Those who frequent the urban reaches of the San Antonio River had plenty to say on social media, in site comments and in messages to me about last week’s column on high volumes of litter blighting the linear park.
At the same time I am hearing from more and more people unhappy with the pathways along the river, notably along the Museum Reach and south of the Nueva Street dam to Roosevelt Park.
To sum up their frustrations, the $384.1million, 20-year San Antonio River Improvement Project is attracting a growing number of people, pets and cyclists to the 13-mile linear park, especially its urban reaches, and in the process, creating un-policed mayhem.
The single shared paths that run on both sides of the river place people and their pets and cyclists in the same space, and that tension has been ratcheted up by the conversion of the BCycle bike share fleet to all-electric bikes. That conversion has attracted a lot of first-time cyclists, but many have no understanding of sharing the roadway or slowing down around pedestrians and animals.
Many new e-bike users can barely control their ride and present a danger to themselves and to others as they speed through the crowded reaches of the River Walk. The same can be said for riders on their own bikes who ride the pathways after dark, and who do not comply with city ordinances to have working front and rear lights.
As someone who lives a few minutes’ walk from the King William Reach of the river and who spends many hours each week on and along the river, it is evident that the challenges of safely welcoming everyone to use the linear park are growing, at least at peak usage hours.
One reason is the river pathways are not policed. Bike cops occasionally make an appearance, but I’ve never once witnessed them citing anyone for reckless riding, littering or leaving dog waste on the path or its grassy edges.
I’ve experienced countless scooter users, banned by ordinance from the river pathways, zipping along day and night, indifferent to the people they are whizzing by at close proximity. Farther south on the Mission Reach I’ve documented several incidents of individuals on motorcycles illegally roaring up the pathway.
The city spends millions of dollars a year undertaking nightly cleanups of litter in the the tourist-district River Walk. There is a barge with skimming wings named the Lady Echo out there each night after the bars shut down. San Antonio police on foot and on bikes patrol the River Walk day and night. The sections of the river that attract local residents get no such attention. Why is that?
One way to address speeding cyclists, ironically, would be to eliminate the 1,200-foot Walk Your Bike stretch along the King William Reach. The rule is widely ignored — the brainchild of someone who does not own a bike. Cyclists wearing clip-in shoes, in particular, are not going to walk their road bikes hundreds of yards, tearing up their clip-ins. The heavy e-bikes also are cumbersome to walk long stretches.
A better solution would be to establish and enforce a Slow Pedal Zone along the Museum Reach and south of downtown from the Nueva Street dam to Roosevelt Park. A few days each season of bike patrols issuing citations would get people to slow down and respect others. Even then, density of users on the narrow pathways of the Museum Reach might require local officials to eventually prohibit bike use there.
Another sensible idea proposed by many readers is to have more recycling and garbage receptacles and more signage spelling out the rules of the road and appealing to everyone’ s good citizenship.
Many of us cross the river on foot below the Blue Star Arts Complex to run our dogs on the narrow strip of flood plain that stretches from the South Alamo Bridge to Crofton Street. There are no Mutt Mitt stations or garbage receptacles below the street level. As a result, many individuals fishing and couples looking for a quiet spot leave behind their trash.
The urban reaches of the San Antonio River are a great gift to all who live in or visit the city and use the linear park to recreate, but the success of the redevelopment project has come with growing pains that the city of San Antonio, Bexar County and the San Antonio River Authority need to address.