Bearing witness to endless lines of frustrated drivers over the past week, I’m reminded of how a single energy source controls the lives and anxiety of many San Antonians: gasoline.
How resilient is a city that flirts with panic after rumors of a fuel shortage? Is it fair to call our city resilient when nearly the entire public is dependent on a single resource to move? Hurricane Harvey brought unimaginable destruction to our coastal cities and full recovery will take years and cost billions. However, San Antonio was not prepared for the short-term gas hysteria that raised the blood-pressure of just about every car owner in our city.
As I watched my tank go from full to quarter over the weekend, I was calmed by the fact that I can wake up tomorrow and navigate our VIA Metropolitan Transit bus system – but that makes me a small minority in our city. I’m fortunate that I can adjust my day to start two hours earlier or relocate meetings from City Hall to my field office.
The vast majority of San Antonio residents don’t have that luxury. They can’t change doctor’s appointments without a penalty or significant risk to their health. They can’t disrupt a college course schedule, or sacrifice losing hours at work. They can’t miss jury duty or a meeting with a company executive. Too many working San Antonians solely rely on their personal vehicles – any threat to this creates deep fear and anxiety.
But here are some novel ideas: What if our city had access to a high-speed rail from the Southside to Downtown or Medical Center? From the Westside to classes at the UTSA main campus on the Northside or Texas A&M San Antonio in the Southside? What if bike lanes connected our city without gaps or risk to safety? What if our city’s bus system traveled in 15-minute frequency throughout the city? What if our transportation options were so numerous that any shortage in gasoline or any act of mother nature was merely a minor adjustment rather than a detrimental disruption to our daily lives?
The panic around the gas shortage will fade, but what about our will to diversify our transportation options? Will we again become complacent with our single-sided approach to moving people in our city? I hope not. We must turn our extreme frustration and our undoubtable apprehension from this past week into action. We must think bigger than four wheels. We must think two wheels, six wheels, and even steel track.
Personal vehicles and interstate highways undeniably transformed America in the mid-1900s, yet we find ourselves challenged to move people in the 21st century in any other way.
It’s time for another transformative movement in San Antonio – one focused on creating a diverse array of transportation options that let citizens get to school, to work, and to play without inconvenience. A major traffic jam? No problem with a light-rail system. A delay on the rail line from the Southside to UTSA? Maybe I’ll drive my car today. The bus to the park is running late? Let me go grab my bike. Our city holds great potential to increase access to all parts of town for all residents, but we must make the choice to make that investment.
Without light-rail, extensive bus-service, and uninterrupted bike lanes, San Antonians will be held hostage to the gas shortages of the future. Broken pipelines, natural disasters, you name it, we’ll suffer through it. If San Antonio can draw lessons from this week’s gasoline panic, it’s that our future cannot rely solely on cars and the gas that powers them.
This article was originally published on Sept. 4, 2017.