If you had $14 million to reconstruct a road in your neighborhood, how would you do it? Wouldn’t you at least try to make it safe for everyone who uses the road?
The City of San Antonio is spending $14 million to improve Theo Avenue and West Malone Street between S. Flores and Nogalitos Streets. The money is from a bond package approved by voters in 2012 that promised to improve, or at least maintain, the existing bicycle lanes. However, the City’s Capital Improvements Management Services (CIMS) department held a “public” meeting in April 2013 and recommended that the bike lanes be removed.
While these are regional roads for the bicycle network, they only invited residents of Theo and W. Malone Streets. Other key players were not informed of the meeting until after it had taken place, making the meeting less public than most.
CIMS presented four different options to the 35 residents who showed up that night. According to the minutes, as they presented the first option – which removed on-street parking in favor of wider sidewalks and room for trees – the first question to be asked was, “Why is a bike lane needed?”
At this point any number of answers would have been acceptable:
- Because the City’s Complete Streets ordinance compels us to provide safe accommodations for people on bicycles.
- Because the SA2020 vision guides us to produce a walking and biking friendly city.
- Because having a bicycle lane buffer between the sidewalk (and your front doors) and the heavy truck traffic on your streets will help calm traffic.
- Because there are schools nearby and this will help your kids and grandkids be able to safely walk or bike to school.
Any of those responses would have been great. But at the bare minimum the response should have included the statement that bicycle lanes are needed because that’s what is in the bond language, that’s what the voters approved and that’s what the MPO approved in its decision to match funds for this project.
Instead, according to the minutes, the CIMS representative “noted that Option 1 has a bike lane in it but there are other options that will be shown that remove the bike lane.”
CIMS recommends the option that removes the bike lane.
Theo and W. Malone Streets are key corridors for people on bikes, offering one of the only semi-safe east-west routes south of downtown.
Students from nearby Burbank High School learn basic bike handling and signaling skills on the only bike lanes in the area on – you guessed it – Theo and W. Malone Streets.
A recent bicycle count by the City showed that dozens of cyclists use the roads every day during rush hours. In terms of the bicycling network, it’s a regional road. Yet CIMS treated this major bicycling corridor like a purely local issue, and ignored both the bond language and City ordinances and guidance that support building safe bicycling facilities. They did not notify the City’s Special Projects Manager for San Antonio Bikes, Julia Murphy about this meeting.
No one presented any of the positive benefits to the community of improving the roads for all users, so attendees at the meeting did not get a complete picture of what bicycle accommodations can do for their street and their community. Without all the information, it’s no wonder the small gathering simply agreed with CIMS’ recommendation.
The option that CIMS recommended should have never been produced or shown to the public as an option – much less presented as the recommended option. It represents a huge step backwards for the streets and for the City of San Antonio as whole. The bike lanes on Theo and W. Malone Streets are nearly historic as they were part of the very first efforts to install bike lanes in the city.
Even the most bicycle-friendly of CIMS’ options showed how lacking this department is when it comes to designing for bikes. The best option presented (see first rendering) included on-street parking and an eight foot wide, multi-use path to replace the bike lane, which would help buffer residents from loud truck traffic. The Federal Highway Administration recommended minimum width of a multi-use path is 10 feet– basically a wide sidewalk shared by people walking, biking, pushing strollers, using wheelchairs, etc.
Instead of doing even the bare minimum for a multi-use path, they gave this option a 15 foot travel lane for cars, when the standard width for a vehicle lane is 11-feet, with 12 feet considered generous. Wider lanes also encourage higher speeds.
This could be an isolated incident, and CIMS may get it right on the dozens of other major bond projects they oversee, but after hearing from CIMS Director Mike Frisbie, that prospect does not seem likely.
At the Alamo Region Livability Summit in August, CIMS Director Mike Frisbie asserted that some cyclists prefer to be mixing with traffic rather than riding in bike lanes, and therefore accommodating bicycles in a project can sometimes be achieved with no accommodations at all. This attitude seems to be permeating his department, such that removing bike lanes in favor of signed routes can be called a safe accommodation for bicycling.
San Antonio departments like CIMS should be following the City’s own vision and policy guidance by building roads that are safe for a wide range of people who want to bike. BikeTexas’ own survey from 2013 shows that Texans who bike overwhelmingly prefer separated facilities, like cycle tracks. A 2011 study in the peer-reviewed journal Injury Prevention, showed that cycle tracks had 2.5 more times as many cyclists than reference streets, and that the injury rate on the cycle tracks was 28 percent lower.
CIMS needs to do their homework. Instead of presenting options that go against the bond language that voters approved, or options that barely achieve the minimum to accommodate bicycles and pedestrians, they should be looking to examples that actually encourage biking and walking. There are many of these examples available, with detailed guidance on how to construct them found in the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) Bikeway Design Guide.
A protected bicycle lane, or cycle track, is what should be built with our tax dollars. This is an option that will make it safer for people to choose a bike as transportation, and more pleasant for pedestrians and residents Instead CIMS has chosen to make this road less safe for cyclists, and promote more and faster automobile traffic.
San Antonio deserves the best – or at least better than the worst.
Get involved – sign the petition for improving, and not removing bike lanes on Theo Malone at www.biketexas.org/theomalone.
Jack Sanford is a Program Manager at BikeTexas, the only state-wide bicycle and pedestrian advocacy organization. Jack was born and raised in San Antonio and serves as the BikeTexas liaison for the city. He also serves as the BikeTexas representative on the Bicycle Mobility Advisory Committee of the San Antonio-Bexar County MPO. You can reach BikeTexas at firstname.lastname@example.org,facebook.com/biketexas, or @BikeTexas.