The proposed city budget that goes into effect on Oct. 1 includes $2.7 million to update the badly outdated 2011 Bicycle Master Plan.

That’s not a lot of money in the scheme of things, but it could provide a foundation for examining why a city so focused on urban growth and sustainability, and attracting and retaining talented young people, has failed over the last decade to make San Antonio’s streets more bike-friendly.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg and the City Council will soon appoint the citizen committees to explore how best to invest a record $1.2 billion in streets, parks, and other infrastructure in the 2022 bond. Citizens representing the interests of cyclists should be on every committee. Street safety and connectivity from the street to every urban neighborhood and the greenway trails system is key to making the city bike friendly for all classes of cyclists.

Recognizing that deficit in what otherwise has been a decade and more of smart public and private investment in San Antonio’s urban core could make the next five years a period where San Antonio joins the ranks of America’s most bike-friendly cities.

San Antonio is already halfway there. We now offer one of the best trail cycling experiences of any major U.S. city. It’s the city’s streets that are not so safe.

The 82-mile Howard Peak Greenway Trails System tracing the city’s extensive network of creeks has matured into a world-class recreational amenity. It’s not yet fully appreciated by residents and remains woefully undersold to the millions of visitors who come here each year. Readers who want to explore the greenway trails should start by reading The Trailist, a frequent feature produced by Senior Reporter Brendan Gibbons.

The system eventually will offer 130 miles of trails, so there will continue to be plenty to report on. Up next: The two-mile connecting trail linking Salado and Leon Creek Trails will open on Nov. 6, according to city officials.

City planners recently applied for a $25 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant to complete the 7.1 mile Zarzamora Creek Greenway Trail on the Westside, providing a new connection to the Leon Creek Trail and serving some of the city’s poorest zip codes. Click here to access the detailed presentation.

A proposed route for the Zarzamora Creek Greenway Trail is included in the document to the U. S. Department of Transportation. Credit: Courtesy / City of San Antonio

More people than ever are biking. The demand for bikes skyrocketed as the pandemic set in. People vacated gyms and other indoor recreational spaces, and sought ways to get outside. A friend at Bike World recently told me the business has 8,000 bicycles on order, with manufacturers taking a full year to deliver high-end road bikes.

BCycle, the city’s bikeshare program, also experienced a pandemic-induced spike in ridership, which has not subsided. The addition of electric bikes and three-wheelers to stations has attracted people who otherwise would not ride a bike, especially in the hot summer months.

Yet there are still many people who will only ride on the greenway trails, along the 13-miles of trails on the San Antonio River, or on quiet neighborhood streets. The lack of protected bike lanes, or cycle tracks, make busier streets an option only for more experienced riders. For most would-be commuter cyclists, the greenway trails system is not a practical option. There are few safe connections with city streets, so riding from home to work for most of us requires street cycling.

Anyone who uses Broadway Street is aware of the road closures as the three-year, $43 million street improvement project continues. For many of us, the so-called “complete street” project in the 2017 bond that will not include protected bike lanes symbolizes the city’s missed opportunities to reduce urban vehicle traffic and make San Antonio more bike friendly.

Cyclists now await the promised bike lanes that city officials say will be constructed along Avenue B and North Alamo Streets on either side of Broadway. For many, however, seeing will be believing. Too many other commitments to improve conditions for street cycling have not been kept.

A new bicycle master plan supported by budgeted bond dollars can transform San Antonio from a city that makes life hard for cyclists to one that becomes a destination for people and their bikes.

Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is editor of the San Antonio Report.