David Bemporad’s fascination with trains began at a young age. One of his earliest memories is sitting with his family near the rail line at Thousand Oaks and watching the freight locomotives roll past. At home, he would paint model trains and build elaborate sets.
Despite growing up in car-centric Northeast San Antonio, trips to visit family members in New York City also introduced him to commuter rail and that city’s subway system, with its distinctive maps with color-coded routes and stops. Last month, Bemporad unveiled a similar map he made charting San Antonio’s bicycle network after finishing a graduate program in urban planning and starting work for San Antonio nonprofits focused on making it easier to get around without a car.
He posted his finished product on the Facebook group SATX Social Ride, the largest of San Antonio’s online cycling communities. The post immediately blew up, being shared more than 180 times and drawing praise from hundreds of trail-goers. The map is even getting notice as far away as Houston.
“Outstanding!” one cyclist, Richard Castanon, wrote in the comments. “I’ve ridden about 90% of those trails and identifying the gaps was always a chore utilizing city trail maps. This makes for much easier planning and I think entices all of us to attempt riding them all.”
Bemporad, who began drawing the map earlier this year and posted it on Feb. 14, says the project is his love letter to his city.
“What’s inspired me through my whole career is the amount of love that is just vibrant in this community, everywhere,” he said. “It’s infectious and inspires this desire to show that love.”
Bemporad’s design isn’t the first or only map of San Antonio’s massive greenway trail network. The City of San Antonio maintains a map that it updates regularly after adding new trail miles. But what makes Bemporad’s map unique is its ease of use and its transit-oriented approach — viewing the greenways as not only a recreational space but a way to get around.
Existing local government maps have “all the pieces, they’re just not put together in a way that’s easy,” Bemporad said. “You have to do some digging.”
For years, the concept floated around in his mind, an obvious product of his background and experiences. Growing up, he’d often explore the early sections of Salado Creek trail. He and his future wife, Kassie Kelly, a former member of the San Antonio Report’s business team, would meet along part of that greenway to walk together when they were still high school sweethearts. Neither had their own car at the time.
“Salado Creek was like an essential part of my childhood,” Bemporad said.
After completing his undergraduate program at the University of Texas at Austin, Bemporad worked for the Brookings Institution, where he was assigned to work on metropolitan issues.
“It changed my life,” he said. “I was convinced by some of the smartest people I’ve ever had the privilege of working for, the way you make an impact is working in local government if you want to see the world become a more equitable, more sustainable place.”
He returned to Texas, working for a short time at a small lobbying firm in Austin. He enrolled in an urban planning program at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, focusing on transportation and graphic design. The COVID-19 pandemic left him completing the program remotely from San Antonio.
While still working on his graduate degree, he began working for the Great Springs Project, a nonprofit working with local governments to assemble a San Antonio-to-Austin trail network. He served as a planner for ActivateSA, a self-described “guerrilla planning initiative” that’s put together visions of specific projects like trails and bike lanes, many of which made it into the city’s 2022-2027 bond program.
“That’s when I was able to get plugged into the cycling community,” Bemporad said. He started attending the Tuesday night cruises put on by SATX Social Ride, where he encountered “some of the most passionate, kind people I’ve ever met in my entire life.” He frequently heard that people enjoy the greenways but have a hard time understanding how all the pieces of the system connect.
“They’re lifelong friends now,” he said. “As much as the bike map was something that I just wanted to make, I wanted to make it for them.
Jeff Moore, SATX Social Ride’s founder, printed off an enlarged copy of Bemporad’s map and posted it on his office wall.
“I’m just blown away by the amount of detail, the background, the representation of the city street-level infrastructure, the amount of points he has on there, the symbology he used,” Moore said. “It’s functional art.”
Bemporad’s up-close view of San Antonio’s ongoing trail build-out also led to a deep respect for local government staff working behind the scenes, often with little credit.
“This is decades of work from city staff, from county staff, from people that don’t get their name chiseled in stone — they don’t get to be at the ribbon-cutting,” Bemporad said. “They are the ones that have made this happen.”
I asked a San Antonio Parks and Recreation spokesperson whether the city plans to incorporate or promote Bemporad’s map. I didn’t get an answer, exactly, but did receive this statement from Brandon Ross, special projects manager in charge of the linear creekway parks program.
“We are excited that the greenway trails have generated such excitement and support in the community, and that they’ve inspired the creation of new maps, postings and other material on the web,” Ross said.
Bemporad plans to continue updating the map monthly, incorporating the many suggestions pouring into his inbox since its release. A high-resolution version is available online at SABikeMap.com.
He might be updating it for years. On Feb. 25, the city held a ribbon-cutting for its 100th trail mile at Camargo Park on the West Side, now connected to the Leon Creek Greenway. A San Antonio Express-News reporter who attended quoted Mayor Ron Nirenberg saying that trail construction “is never going to stop.”
“We’re going to complete the ring,” the mayor said. “We’re going to bring equity and access so that every part of town enjoys these trails. And when we’re done with the ring, we’re going to build spokes so neighborhoods and schools, retail centers and commercial centers, can all connect directly to this beautiful vision.”
Moore pointed out that while San Antonio’s off-street trail network is impressive, the city still has a long way to go to become a place where it’s safe for people to get around by bike. If he had to grade San Antonio’s overall bike infrastructure, he’d give it a C-plus.
“We need something similar to the greenbelt, but on the streets,” Moore said. “We need some very basic cardinal direction bike thoroughfares, protected bike lanes. We need a backbone system that can get people around, and we have parts of it, but it’s all disjointed and disconnected.”
This story has been updated to correct David Bemporad’s role at ActivateSA.