City Guide: San Antonio working to make the city bike friendlier

San Antonio bicycling has been in the news perhaps more than ever. As proof, Mayor Castro was photographed on a bicycle wearing a helmet. One could argue this was just a symbolic gesture, but politics often boil down to symbolic gestures at opportune times. Thankfully, Castro and his predecessors have been doing a lot more than sending positive messages. Consider that in 2000 there were 34 total miles of bicycle-dedicated lanes, routes, and paths. By 2009, the number had swelled to 136 miles. Check out these other recent contributions the city has made.

On the street

Though Governor Perry vetoed a Safe Passing Ordinance for the state of Texas, the San Antonio City Council passed the law anyway. The ordinance states that cars have to pass cyclists by at least three feet on the left, and trucks have to give cyclists six feet of clearance. Breaking this ordinance results in a Class C misdemeanor and a fine not to exceed $200. I doubt many San Antonio drivers know about this law — but at least a legal effort has been made to ensure the safety of cyclists.

In addition to the Safe Passing Ordinance, the City Council has also put the onus on bike riders, passing a bike light ordinance requiring a front light and a rear light or reflector. At the time many groused, but it forced cyclists to become more visible. While working to expand bike lanes across the city, local leaders have also launched a “Get Cyched” ad campaign to further promote the notion that “safety is a two-way street.”

Bike share

Perhaps the most interesting use of city cycling cash has been the partnership with the B-cycle share program. Though the implementation of this program keeps getting pushed back, the program should debut in March. When it lifts off, residents will find 12 downtown stations where they can rent a bike for use. There will be a general fee to join the program; after that, people will pay only for time used. Members get the first half-hour free, with a $2 fee assessed for every additional half-hour. That initial free half-hour should promote bicycling as a healthy and easy way for people to commute across downtown for quick, short trips.

On the trail

What is probably the most interesting and overlooked addition to SA cycling is the continuing development of the Linear Creekways — 23 miles (and growing) of paved trails for people to ride. The trails follow various creeks and rivers across town. Not only are they safe from the intrusion of cars, but the trails also provide a peaceful way to enjoy cycling. Fourteen more miles are on the way. The whole project has been several years in the making so it never had a singular “opening” to captivate people’s attention.

For the first time, cycling is on the rise in the U.S. in a way that isn’t related to the success of Greg LeMond, Lance Armstrong, or a dislike for the French. People are riding to be cool, to be dorky, to be seen, to be invisible, to drink beer, to get in shape, because they don’t have enough money, or because they have too much. Cycling is still seen as a niche, but as more people take to the streets (and the creekways) everyone will realize it’s a cross-section of society just like everything else.

Read more from our 2011 City Guide here.

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