Compared to the 50 largest cities in the nation, San Antonio is on the bottom of the list when it comes to bicycle facilities.
At a Bicycle Facility Design Workshop on Friday, hosted by Advancing Women in Transportation and the Institution of Transportation Engineers, a group of designers, architects, and transportation employees put their minds together to configure ways to make San Antonio a more bikeable city. The approximate 50 people at the workshop split up into small groups to look at the intersection of Fredericksburg and Babcock roads – a main corridor for those traveling from the Medical Center to downtown.
The groups took what they had learned during the workshop about bike facilities and implemented that knowledge into the activity. Each group was given a large map of the intersection and instructions to plan a bike lane facility for the intersection by drawing their ideas on the map using colored markers. Once the groups completed the assignment, they stood at the front of the room to present their plan, while also making a case for why bike lanes are a necessary amenity in San Antonio.
Nearly all of the groups proposed a road diet, or a narrowing of lanes, on Fredericksburg Road to create space for bike lanes. Some groups added buffer lanes to the map, which add a barrier of separation between the bike lane and automobile lane. Other groups even took away an automobile lane to pave way for the cyclists.
The groups were instructed to map out the intersection because designing a bike lane that feeds from one road into another can be a tricky task, especially when taking into account turning lanes and bus lanes. Fredericksburg Road, being the main vein that it is, has VIA buses driving up and down its six lanes every few minutes.
According to data in the city’s 2011 Bike Master Plan, many people are not riding bikes because they don’t feel safe in traffic – especially at intersections.
Peter Lagerwey, the Regional Office Director for Toole Design Group and one of the workshop instructors, said the optimal speed for moving traffic is between 30 and 35 mph.
“When you go faster than that, you actually lose some capacity on the street,” Lagerwey said. “This is a real win-win for dealing with both congestion and bicycle and pedestrian safety.”
He said changing the posted speed limit is not the solution; instead the design of the street should be changed so that people automatically slow their speed.
“So some of the things we’re talking about is creating ‘visual friction,’” he said.
Implementing lane diets, which “result in fewer crashes, slows the speed of traffic, and creates space for bike lanes,” can create visual friction. Lagerwey said land use is another medium that can be used to slow speed.
“If you have buildings that are right up to the street, people are going to go slower,” he said. “If you pull them back, it creates a different kind of feel and environment – people are going to go faster.”
Lagerwey said planting sidewalks and trees next to the street also helps to slow traffic.
In 2014, the City implemented, and then retracted bike lanes on South Flores Street, from East Mitchell Street to SW Military Avenue, spending $700,000 in the removal process. Council and citizens statements on both sides of the issue cited safety as the overriding concern. Those in favor of removing the bike lanes claimed traffic conditions worsened after reducing the street from four to two lanes. Advocates disagreed, stating the street project induced traffic-calming effects.
However, North Flores Street kept its bike lanes, which Stacey Sinclair, an engineer for HNTB Corporation, uses nearly every day when biking from her house in Alta Vista to her downtown office.
“I can ride my bike to work because I live close enough to where I work, and there’s a nice bike path that I can take,” Sinclair said. “But that’s all luck, and most people don’t have that situation.”
*Featured/top image: Workshop attendees design a bicycle lane plan during the Bicycle Facility Design Workshop. Photo by Joan Vinson.