San Antonio is losing ground. It is a sad irony that as the so-called Decade of Downtown nears an end, national safety groups rank the city less safe today for pedestrian and cyclists than nearly 10 years ago.
There were ample reminders of this reality last week.
Fellow cyclists mourned the death last Monday of Tito Bradshaw, a 35-year-old onetime cycling shop owner. Linda Collier Mason, 67, was charged with driving while intoxicated and intoxication assault after her vehicle struck Bradshaw from behind in the 1900 block of East Houston. The major east-west thoroughfare does not have a protected bike lane and offers only white striping designation in some stretches.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg mourned the loss of Bradshaw on Twitter and days later led a moment of silence among fans of Flaco Jimenez who gathered at the Squeezebox to celebrate the conjunto icon’s 80th birthday.
More than one fellow cyclist commented to me last week sentiments along the lines that San Antonio’s elected leaders need to move beyond “thoughts and prayers” responses to such incidents and demonstrate a real commitment to make city streets safer for everyone, regardless of the political fallout that might come from special interests that do not want any change that affects motorists, speed limits, or on-street parking.
Cyclists rode in a mournful procession across the Hays Street Bridge in memory of Bradshaw Monday night and then marked the site of his death with candles and a “ghost bike.” There is a quality of quiet despair that is palpable at such occasions. Cyclists feel powerless to effect real change.
A GoFundMe campaign has been started to raise $100,000 to cover Bradshaw’s medical and funeral expenses and provide care for his young son.
Later in the week, physicians, nurses, and other medical workers honored the legacy of Dr. Naji Tanios Kayruz, a veteran surgeon who was killed Feb. 4 while cycling on the Interstate 10 West access road outside the Dominion. Kayruz’s widow, Dr. Sandra Vasquez-Kayruz, and the couple’s 21-year-old son, Anthony, were welcomed by staff at Metropolitan Methodist Hospital for a dedication ceremony on what would have been Kayruz’s 59th birthday. The hospital’s robotic surgical suites were renamed in his honor.
A vehicle allegedly driven by Melissa Nicole Peoples, 48, struck Kayruz, fled the scene, and later struck another vehicle. Peoples was arrested shortly afterward by Bexar County deputies and charged with intoxication manslaughter and failing to stop and render aid.
Kayruz was riding along a route popular with cyclists who live and ride in the city’s Northwest Side, but there are no protected bike lanes along any of the highway access lanes.
Pedestrians also are at risk, evident last month when City of San Antonio accounting supervisor Omega McKinnon was struck and killed by a private charter bus as she crossed the street at St. Mary’s and Market streets. As a pedestrian in a crosswalk with a traffic signal, McKinnon had the right of way but was fatally struck as the driver executed a left-hand turn.
Public health advocate Amanda Merck sounded an alarm in a commentary published Friday on the Rivard Report: “Bexar County is ill,” she wrote.
“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. The San Antonio metro area’s Pedestrian Danger Index increased from 96.9 in 2014 to 131.2 in 2019, far worse than the national average of 55.3.”
There is an inarguable connection between safe streets and public health. Most people, however, will not venture on foot or bicycle to exercise on streets engineered only for vehicles.
City officials responsible for streets and public safety have been strangely silent in the wake of such fatalities. City Council honored Bradshaw with a moment of silence on Thursday, but the issue has not been addressed in any significant way by candidates in the mayor’s race.
Every time a cyclist or pedestrian is killed by a motorist the city loses not only a citizen but also a piece of its collective soul. An unspoken signal ripples through the community: Our streets are not for everyone. They are only safe if you are behind the wheel of a car or truck.
Each fatality leaves those of us pedaling and walking city streets feeling less secure, more vulnerable. Friends and family, co-workers, fellow cyclists mourn the loss, mount vigils and memorials, and then the headlines fade. Nothing really changes.
How to address the problem does not require much research or investigation. For starters, speed limits should be lowered.
“If a cyclist gets hit by an automobile going 40 mph you’re probably a fatality, with or without a bike helmet,” Robin Stallings, executive director of Bike Texas, told me when I wrote about San Antonio’s street safety problems in 2013. “At 30 mph, wearing a helmet, you’ll survive. At 20 mph, cars have time to stop and accidents don’t happen or happen a lot less often. Slow down cars and you’ll have a lot fewer fatalities.”
“We are a city by design, not by accident,” Councilman Roberto Treviño wrote in an April 4 statement sent to the Rivard Report for an article by Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick on the city’s new Urban Lighting Plan. “Thus, my vision … was to put forth a consistent, intentional strategy for lighting that would work in many ways to improve our quality of life here in San Antonio.”
The first sentence of Treviño’s statement should not go unchallenged. The District 1 councilman and architect has worked hard to make design and walkability a priority with City staff and Council, but no objective observer I know would agree that it is time to declare San Antonio a “city by design.”
In fact, it’s a city whose planners have consistently resisted efforts to adopt 21st century design standards for urban streets. A City Council that wanted to pass a 30-year Climate Action and Adaptation Plan to make the city carbon neutral by 2050 is unable to implement far less ambitious changes, such as subjecting inner city streets to a road diet, reducing individual vehicle traffic and promoting use of mass transit, walking, and cycling.
Sharing the road, which is State law, can only be effectively undertaken by reducing vehicle lanes, encouraging mass transit use, building protected bike lanes, and adding well-maintained sidewalks at least 5-7 feet in width. National standards call for sidewalks of that width in residential neighborhoods and sidewalks 8-12 feet wide on commercial streets.
There are street redesign projects in the 2017 bond, including Lower Broadway and Roosevelt Avenue, and there are existing examples of improved downtown streets, though the improvements tend to be only a few blocks in length.
We have little to show in the way of street safety and equity after a decade of downtown redevelopment. Let’s dedicate the next decade to building a comprehensive safe street network in the urban core. It’s a matter of life and death.