There were 12-foot stretch choppers, old-school BMX cruisers, ones with tires t h i s f a t, and even one with longhorn handlebars. Ronald McDonald cruised by on a red and yellow number.
I pedaled around, intrigued by the variety, but the most striking thing was this: I had no idea so many bicycles actually existed in San Antonio!
So many that, for a few hours on that day, our city no longer looked like our city, but a colorful, rolling promenade of active citizens.
And it was wonderful.
More than 70,000 people took part in Síclovía last weekend, and it looked as if every last one dragged a bike with them. There were endless rows parked along Broadway and Alamo Plaza, and a parking lot full at the nearby Taco Cabana, which made it look like a pawn shop at Christmas.
Just as important, everyone seemed to be having fun; whether catching up with friends, trying out new activities, or just cruising by and checking out the sights.
Given all that positive energy and enthusiasm, you have to wonder this: what the heck happens to us after Síclovía? Where do all those bikes and all those people who ride them go? And how many of them have actually been back on the road since the event? Are we more “aware” of bike and traffic laws?
Two cyclists were struck at an intersection downtown the very same evening of Síclovía. While the circumstances of the accident are largely unknown for certain (which drivers were drunk), as reported by Current Editor Callie Enlow in the publication’s Daily Blog, one thing is clear: we have a bike problem when bicycle hit-and-runs aren’t treated as seriously as those involving pedestrians or other cars.
If you drove down the Broadway corridor today, or even through your own neighborhood, you’d probably see a smattering of bikes here and there, which is a good thing, since years ago bikes in our city seemed reserved almost exclusively for lycra-clad athletes and not the recreational rider or commuter that’s become more commonplace now.
But there were literally hordes of people out there on bikes at Síclovía. Hordes.
So how do we take the spirit and momentum of that special day, and spread it year round? And what are the factors that keep all those enthusiastic cyclists off the road when it’s not Síclovía?
“Anecdotally, the traffic and the heat can be factors,” says Allison Blazosky, Bicycle & Pedestrian Transportation Planner for the San Antonio-Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). “One of the other factors for people is feeling comfortable and having confidence on the roadways.”
We can’t do much about the heat, but the city and the MPO have worked hard to create even more safe, car-free environments for pedestrians and cyclists – think the Mission Reach and the Salado Creek Greenway.
“Those developments give people the chance to ride without the fear of having to share the space with motor vehicles,” says Blazosky, who had just ridden back to her office after a meeting downtown. “The demand for people to ride more freely is there, and now the city is working to meet those needs through continued improvements in infrastructure.”
And it’s true – people are taking to these paths. Stop by the south end of the Mission Reach on weeknights and you’ll no doubt see groups of cyclists heading out, and tons of families doing the same on the weekends. That’s progress, and that’s great.
But what about the other dimension to this, the incorporation of bicycles onto our city streets? Having a place to ride car free is a benefit, but if you have to drive there in your car, doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose? Or at least put a little bit of a damper on things? Wouldn’t it be great if you could step out your door and ride to your local park?
Heck yes it would!
I had the opportunity to do just that on a recent trip to Denver (where, incidentally, the high today is 54 degrees). Aside from having bikes hanging off the front porch of every abode, racks everywhere, and a hearty bike share program (the biggest B-Cycle program in the country), they had well-marked bike lanes seemingly everywhere.
So even a first time visitor like me could easily navigate the entire place without ever having to rent a car or step foot in a cab.
For a city striving to put a premium on health and recreational activity, it wouldn’t be a bad model to follow. And fortunately, the powers that be agree, as the city of San Antonio and the MPO have passed policies that support complete streets in new and redeveloped areas.
“Complete streets offer space on the street for people to use all types of transportation options, for all modes, ages and abilities,” says Blazosky. “And the more champions we have for those types of programs, on the grassroots and elected official level for bicyclists and pedestrians, the better.”
One of those champions might be Cindi Snell, executive director of San Antonio B-Cycle and ‘Chief Pedaler’ at Bike World, a local she owns with her husband and Bonnie and Bill Simons. I checked in with her to see if events like Síclovía, the bike share program, and all the extended bike paths have had an impact on sales and people getting out on the road in general.
“What we’ve noticed in the last few years is an increase in the number of entry levels bike being sold to users,” says Snell. “More ordinary folks want to try bicycles, and that’s the result of a community being exposed to a developing infrastructure that’s biker friendly.”
She also shared some insight on what the future may hold.
“I think the next big step is the emergence and development of the person who commutes by bike, that’s the next thing for San Antonio,” she says. “In order for that to happen, it will be critical for local companies to help and support the cause, by providing showers, bike racks, parking, etc. It’s an exciting thing, and something that will really ingrain the bike culture in our city.”
That data and vision correlates with something B-Cycle Business Development Director Gus Sullivan shared.
“Bike share programs offer not only health and environmental benefits, but give people the chance to get on a bike again and have fun,” he says. “And what we’ve also found is that folks who try out B-Cycles, often move on and purchase their own personal bikes to use.”
If that holds true, then local bike shops should brace themselves for a rush and note that on Síclovía Sunday, B-Cycle sold more than 200 day passes and recorded more than four times the amount of normal daily trips. So chances are even more folks will be out on the road soon.
Now, more than ever, things are coming together to push our city toward being a complete cycling community – we have a mayor with a health and wellness agenda (via SA2020 and other programs), the promise of better streets, more places to ride, and an opportunity for folks to rent bikes to cruise around the city.
So what else can cyclists do to take back the streets and make commuting and cruising around our city the norm?
“It certainly helps to follow the rules of the road, and generally just be a good ambassador for the activity,” says the MPO’s Blazosky. “Doing so also helps traffic flow in general.”
If you’re a little road shy, you may want to consider joining up with some more experienced friends or a local group.
“There can be strength and a sense of security when you’re riding in numbers,” says Snell, “and you can also learn a lot by riding in a group.”
There’s also the benefit of being more visible, with 20 blinking lights and flashers attracting a bit more attention than just one, she says.
“But in the end, the goal should be that it feels safe on the roadways for everyone, whether you’re out there alone or not.”
In related news…
If you’re anxious to hit the road, want to be part of the social change, or help ensure the health of Síclovía, read on.
You can join the festivities and take a ride on the expanded Mission Reach as part of the grand opening today from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Expect food, folks, fun, and even some cooler weather. Read more: “San Antonio Celebrates the River’s Mission Reach Saturday.”
On Wednesday, Oct. 9th at 6 p.m., you can join the MPO’s Bike Night meeting taking place at the VIA Metro Center at 1021 San Pedro. Hear about coming projects and presentations, or sign up to speak and offer up your own comments and questions. Free and open to the public. Read more: “Building a Bicycle-Friendly San Antonio, One Committee Meeting at a Time.”
If you were as excited as I was about Síclovía, and want to make sure the event continues to flourish, then maybe it’s time to get more involved.
“It comes down to expenses,” says Monica Garza, Director of Community Wellness for the YMCA of Greater San Antonio. “It’s a free community event, and we have some great sponsors, but if we want to have it more often, we need more community support.” You can donate now, or find out more about becoming a sponsor by visiting siclovia.org.
Tom Trevino is a writer and wellness coach based out of San Antonio. His weekly column covers anything and everything related to health and wellness. He holds a B.A. from the University of Texas at San Antonio, with certification and training from the Cooper Institute. He has a fondness for dogs, NPR, the New York Times, and anything on two wheels. When he’s not writing, training, or cooking, you can find him wandering the aisles of Central Market.