San Antonio to Consider Allowing ‘Party Bikes’ on City Streets

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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.”

"The traffic's too dangerous (in Southtown)," Express-News Columnist Roy Bragg wrote. Admittedly, traffic can be rough during some downtown festivals and events – like the First Friday scene captured here. Usually, traffic is slow and mild down South Alamo Street. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

First Friday pedestrian and vehicle traffic in Southtown, like this stretch in front of The Friendly Spot, can get a bit dicey. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

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.

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18 thoughts on “San Antonio to Consider Allowing ‘Party Bikes’ on City Streets

  1. Just what the city needs, some ridiculous drunk tourist transporter to further clog up the streets. Until bike users pay licensing fees and are held to the same standard as cars they will never be equal to cars in my eyes. That being said the “bike lane” on Broadway south of 37 by 1221 is a complete joke.

    • Last time I checked they were held to the same standards as cars… Also the licencing fees are designed to compensate for wear on the roads of which bicycles do a minimal amount. If the fees were proportional to wear on the roads, bike riders would pay 1 cent every 10 years.

  2. “For that reason, they cannot be licensed and therefore cannot be legally operated anywhere in the city. ”

    That isn’t how laws in our country work. If there is no law prohibiting it then it is legal.

    • Hi Cici–

      So, apparently it would be considered something like public endangerment if you went out on one of these things without a license. Similarly, if you decided to ride a giraffe down the street, it might not be “illegal,” per se, but SAPD would certainly tell you to get off the roads.

      -Abbey

    • It’s a big bike. It doesn’t have an engine. That should be simple enough but a license is still required. Wow! Government is still too big for its own good.

      • This has nothing to do with big government, David. As a near down-town resident, bike rider, scooter rider and driver in general, I see this as an issue that needs to be thought through before it is unleashed to make traffic worse in San Antonio. It is an idea that does nothing to improve our quality of life.

  3. I’ve seen these operating in Asheville NC on the extremely crowded downtown (and steep) streets. The difference there is the mountainous terrain and abundant watercourses encourage an athletic lifestyle. The beer drinking and simultaneous pedal pushing is done by mostly fit folks, and the drivers are exceedingly tolerant of the gridlock caused by such a large vehicle.

  4. Yeah, right. Just what we need on our narrow downtown cattle paths (oops, I mean streets). I can just see these contraptions filled with drunken revelers snarling traffic along one-lane South Alamo through Southtown.

    Aside from the vendor proposing this, who exactly thinks this is a good idea?

  5. Let’s focus on creating space for the “non-party” bikes as well. San Antonio needs separated bike lanes for increased safety. Biking in this town often feels like putting your life in the hands of the lowest common denominator.

    • You are correct. That should be the real focus.

      In this case, however, the problem with these “party bikes” is that they take up the same space as a car. They do not fit into bike lanes. Therefore, they will be in the main lane, holding up traffic as they saunter along at 5 mph. If they actually did use part of the bike lane, they would present a hazard for cyclists who generally ride much faster than that. Cyclists would have to enter main-lane traffic in order to get around it.

      And where exactly do they think they’re going to park by the Friendly Spot on First Friday? Are they exempt from parking regulations, too?

      Councilmember Treviño — and the rest of y’all — what the heck are you thinking???

  6. “…Texas’ notoriously easygoing drivers…”

    Full stop. Drivers in Texas are already fairly hostile and aggressive toward two-wheeled riders, even with laws in place that serve to protect these riders.

    I’ve encountered the partybike on the streets of Austin, and they seem to be novelties that only serve to further snarl traffic. I am skeptical that they will do anything to ease traffic or parking issues.

    Where’s my squirt gun?

  7. Why is there an ordinance that allows drinking outside downtown, but not downtown? Are they afraid peddlers will vomit? or wet their pants? or what exactly when they get downtown?? Hot sun and margaritas… probably pass out sideways…

  8. The VIA busses are rerouted to transfer out of downtown and over on the near west side to relieve congestion and then regulations are changed to allow pedal pushing drinkers going five miles an hour to tour the thoroughfares?

    Can’t have the congestion of the working poor in downtown but allowances are made for fun loving tourists?

  9. Not a good idea. I work in the downtown area. San Antonio has a drinking problem. To many bars downtown. I’ve seen to drunk drivers in the downtown area. I would hate to see a drunk driver hit several people utilizing this bicycle. It would not be a good scene.
    I’ve also seen several bicyclist in the downtown area drunk and trying to ride off in thier bikes.
    Maybe the City Council should observe downtown San Antonio on the weekends after 10pm. It might reconsider the idea.

  10. tired of seeing beer runs, etc. we just need to clean up the city already. Please do not allow this in my neighborhood. My little family has suffered enough bc of alcohol abuse. We just want peace and quiet. I propose a ban of alcohol in my neighborhood in and around the mission reach. The land is sacred.

  11. In January I opened Alamo City Beer Bike. I am 1 of the 3 bikes that are running downtown. When I saw San Antonio allowed the 15 passenger party bike downtown along the Riverwalk area I was determined make this my new career. I am very proud of San Antonio and what it has to offer tourists and residents. Steering the bike while up to 15 people enjoy each other’s company along the bar while pedaling is the perfect way to sightsee and make several stops along the way. I never imagined how many people would cheer you on at each intersection waving, smiling and taking pic or video. It’s a blast! Whether it’s for team building or birthdays or bachelorette parties it’s sure to be a night to remember. Now offering two or three hours tours

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