. Increasing greenway trails, advancing safe bike lanes, and being able to walk on wide sidewalks also are part of the equation, he said.
“We need a comprehensive, multi-modal, high-capacity transit system for San Antonio that will be citizen driven and voter approved,” said Nirenberg, adding that he is a big supporter of commuter rail. “You will be in traffic that is 75% longer commute if we continue to do the same things over and over again.”
Arndt, Transportation and Capital Improvements Department Director Mike Frisbie, and Austin Chamber of Commerce Director of Regional Mobility Andy Cantú served as judges and each team had a limited budget of $100 dollars and worked to balance all the needs of a safe and complete street.
“This is about making policy-making better,” said Tom Visco, co-founder and policy director for Glasshouse Policy. “We’re trying to do it here, but it’s also all of our jobs to go out there and have these really tangible conversations about what we could be doing better in our communities for everyone.”