San Antonio needs a safe-streets advocacy group that can accomplish for vulnerable pedestrians and cyclists what Tech Bloc accomplished in 2015 for rideshare advocates in the face of a resistant taxi monopoly and its elected allies.
It’s time now to demand that elected officials make an accelerated investment in public-space safety and infrastructure to make San Antonio’s streets safe for people. Some at City Hall, I am told, do not believe many voters in San Antonio care very much about the issue. City engineers focus almost exclusively on vehicle traffic flow, and unprotected bike lanes, for example, are only introduced piecemeal rather than part of an integrated network.
The people in this city who choose to walk, pedal, or commute by scooter are going to have to demonstrate that City Hall has an obligation to respond to pedestrian and cycling fatalities with a plan to make streets safe. This is no time for elected officials or staff to be guessing at public sentiment. It’s time for leaders to lead.
Any change, however, likely will take a call to action, the formation of a social media-driven advocacy group, some funding, and crowds of people committed to showing up.
The more than 50 comments posted on my Sunday column last week, San Antonio: A City Still Unsafe for Cyclists, Pedestrians, suggest there are enough of us to start a movement. The death of cyclist Tito Bradshaw could prove to be a turning point, a moment in time when people say enough is enough: Please, no more reckless or drunk drivers killing people walking and cycling on unsafe streets.
Streets do not need to be unsafe. The solutions are evident everywhere in other U.S. cities and in Europe, where many more people safely commute on foot and by cycle. For elected officials who believe San Antonio’s cycling community is small enough to ignore, I say give people safe streets and they will surprise you with their mobility choices.
Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) is normally upbeat whenever we speak, which often as not is when one or both of us find ourselves cycling the same urban streets. Gonzales and her husband, Kevin Barton, are both avid cyclists, often with their small children in tow.
After reading my column last Sunday, Gonzales told me she doesn’t think the citizens of San Antonio want the kind of change that I and others are calling for, notably an integrated network of protected bike lanes that enable people to safely navigate the urban core. Thus, she said, elected officials likely will not act in the wake of two recent pedestrian and cycling fatalities, both the victims of allegedly drunk drivers.
In the race among cities to create attractive, livable environments that attract people and good jobs, this official indifference damages San Antonio’s national profile.
Public health advocate Amanda Merck sounded an alarm in a recent Rivard Report commentary: Among 100 metro areas ranked, San Antonio is the 21st worst for pedestrians, according to the 2019 Dangerous by Design report by Smart Growth America.
Gonzales sounded dispirited when we spoke, which is unfortunate because no elected official has shown a greater commitment to public-space safety.
Together she and her husband brought the Vision Zero strategy to San Antonio more than five years ago. You can read Barton’s call to action published here in 2014, and Gonzales’ call to make San Antonio a Vision Zero city published here in 2015. We can reach back even further to a 2013 column that I wrote then that could be republished today, demonstrating the lack of real progress in San Antonio.
Vision Zero began in Europe in the 1990s as an initiative to eliminate all traffic fatalities in cities. It then spread to the United States, where there is now a network of more than 40 cities working to eliminate all traffic fatalities.
San Antonio has lost ground since Gonzales and Barton published their calls to action. At the same time, the City has struggled to find ways to invest adequately in VIA Metropolitan Transit and attract more people to embrace public transit. San Antonio ranks last among major Texas cities in such investment and is the largest U.S. city without some form of light rail.
None of the so-called master plans, including SA Tomorrow and ConnectSA, focus resources on making San Antonio’s streets safer. Elected officials and demographers all agree that San Antonio will grow by 1 million people or more over the next 20 years, but there is a distinct absence of commitment to change how people move around the city.
It’s a complete contradiction that elected officials are talking about a Climate Action and Adaptation Plan, on the one hand, while not acting to reduce vehicle traffic and speed limits and creating safe streetscapes for people.
I want the tragic loss of Tito Bradshaw to mean something. I want him to be more than a memory to friends and fellow cyclists. I am not the only one talking about this being the time for a tectonic shift in City government and how it treats public-space safety. It will take all of us working together to finally be heard.