I live on the Southside of San Antonio. I grew up right off South Flores. I attended the public schools down here. My parents live off South Flores Street just past Military Drive. I commute in and out of downtown and across town on these bike lanes. I use these bike lanes. So when I heard that we could potentially be removing these lanes, I attended the council meeting to listen to what this community had to say about this issue first hand.
(Read more: $700,000 Street Plan Includes Removal of Bike Lanes)
I attended the public hearing Monday evening at Morrill Elementary School on the Southside of San Antonio. The topic on the table was bicycle lanes on South Flores Street and how upset many were over these bicycle lanes slowing down traffic and the business along this section of street. Others were upset that the City had proposed to remove the bike lanes.
I walked in several minutes late because I was at work across town and had to commute to this meeting from the north end of downtown. I used the bike lanes on Broadway Street, Main Avenue and South Flores Street to get to the meeting. As I entered, the energy in the meeting was already tense. A huge group of cyclists had turned out to show their support for keeping the bike lanes. People were taking turns, speaking out for and against the lanes. Those against the bike lanes commented on cyclists who wouldn’t move over in a lane when approached by vehicles from behind, or they asked why there was a need for lanes on Mission Road and South Flores Street.
Cyclists countered that they also own vehicles, but choose to ride bicycles and have as much right to the road as any other taxpayer.
I sat back and listened to both sides attempting to be as empathetic as possible. There wasn't enough time for everyone and every comment, and at times, neither side showed much patience with the other.
Excepting a few comments, most people on both sides made valid points. I couldn't help but think the real issue on South Flores is traffic, a street with more vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians that one street can handle all at once.
Commuting cyclists are people working to find a satisfactory and economical way to get around the city. But San Antonio is a growing city and with that comes the burden of discovering a way for all to share the roads.
I’m from San Antonio. I was born at the Robert B. Green Hospital downtown. My family lived in a neighborhood which is now under the landscape of the UTSA Downtown Campus. When my family moved, we never left a two mile radius of downtown San Antonio. So I mean, literally, I am from right here down the street.
With the exception of my time away in the military, I have watched San Antonio grow immensely in the last 20 years. I remember Houston Street when it was a series of boarded up storefronts. I remember the King William neighborhood before it was “Southtown,” when Beauregard’s off South Alamo was the cool place (I know, I wasn’t old enough to be in there but I was in there), when you could grab a sandwich or groceries at A&E on South Alamo.
Bolner’s on South Flores still sold groceries along with the meat market which it still is and doing a great job at it. And some of you may remember a tiny restaurant next to Bolner’s called the Rainbow Café. My Dad and I would walk in there to get tacos some mornings. My point is that these places may have all changed or gone away but that is okay. All have made way for a growing city that is many times better than what it once was.
We’ve seen The Pearl Brewery renovated into a vibrant, still growing mecca of dining, shopping and living. The Eastside is blossoming nicely. Southtown has become one the coolest areas to live in San Antonio for its scene (you have to be in it to know). The River Walk extension has come along and future extensions to and from the Westside of town are in the works. On that note, it is only a matter of time before the Southside and the South Flores Street corridor begin to show major change.
It's already happening. My Dad used to tell me about the day “when the Riverwalk comes this way.” I thought he was nuts, but in the back of my head I had this feeling he was right. It's happening sooner than expected. I thought I had another 10 years, but progress seems to be just around the corner. We now have the cool Fruteria where South Flores meets downtown. Just south of that we have Dorćol Distilling Co. and the 1906 Gallery, which host monthly events.
I thought these new bike lanes were part of future planning for this corridor, designed in an anticipation of an even greater influx of people with a lifestyle similar to that of the other growing communities around downtown.
Maybe my community is afraid of change. I don’t blame people. Change can be scary. People trying to implement new ideas into a neighborhood, like riding a bike in traffic to go to the store or to get to work, can be scary if people in that neighborhood are not used to doing it regularly.
As I observed the room filled with people debating bicycle lanes, I noticed many of those who opposed bike lanes were people from an older generation. They were Baby Boomers or older. If they are anything like my parents, who are now pushing 60 and 70, their idea of a bicycle is a memory of childhood, a toy you rode in a park, on the sidewalk, or in the street in front of the house when the street was clear of vehicles. Bicycles were a leisure item.
Those present in favor of bike lanes where mostly – not all – young adults. I was one of them. If they are anything like me, riding a bicycle is a leisure pastime, but it is also a way of life. We ride for fun but we also ride to get around town. We ride to get to work, to family or friendly gatherings. Here is another idea: We ride because unlike our parents and grandparents, we don’t have a future of endless fuel to burn in our vehicles, rubber to burn on our roads to our bright future. Our future is a place with limited natural resources.
The American Dream of our parents was The House with the picket fence, The Shining Fast New Car. Some of them are lucky enough to be living it. Some of them are still chasing it. They come from a generation that was unconcerned with the environmental consequences of building their dreams. I don't blame them. Humans are creatures of habit and conforming attitudes. They were living their lives as they knew or are living their lives as they know. Either way, as it stands now, they won’t have to live with the cost or consequences of building and chasing their dreams. WE DO.
What do we do about it? With a fast growing city like San Antonio there is no doubt the people in that Southside community are feeling the push and squeeze of this city’s attempt to accommodate that growth and offer alternative means of transportation.
Riding a bike is another mode of transport. Even though a lot of us cyclists own vehicles and pay taxes along with everyone else, we use our vehicles for longer trips. We reserve them for the trips that can’t be accomplished with human pedaling power.
We do this because we don’t want to grow old and fall into poor health. We do this to enjoy a physically active life. We do it to stay young and to hang out with our friends or to meet new friends. We do it to save our environment that we love and do not want to lose. We do it because we want to minimize our life dependence on The Grid. We don’t want to be tied to high gas prices, environmental pollution which melts polar icecaps and kills polar bears. Yeah, polar bears, Google it.
*Featured/top image: Looking south on South Flores Street at Mitchell Street. The Bicycle lanes extend between Cevallos Street and SW Military Drive. Here the lanes pass in front of Bolner’s Meat Market. Photo by Rafael Mancilla.