Scott Ball / Rivard Report
When a makeshift crosswalk appeared on the St. Mary’s Strip, city officials were quick to voice their displeasure at residents taking pedestrian safety into their own hands. But the incident raises an interesting question: How should residents ask the City of San Antonio for infrastructure to protect pedestrians and cyclists?
Arthur Reinhardt, assistant director of the City's Transportation and Capital Improvements (TCI) department, said "[San Antonio 311] is the best process for our community to use when they would like to request a crosswalk, bike lane, pothole repair, or any other type of infrastructure request. It’s more efficient than sending us an email or a voicemail."
Recently, the Rivard Report asked citizens to report their concerns about cycling conditions in San Antonio on a crowdsourced map we're calling Open Ciclismo. The more than 100 responses describe everything from potholes and missing or inadequate bike lanes, to aggressive dogs and road debris as challenges to making San Antonio a bike-friendly community.
We shared the map with several City staff members, who were receptive to the data on the map generated by public responses.
"The City welcomes public input," Reinhardt said. "Receiving feedback from those who bike across our community helps City staff to be aware of commuting challenges they are facing. This information, combined with our staff’s expertise, will improve our planning efforts."
The majority of responses to Open Ciclismo, about 74 percent so far, describe challenges from dilapidated or missing infrastructure such as missing bike lanes, obstructed road-sharing signage, a lack of road signage, and disconnected bike facilities. Residents also note where existing or new bike facilities are working, including a stretch along Northwest Military Highway and Wurzbach Parkway, and along North Flores Street.
Some residents feel that the city's 311 service is not effective.
"This week I saw something to report and I called ... but it was a terrible experience," Carye Bye wrote in the comments section of a recent Rivard Report article.
There are many ways to access the 311 service: by phone, by filing an online service request on the city's website, or by using the mobile application, San Antonio 311. Every call or online submission gets tagged with a code. That code directs the request to a specific department or department manager.
Currently, no category exists on San Antonio 311 for cycling-related concerns like missing bike lanes, road debris, or hazardous intersections, which may affect how bike-related requests made on the mobile application are routed to city departments. One category related to these concerns is "traffic sign missing/down." The city is working with Cityflag, a local company, on the development of a new 311 app. Cityflag plans to use a mapping system much like that of Open Ciclismo to let users tag the location of various issues.
"Based on the request type, there’s different priorities and different service level agreements," Reinhardt said, "but if it’s an emergency we’ll get out there right away."
Service level agreements determine the city's response time to various requests, ranging from 30 days for installing a bike lane, to about two business days for a stop sign or pothole.
There are several factors the City takes into consideration when evaluating a request. For example, Reinhardt's department will assess whether there is enough pavement width (five feet is the minimum for a bike lane), whether two-way traffic is still possible, and whether addition of the lane will restrict parking, before approving it.
Zoning also is a critical factor used to determine whether a bike lane is appropriate.
"Typically we don’t have to put bike lanes on a residential street because the density is so low," Reinhardt said.
Like bike lanes, crosswalks also are subject to intense evaluation that includes assessment of pavement width, right-of-way width, and surrounding land use. Current standard practice does not allow the placement of crosswalks on residential streets, Reinhardt said.
"There’s been numerous studies that show neither a negative or positive impact on safety to put a crosswalk in a residential neighborhood," Reinhardt said.
Reinhardt highlighted a study by the Federal Highway Administration that shows no significant differences in the number of pedestrian crashes for marked and unmarked crosswalks. In the same study, there was no significant difference in the number of pedestrian crashes on a residential street versus a commercial street, regardless of whether or not a crosswalk was present.
According to the study, what makes a crosswalk effective at reducing pedestrian crashes is whether the crosswalk is paired with other safety features like a raised median or a crossing island.
The City defines a "residential street" as a street that has a "local" roadway: a road with only one or two lanes, and where the surrounding land use is single-family homes or duplexes. As San Antonio becomes denser and developers embrace mixed-use development patterns with first-floor commercial space, some streets may no longer feel residential, but are still classified that way.
For instance, the intersection of North St. Mary's and East Mistletoe streets, where the illegal crosswalk was promptly removed by the City, is located on the outskirts of a residential neighborhood that also includes restaurants, bars, shops, and other commercial enterprises. It's one of San Antonio's most popular nightlife districts where pedestrian traffic increases significantly on weekend nights.
Some local organizations are trying to bridge the gap between how residents view their streets, and how the city perceives them.
Local nonprofit Bike San Antonio recently released an online form that allows the public to "request clean bikeways." Anyone can edit the petition that requests the city to clean trash and other debris from bike lanes, which can be sent as an email directly to Mayor Ron Nirenberg and members of City Council.
"Despite complaints to the city, there hasn't been consistent cleaning of these lanes/shoulders," the petition reads, wrapping up with a video of several neon-clad citizens cleaning up road debris with well-worn brooms in a downtown bike lane.
Although citizens find themselves resorting to ever more creative ways to get in touch with San Antonio's government, the City continues to embrace public feedback. TCI can also be reached on Facebook and Twitter.
Opportunities for public input into San Antonio's bike planning processes:
Nov. 14, 6 p.m. at the Mexican American Unity Council Community Center, 2300 W. Commerce St.: Alazán Creek, a popular route for cyclists, is undergoing a re-design process to construct linear trails along the creek. The City of San Antonio in partnership with the San Antonio River Authority is seeking public input on trail design including neighborhood connections.
Through the end of November: The Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (AAMPO) is collecting online public input for its Bike Share Master Plan. You can take an online survey or suggest a location for a bike-sharing station on an online interactive map. The Bike Share Master Plan will explore the feasibility of extending the B-Cycle program to other areas in Bexar County, including Comal, Guadalupe, and Kendall counties.
Dec. 2, 9-11 a.m. at the Claude Black Community Center, 2805 E. Commerce St.: The San Antonio Parks and Recreation Department is seeking public input for the 2018 San Antonio Parks System Plan. The plan includes updates to park amenities and bike facilities.
UPDATED-- Wednesday January 10th, 9 a.m. at MPO Conference Room B, 825 South Saint Mary's St.: The AAMPO hosts monthly Bicycle Mobility Advisory Committee (BMAC) meetings, every second Wednesday of the month. People can share their input in the "citizens to be heard" portion of the meeting agenda. Those who wish to speak can sign up to do so when they arrive at the meeting. The Pedestrian Mobility Advisory Committee (PMAC) will meet at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, January 17th.
Rivard Report readers may continue to share information about where improvements could be made, where bike riding is challenging, and where it is safe through the Open Ciclismo map. We'll monitor your feedback and keep track of local government's response.