For those who need it most, like seniors and San Antonians with disabilities, a safe and reliable transportation system is literally a lifeline. Businesses need deliveries of inventory and raw materials as well as access to an increasingly global marketplace. For all of us, transportation provides access to jobs, school, recreation and services. Personal mobility enhances every aspect of our lives, whether it’s the multiple health, economic and environmental benefits of the Howard W. Peak Greenway trails or the convenience of an express bus with wi-fi. And amenities that improve our local quality of life, such as our highly successful San Antonio B-Cycle bikeshare network, also support our tourism and travel industry.
Unfortunately, in San Antonio as well as across the United States, our public infrastructure is suffering from disinvestment. Road maintenance always tops the list of citizen concerns, our rail system functions most effectively for freight rather than passenger transport, and we are just beginning to make significant investments in bicycle and pedestrian facilities through our Complete Streets initiative. Even more worrisome, our lack of a truly integrated long-term transportation plan makes it almost impossible to coordinate transportation and land use or prioritize the investment of public dollars.
What can we do to address these problems? With regard to adequate funding, local elected and appointed officials and advocacy groups across the country are calling on Congress to reauthorize a long-term, transportation bill that increases federal funding for our cities and regions. The San Antonio Mobility Coalition, or SAMCO, has been a leader on this issue in our community, and is partnering with the City of San Antonio and VIA Metropolitan Transit to recognize “Stand Up For Transportation Day” on April 9 to help Congress keep focused on renewing the Federal Transportation Act.
The current federal transportation funding authorization is set to expire on May 31. If Congress fails to act on a long-term funding bill there will be a wave of uncertainty that puts the economic future of our cities and surrounding metro areas in jeopardy. Uncertainty about transportation project planning puts a damper on private sector investment as risks increase related to questionable infrastructure commitments. Across the nation, our communities face a competitive disadvantage as the massive investments in public transportation in Europe and Asia are creating the infrastructure needed for a 21st century economy.
At the same time, a new transportation authorization must come with an increase in dedicated funding for public transit and highways and greater local control. The current law falls dangerously short of what is required to meet current demands, much less grow these systems, particularly in areas like San Antonio where our SA Tomorrow planning projections indicate we will welcome an added 1.1 million local residents by 2040.
At the regional level, we must leverage our transportation investments to support smart, sustainable growth. So many of the debates we have seen flare up in recent years are really battles about how our city’s transportation system functions, from the needs filled by TNCs like Uber and Lyft to the establishment of toll roads to what role a streetcar system plays in urban transportation.
Every day we are considering piecemeal the very issues that need to be addressed more comprehensively: Where are my aging parents going to live so they can have access to medical care and services? How can I enjoy a night out on the town without having to drive home? Can my kids bike to school safely? How do we create jobs by expanding international trade when our roads and rails are already at capacity? Planners may use terms such as “trip generation” and “modal split” to describe and analyze these issues, but at heart these aren’t technical issues. In fact, they are questions about what San Antonio looks like, how easy it is to live here, and whether our community can grow sustainably.
To answer these challenging questions the City of San Antonio, in conjunction with our partners such as VIA Metropolitan Transit and Bexar County, has embarked on the SA Tomorrow planning process. The three concurrent plans that comprise SA Tomorrow – the Comprehensive Plan, the Multimodal Transportation Plan, and the Sustainability Plan — will be developed over the next 18 months based largely on local input and resident participation.
Attend the SA Tomorrow Kick-Off at Alamo Convocation Center this Saturday, April 11, from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM. Help design our transportation future and keep our city healthy and growing.
*Featured/top image: The E route trollies will have a bright “E” that indicates a free ride.