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Author of Blog: Daniel Day
New Post once a month.

Monday, May 5, 2014

San Antonio isn't Serious about Bicycles.

May is national bike month, and both the city of San Antonio and Bexar (pronounce "Bear") issued a proclamation (image 3.1) declaring May 20th it's support for being active and for alternative transportation.  But that's a misprint, the Kick off event took place Friday May 2nd
3.1

  Anyway, the city always puts on a show this time of year declaring that it is in favor of alternative transportation modes.  Clearly that is not the case the first example can be clearly seen in the City Ordinances and some of the action of its law enforcement officers. 

I believe many of you have heard about it, that it is illegal to ride your bicycle on the sidewalk.  Well guess what, this is what the official city ordinance actually says....
Sec. 19-286. Driving or parking on sidewalks prohibited.

(a)

It shall be unlawful for any person to drive or propel or park or stand any vehicle upon any sidewalk.

(b)

Law enforcement officers and emergency medical personnel while using bicycles provided by governmental agencies and while in the performance of their authorized duties are exempt from the provisions of subsection (a). Any person, while parking a bicycle in city installed bike racks, is also exempt from the provisions of this section.

(Code 1959, § 38-54; Ord. No. 53243, § 1, 1-15-81; Ord. No. 88129, § 1, 7-23-98)
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If you want to understand how the law works, a good saying I go by is that "if it ain't in writing, then it never happened."  And if you look at the ordinance (a), it clearly says "It shall be unlawful for any person to drive or propel or park or stand any vehicle upon any sidewalk."  But your probably saying to yourself that just for cars.  But if that was the case, we wouldn't have the exemption (b) where it clearly states for city personal "using bicycles" and regular folks "parking a bicycle in city installed bike racks".  And just go downtown, there's not enough city bicycle parking to go around. So far I've haven't gotten a ticket for parking my bicycle on the fence of the Starbucks at Houston and St Mary's, but according to this, I could get a ticket.  Now I have been harassed SAPD for riding my bicycle on the sidewalk downtown before B-cycles were put in, but since the rental service has been up and running, so far no harassment or tickets from SAPD.  Also I've notice that the majority of B-cycle users are on the sidewalk anyway and it would make the mayor look bad if these "law breakers" were ticketed for using something our mayor supported.  Now surely the city can amend the law to allow use to prevent being harassed by police officers, but don't count on it. We can only hope that they don't do some type of crackdown for no apparently reason.

Now I ride on the sidewalk all the time especially if it makes more sense.  Example is riding against the flow of traffic, it helps to do it when there's a sidewalk available.  Another is riding around the block.  I do this when I get off the bus at Nacogdoches and Loop 410 for it is simply easier to get to the UPS store from the Looper bus stop via the sidewalk than going into traffic as well as trans-versing the Loop 410/San Pedro interchange.  I just have a more positive experience on the sidewalk there than dealing with the average car drivers in those areas and when I get off of my Line-UP bus at the St Mary's Bridge, I ride all the way to the old library to catch the other line up.  So far the officers standing at the corner of St Mary's and Commerce have not given me or anybody else for that matter a hard time. 
Bus Lanes are also an issue.  In other cities such as Austin, they allow bicycles to use the lane.  However, several of my friends have told me that they have been harassed by Via police yelling at them to get out of the lane.  Well apparently there's a law for that too.  LOL
Sec. 19-462. Penalty for unauthorized use.

Any person who drives a vehicle other than a bus in a bus lane where prohibited, or who drives for a distance of more than five hundred (500) feet without turning right where right turn within five hundred (500) feet are permitted, shall be guilty of a Class C misdemeanor and, upon conviction, shall be fined not less than one dollar ($1.00) nor more than two hundred dollars ($200.00).

(Ord. No. 72941, § 1, 1-17-91)
Now I don't ride in the Bus lane at all down the for major streets (Navarro, St Mary's, Commerce, Market) simply because the bus is always slowing me down.   Many cyclist do use, as do I, the bus only lanes on Navarro behind the Main Library and on Alamo Plaza.  I've also seen SAPD bike cops use these lanes as well especially on Alamo Plaza.  But just think, if a Via Police officer is having a bad day or for that matter a SAPD officer, then I bet he'll give you a ticket for riding your bicycle down this lane even though they use these lanes too.  So far this hasn't happen, but it would really suck when it does.  Now there's some pratical reason why you shouldn't be in the bus lane.  For one thing, it simply takes more time to stop a bus and as a former CDL Driver, I can definitely attest to that fact.  But don't count on the city  to put in a two-way cycletrack down Commerce, Market, Navarro and St Mary's anytime soon because that would require to take out a vehicle lane for cars and we can't do that because that wouldn't be keeping San Antonio Lame. 

The other law that is keeping San Antonio fat are the ordinances concerning the use of the Linear Creekways specifically using the linear creekways as a path for bicycling commuting.  It clearly states at every trailhead that the trail can only be used during the daylight hours.
3.3
Sec. 22-28. Public parks hours of operation and curfew.

(e) Notwithstanding subsection (a), parks designated as natural areas by the director of parks and recreation and parks developed as part of the Linear Creekway Parks development program (Leon Creek, Salado Creek, Medina River) shall be closed for all purposes each day at sunset, or after events scheduled by the department of parks and recreation are completed, and will re-open each day at sunrise.
 Several times before, I've heard complaints from my friends on Facebook that they've been ticked for using the trail especially on Leon Creek or going through McAllister Park after sunset.  As a person who brakes this law regularly on Salado Creek, I wonder why we have such a ridiculous law in the first place.  The streets around these creekways are horrible places to ride your bicycle.  There's no bicycle lane along these streets with vehicles that routinely speed 10 to 15 miles over the speed limit which are normally set at 40 to 45 mph.  This trail provides me with a safe alternative and a better place to be than among the drunk drivers late at night.   
Now I have the appropriate lights to illuminate the trail at night.  I have two 1000 lumen flashlights including a blackburn superflea on my helmet.  When riding these trails, I rarely see anybody walking or bicycling although I've have encounter families using the trail without lights on their bicycles from the camp grounds on Gembler Rd.  The worse collision I almost had was almost running over a raccoon back in January.  During these journeys down the trail, I've encountered possums, raccoons, deer, owls, and the occasional armadillo and grey fox.  Rarely do I see skunks and thank goodness.  The most magical time I had was riding in the woods south of E Commerce where I encountered a bat flying over me.  It followed the trail and I illuminated the bat with my helmet light.  It was like following a butterfly on your bicycle on a sunny day. Surely the City could amend the law to allow use for cyclist who have sufficient lighting to use it after sunset, but if they did that, they would create a means for people who live along the creekways a safe route to use and not being dependent on their cars but to do that would require the city to not Keep San Antonio Lame. As for private property that the trail goes through like Los Patios, then simply close off those parts of the trail after dark because that seems fair to me. 
There is another thing the city could do if it don't want me to ride the trails at night.  It could implement the bicycle master plan thus providing me and others with safe places to be on my bicycle in these areas of the city where the only safe place to be is on the Linear Creeks but again, remember the saying "Keep San Antonio Lame" and to do that would  not be lame.  DUH!
The Alternative Department for Transport blog recently wrote a similar story about the same problem we're facing here about London.  He said quote:
Perhaps it is beyond the scope of the report to suggest how this might be achieved, but this word “encouragement” is dangerous. What would “encouragement” entail? A poster campaign, or maybe even a TV advert if the budget stretched that far. It might mean some sort of tax break on bike purchase, or free cycle training sessions. At best it might mean a few 20mph zones and toucan crossings.
We need to do more than this to solve this problem. For more than 60 years now the country has been designed and built with motor vehicles in mind. That is the reason that so many choose to drive even for very short journeys.
3.4
And San Antonio is far from doing what needs to be done to encourage people to be active.  And we can encourage people to be active all the time, but that isn't going to help the problem of our obese city.  What we need to do is enable people to make the right choice.  To do that we need to adopt a different set of rules, not to increase the speeds of motor vehicles, but to increase the safety and speeds of people walking and using bicycles.  Just look at this image from the Netherlands and compare it to the image I took of a family on Houston St in October 2013.  Would you prefer that family to be out in the middle of the lane (Image 3.4), or would you prefer them to be on a cycletrack like this one in the Netherlands? (Image 3.5)
3.5
 
  

3.6
3.7
It is sad that, to be safe and to follow the Mayor's Proclamation, you have to break the law.  City Ordinances aren't the only thing keeping people fat and couch potatoes, but the recent treatment from SAPD working NIOSA were harassing people riding bicycles to the event. A sign (Image 3.6) was posted at the end of S Alamo at Ceasar Chavez.  Clearly This is how I considered interpretation of no bicycle signs as this (Image 3.7).  Another thing the City could have done for the event was to put in a temporary cycletrack on the Hemisfare side of  S Alamo so people riding bicycle and those who use S Alamo daily could go by with out having to run into people which clearly that is why it was posted, but that ideal my friends make sense and is clearly not Lame.
One of my friends got a ticket at NIOSA for not having reflectors but he does have lights. It clearly states in the ordinance that "2.Visible when directly in front of lawful upper beams of motor vehicle headlamps from all distances from fifty (50) to three hundred (300) feet to the rear of the bicycle; or b. A lamp that emits a red light visible from a distance of five hundred (500) feet to the rear of the bicycle."  In a later post, my friend was worried and concerned that he would get a ticket again and not have the funds to pay it.  He also considered not going to NIOSA and help out at the bicycle valet. People don't want to be breaking the law, they want to be good citizens and pay their taxes, but we also want to make our community, our city a better place to live.  If you happen to get a ticket for not having reflectors but clearly having lights on your bicycle, please show the Judge this Ordinance and make a complaint about the officer issuing the ticket by calling 311.

Sec. 19-295. Requirement for use of front and rear lights when operating a bicycle at nighttime.
While operating a bicycle on a public street a person may not operate a bicycle at nighttime, the period beginning one-half hour after sunset and ending one-half hour before sunrise, unless the bicycle is equipped with:
(1)
A lamp on the front of the bicycle that emits a white light visible from a distance of at least five hundred (500) feet in front of the bicycle; and
(2)
On the rear of the bicycle:
a.
A red reflector that is:
1.
Of a type approved by the department of public safety; and
2.
Visible when directly in front of lawful upper beams of motor vehicle headlamps from all distances from fifty (50) to three hundred (300) feet to the rear of the bicycle; or
b.
A lamp that emits a red light visible from a distance of five hundred (500) feet to the rear of the bicycle.
Any person who engages in any activity specified in this section may be subject to prosecution for a class C misdemeanor and a fine not to exceed two hundred dollars ($200.00).
Clearly, the Mayor want to encourage you to be active, to choose alternatives when getting around town.  But actions of the city's employees and it's laws clearly state otherwise.  The city would rather have you drive a car, polluting the air and being fat for that's is clearly the easy thing to as well as the legal thing to do.
So to all my fellow cyclist who break the law all the time doing what you love, keep breaking the law for your actions and determination is clearly Keeping San Antonio Real.



Image 3.1: City of San Antonio Proclamation for Walk and Roll Rally.
Image 3.2: A man riding his bicycle on E Houston St downtown back in January.
Image 3.3: Park Regulation sign at Tobin Park. 
Image 3.4 A family riding their bicycles down E Houston St in October 2013
Image 3.5: A Family riding in a cycletrack somewhere in the Netherlands.  Courtesy of Alternative Department for Transport.  http://departmentfortransport.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/woman-and-daughters.jpg
Image 3.6:  Sign telling cyclist to dismount and walk to NIOSA.
Image 3.7:  My feelings towards such signs.  Courtesy of Copenhagenize  http://www.copenhagenize.com/2013/02/motorists-dismount.html

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