San Antonio is a victim of its own success, which is a good thing as long as we recognize it and address it in a timely manner. That’s why it’s time to adopt a new campaign, which we are calling Share the River: Five New Rules to Make the San Antonio River Safe and Fun For All.
From Brackenridge Park south to the historic Missions, the San Antonio River was a mostly uninviting waterway a decade ago, save for the River Walk. Not today. From the Museum Reach to the Mission Reach, the river is teeming with people getting outdoors and getting active on what has become one of America’s great linear parks, 15 miles-plus of inviting space through the urban core and San Antonio history.
All those cyclists, joggers, walkers, children, skateboarders and pets sharing the narrow pathways has created a situation where too many people feel vulnerable and unsafe. Accidents have happened, more are bound to follow. Fortunately, it hasn’t happened here yet, but read this Washington Post account of an elderly woman killed in a collision with a cyclist on the paved Four Mile Run trail near the Potomac River.
My extended family lives one block from the King William Reach, yet my elderly in-laws will not venture unaccompanied on to the River Walk because they feel vulnerable and unsafe.
The San Antonio River Improvements Project is one of the city’s great, post-HemisFair ’68 stories of urban transformation. Yet all those cyclists and joggers and walkers wearing headphones and grooving on music have made for an uneasy mix. Readers reacted strongly when the Rivard Report first surfaced the issue last week in an overview story and a submission from Josie Davidson, a riverfront resident who walks 50 miles a week on the Eagleland and Mission Reaches and has found near-miss collisions an almost daily experience.
Considering all that reader feedback and our own experiences, here are our suggested Five New Rules to Make the River Safe and Fun For All:
1. Slow down, cyclists.
Posted speed limits and speed bumps are not practical, but cyclists should always slow down when nearing pedestrians of all ages and yield, even if unaware pedestrians fail to keep to the right. Call out “On your left!” loud enough for people to hear, or use a bell to warn people you are approaching. Understand that not everyone will react quickly and correctly to your signal, so slow pedal in the vicinity of pedestrians on crowded paths. Groups of cyclists should ride in a single line slowly. Fast-paced cycling should only be permitted on stretches of the Mission Reach void of people during the day and never after dark. All cyclists should conform to city ordinance and have working rear (red) and front (white) lights visible to others on the pathways.
2. Pedestrians should keep to the right.
Groups of walkers or joggers should not jog or walk side by side and block oncoming or passing traffic. Pedestrians should give cyclists room to pass when they call out, “On your left!” by stepping to the right and/or making eye contact with the cyclist as a smart precaution.
3. Cyclists on the Museum Reach and King William Reach should always slow pedal and yield to pedestrians.
People wearing headphones should be able to hear ambient sound so they know when cyclists are approaching.
4. The City of San Antonio and the San Antonio River Authority should install new signage that clearly communicates the rules of the river.
Signage and even a few video kiosks at highly trafficked entry and exit points, such as the Pearl and Blue Star, demonstrating appropriate and inappropriate behavior would be helpful. Signage should blend artfully into the respective river landscapes so as not to mar the park experience.
5. The City and SARA should embark on a public education campaign that teaches people to Share the River.
A professionally produced video shot and edited by local talent could be used in an advertising campaign with the local media, at the San Antonio International Airport, in hotels, and at kiosks placed at heavy traffic areas along the river.
Those are my suggested New Rules. The people at the City and SARA who actually are responsible for the San Antonio River have been watching traffic along the river grow and they’ve been meeting to address the safety issues. The Rivard Report invites them to share their thinking and their plans. The city’s growing community of river users would welcome that communication, I’m sure.
*Featured/top image: Cyclists disobey signage to walk their bikes on a stretch of the Eagleland Reach. Photo by Robert Rivard.