“To your left.”
That’s the responsible call of a cyclist on the Museum, Eagleland and Mission Reaches of the San Antonio River as they pass pedestrians along the paved pathways. Of course, that assumes the pedestrians are observing the rules and walking to the right to give the cyclists space to pass. Too often, the growing number of cyclists and walkers are ignoring the rules.
The San Antonio River, one of the most dramatic big city green space transformations in the last decade, is experiencing growing pains. From the narrow urban confines of the Museum Reach to the serene wildscape of the Mission Reach, more and more cyclists, joggers, and walkers are crowding the paved pathways and trails. Club riders in matching kits, hipsters on colorful single-speed rides, families with children on starter bikes, people walking pets, and nature lovers are all crossing paths, creating just the kind of active, outdoor community that city leaders envisioned.
That’s the problem. It’s getting crowded out there and not everyone is behaving. Cyclists on road bikes are moving at inappropriately high speeds that intimidate walkers and children. Pedestrians walking side by side and blocking the pathway, carelessly drifting to the left, or wearing ear buds that – depending on the volume – can block out the warning calls of passers-by also are a big part of the problem.
Josephine “Josie” Davidson, along with her husband Marshall Davidson Jr. and their three young children literally live on the river in King William, and the family walks and bikes down the Mission Reach on weekends. Josie walks every day, 50 miles a week, and has watched as the paths have grown more crowded and more and more people ignore share the path protocols.
“Just recently I read an article about a woman who was walking in Central Park. She was hit by a cyclist on a path,” Davidson wrote in an article published today on the Rivard Report. “The force of the collision threw her to the ground and the ensuing head injury, after a few days in a coma, proved fatal. Reading that story made me realize how lucky we are that this hasn’t happened here and how much we need to raise awareness of this issue.
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Davidson’s anecdotal evidence adds up at the river authority offices as more and more people register complaints.
“There have been some accidents already, at least one recent pedestrian-bicycle collision where, thankfully, no one was seriously hurt, but it’s a sign of what could become more commonplace,” said Steven Schauer, manager of external communication for the San Antonio River Authority. “We’ve also seen a number of single bicycle accidents because there was a curve, a sharp turn, a wet sidewalk, and one recent fall where a cyclist gashed their head pretty good.”
One unwelcome development, Schauer said, is the proliferation of smart phone apps that map the Mission Reach and lay out time trial courses, inviting competitive cyclists to match themselves against others speeding along the pathways and then posting their times.
“We’ve reached out to cycling groups with our ‘share our the path’ message, but there are apps that some use to time their rides on a route,” Schauer said. “We’ve contacted some of these app developers to try to get them to note that some stretches that are not safe to speed.”
The problem seems especially acute along the Eagleland Reach of the river, that stretch south of the King William Reach that includes the Blue Star Arts Complex and Brackenridge High School. Many cyclists who do not live downtown arrive in their vehicles and park at the Blue Star, where cycling clubs also meet up. The same area is thick with walkers and local residents walking their dogs. A sign asks cyclists to walk their bikes from the Blue Star, which many ignore.
Tracy Hamilton, a former journalist who blogs for CPS Energy, and her seven-year-old daughter, Nola, are frequent visitors to the Mission Reach.
“My daughter and I walk the dog and play along the Mission Reach most evenings and weekends, which means we’ve been surprised many times by a cyclists whizzing by without alerting us by bell or a hearty ‘On your left!’ call. We’ve yet to be hit, but it’s often scary,” Hamilton said. “The cyclists who don’t alert walkers think we can hear them coming, and walkers who take up the entire path can be oblivious, too.
“We know education campaigns can work, but it takes time and they need to be sustained with multiple efforts – signs, billboards, social media, and peer pressure,” Hamilton said. “Many San Antonians are relatively new to a healthy and outdoor lifestyle; they just need to be educated on the rules of the road. I’d love to see the paths eventually widened, and perhaps dedicated with stripes to each mode of travel.”
The Museum Reach presents a different kind of problem. The sidewalks along the stretch from downtown north to Brackenridge Park are narrow and less linear. A growing number of locals and visitors can be found walking the 1.5 mile reach between the downtown River Walk and the Pearl. That will only intensify with the opening next year of the Hotel Emma at the Pearl and new multi-family developments along and near Broadway in the works.
One possible solution is to ban all bikes except for B-cycles on the Museum Reach. B-cycles are heavy and slow and do not present the same kind of threat to pedestrians as faster cyclists on road bikes and hybrids.
Schauer said cyclists who do not call out their passing to pedestrians is the leading problem on all reaches of the river.
“I’ve been out there leading a tour or just inspecting the project and without any warning, cyclists have zipped by, right next to me,” Schauer said. “We are working on putting up more signage, but the Mission Reach is supposed to be a natural area. How many signs do you want to put up there?”
SARA officials have discussed various options, including posted speed limits and speed bumps, but these create more problems. Speed limits are not enforceable by park police, and speed bumps detract from the experience for everyone. No one wants a lot of signage at every turn of the path.
“The best option is education,” Schauer said. “We need to get the community to appreciate the resource. Cyclists who want to speed should be off the trails and on the streets. People are out there in big numbers, it’s a measure of success.”
What has been your experience on the river paths?
*Featured/top image: Cyclists and pedestrians share the Eagleland Reach path on the San Antonio River. Photo by Scott Ball.
This story was originally published on Sunday, Nov. 2, 2014.
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