I’m sitting in the Central Library parking garage, watching the clock approach the 20th minute. Twenty minutes sitting, waiting to escape said parking garage. My shirt is sticky with sweat. It is 100 degrees outside. I just walked five blocks from my office to this garage. Now, my car is at a standstill behind 15 other cars also waiting to make their exit. I slouch a little, scan the radio and wonder how I came to be in this mess.
I recently started a job working downtown for a company called Go Smart Solar. In a lot of ways it’s the perfect job. I have a smart and engaging team, our mission is to deliver renewable energy to the community, and there’s unlimited sparkling water in the office. But the 2-mile commute is dreadful.
Now most of you might laugh at that statement, but hear me out. It takes me eight minutes to drive from my house to the Central Library garage, two minutes to park, then 10 minutes to walk to my office. That’s a 20-minute commute. In the afternoon it’s the same, plus 20 minutes spent waiting for others to leave the parking garage. That’s a 40-minute commute. After two days of this hourlong commute, I decided I could walk to work faster. Google Maps showed I could. After all, it is only 2 miles away. Then again, I might die in the 100-degree heat.
Any human with some semblance of a soul hates a traffic-filled drive home. At this point, I have decided I’m opting out of the classic car commute altogether. According to one study of all of the daily activities we partake in, commuting is the one that makes everyone the most unhappy.
My chosen, yet by no means unique, solution to this unhappiness? A bike.
I’d like to tell you that my appreciation for biking comes from childhood, but in fact, that is not the case. In middle school, my parents made me bike to school every day, 2 miles away from my house. In Boulder, this was pretty much the norm. Every day, at 7:30 a.m., I cruised down the bike path, then struggled up a seemingly massive hill, inch by inch. I would arrive at school with layers of sweat that beaded on my acne, and I eventually swore to never bike ever again.
My heart changed, however, during my college summer internship in Berlin. After week one, I realized that it was utterly impractical to live without a bike. I walked across the street to my neighborhood bike store and negotiated in broken German for a very beat-up, bright purple bike.
It was certainly nothing special, but I remember the rickety frame, pedal brakes, and shrill bell with affection. I rode it everywhere: from work to the grocery store, from the gym to the bar. I loved the wind in my hair and the details of a city I saw only when biking by. But the primary reason I was able to use my bike for everything was I felt safe doing so.
In Berlin, bike lanes were prolific and often protected. On the road, there were sometimes more bikes than cars. Biking was ingrained as a way of life – a way of life I loved being a part of, an exciting mode of transportation I grew to appreciate.
In San Antonio, my first day biking to work was an adventure. I live off of Broadway, on which cycling feels death-defying. So I cut to Avenue B. That was fine until I had to cross Josephine Street, which has no light at Avenue B. Instead of braving the intersection, I decided to try my luck along the river. This was a great decision for the first 20 feet, until I meet my first jogger. And then my 2nd. And then my 40th.
Most joggers looked at me as if I were a menace while I tried to weave my way between them without falling into the river. Finally, I accepted defeat, carrying my bike up a flight of stairs. By now, thankfully, I had reached downtown. In my last three blocks to the office, I was almost hit only once. A driver turning right didn’t see me sitting right next to him at the light. Finally, I pulled up to my building and was greeted by a blessedly cold wave of A/C.
I have since refined my route to work, but my experience brought me into the discussion around protected bike lanes for San Antonio.
Protected bike lanes provide an opportunity to improve downtown traffic for both bikers and drivers by providing a safe alternative to commuting by car, reducing traffic overall. My adventures commuting in a non-bike-friendly city made me realize that access to the safety of a bike-friendly infrastructure will play a key factor in where I choose to live in the future.
I hope to help my new community by joining the 650+ individuals who have signed the SMART STREETS, SMART CITY Safe, Protected Bike Lanes Broadway Corridor petition. As the organizers indicate, “Mayor Ron Nirenberg has stepped up and committed to help get protected bike lanes built as an integral part of this project. … We need you to sign this petition so the rest of City Council knows how much multi-modal transportation options and safety matter to our community.”
Let’s bring visible and protected bike lanes to encourage new options for commute in a 21st century city like San Antonio. Doesn’t peddling down a breezy, safe bike path sound better than a sticky, sweaty afternoon in traffic anyway?