In Austin, Amsterdam, Minneapolis, and dozens of other cities, locals and tourists alike can hop on a bike with seven to fifteen friends and take a human-powered trip around the city, complete with on-the-go drinks.
Today, the City Council’s Criminal Justice, Public Safety, and Services Committee moved forward with plans to allow similar “party bikes” in San Antonio.
Council members Rebecca Viagran (D3), Roberto Treviño (D1), Mike Gallagher (D 10), and Shirley Gonzales (D5) unanimously recommended that the issue be brought up before the full City Council for a vote. Councilman Ray Lopez (D6) was not present.
The change was recommended Tuesday afternoon along with several other proposed amendments to Chapter 33 of the City’s Code, which regulates vehicles for hire including taxis, pedicabs, limousines, horse-drawn carriages, and transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft.
Currently, the Code includes no classification status for business that utilize multi-person bicycles, explained a City staffer after the meeting, so the San Antonio Police Department has no reference for how to manage them. For that reason, they cannot be licensed and therefore cannot be legally operated anywhere in the city. The proposed amendment will add language to the ordinance codifying the bicycles as a new vehicle type.
If the amendment regarding group cycling is approved by the full council, San Antonians might see the many-pedaled vehicles on city streets in the coming months. Though the party bikes – some of which more closely resemble trolley cars than a standard bicycle – are powered by the passengers, they are steered by a trained driver, or “pilot,” who is typically employed by a rental company. In most cities, the bikes travel along a set of pre-approved routes prepared by the rental company and take passengers from landmark to landmark (often from bar to bar).
Councilwoman Viagran, who chairs the committee, joked that if 11 seats are available, the entire City Council might take a ride together.
“I’m looking forward to seeing (the bikes) on city streets,” Viagran said after the meeting. “It’s tough to find parking, and I think if you can go somewhere and get on your group cycle and get exercise and have a great time with friends, I think that would be good. And I’m glad we’re having it here, in San Antonio.”
Unlike in Minneapolis and Amsterdam, San Antonio’s group cycling will likely not include excessive mobile drinking. San Antonio City Ordinance prohibits public consumption downtown and in the Southtown area.
Instead, it’s likely that any future party bikes in San Antonio will operate more like they do in Austin, where public consumption downtown is similarly off-limits. In the Texas capital, passengers are allowed to drink beer or wine, which is brought by the passengers and not furnished by the bike operator, while outside of the downtown area. There’s often enough time for one or two drinks after the bike starts out from the company garage and before it passes into downtown. After that, passengers must make do with regular stops at local watering holes.
When asked if San Antonio would consider amending local ordinances further to allow public consumption of alcohol downtown while on a group cycle, Viagran was hesitant but open to the idea.
“I think we’ll have that conversation,” she said, adding that if it was up for consideration, “I would like to just have it very defined to the group cycle.”
Jody Newman, co-owner of popular patio bar The Friendly Spot, Alamo Street Eat Bar, and B&D Ice House, is excited about group cycling’s potential to decrease parking congestion in the busy area around her establishments.
“We look at it a little differently than some of the groups who are bringing it forward,” she said after the committee meeting. “Where they actually want to create a business out of this, we would use it as an added value. Since we are in Southtown, we are always thinking about alternate ways to get to and from our businesses. (We’d like to) encourage people to park outside of Southtown.”
Today’s meeting is not the first time group cycling has been suggested in San Antonio. Robin and Billy Lund initially pitched the idea to San Antonio officials in 2010 after hearing about the tours offered in Minneapolis. Back then, they were given the cold shoulder, so they set up shop in Austin as PubCrawler of Austin. It is perhaps a sign of San Antonio’s increased emphasis on downtown life and tourism that the idea received such unanimous support today.
The amendment is likely to pass, but residents may not notice the change or have an opinion on the issue until these new vehicles get on the streets. Though the bikes themselves are considered relatively safe, they only travel at about 5 mph and are not enclosed; passengers are vulnerable to traffic elements, particularly frustrated motorized traffic and mischievous pedestrians.
In Minneapolis, a suspected drunk driver collided with a party bike in June 2015 and seriously injured three people. The bikes have also been targeted by locals in that city who consider the bikes a nuisance, as in a May 2015 incident in which five individuals were charged with misdemeanors after attacking Pedal Pub passengers with water guns and water balloons. The attack was reportedly organized through the surprisingly active Minneapolis-based “I HATE the Pedal Pub” community group on Facebook, which has more than 4,000 likes.
Will San Antonio’s party bikes inspire this level of discord? Only time will tell.
Perhaps it’s the more strict drinking laws or Texas’ notoriously easygoing drivers, but unlike Minneapolis’ Pedal Pubs, PubCrawlers of Austin have seen no accidents and remain roundly adored by reviewers. So put on your cycling shoes, San Antonio, it’s party bike time.*
*Pending approval by the San Antonio City Council.
Top image: A group of “Pedal Pubbers” protest against Scientology in Minneapolis on Oct. 9, 2010. Photo courtesy of Flicker user Ichi One.