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San Antonio becoming more bike-friendly

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SAN ANTONIO – For years it seemed that "bike" was almost a four-letter word in San Antonio. Avid cyclists with hopes of commuting or cruising around town had few if any major routes to take.

"When I was younger, you didn't see anybody out in the streets, riding their bike much," said Rafael Mancilla, who commutes throughout downtown on his bike.

Since 2010, the city has grown from 34 miles of lanes, routes and paths, to nearly 700 miles. Nearly half of those miles are extra-wide sholders and the rest are dedicated bike lanes and shared trails.

"More people are interested in bicycling and that's not just a local trend, that's a national trend," said Timothy Mulry, the city's sustainable transportation manager.

"The paths are nice for recreational riding." added Mancilla. "On my day off, if I just want to go out for a leisurely ride, it's nice. For the most part, I'm commuting, trying to get somewhere. Riding on the streets just helps to get there faster."

Progress hasn't always been a smooth ride. The city's recent decision to remove the South Flores bike lanes received backlash from the cycling community and it's a move the city hopes to no longer have to defend soon.

According to the League of American Bicyclists, 0.3 percent of San Antonio's workforce regularly commutes on two wheels.

"There's costs, there's trade-offs between parking, between travel lanes" said Doug Melnick, the city's chief sustainability officer. "It really forces us to take a look at how we're utilizing our right of way and how we divvy it up between different uses."

"We know that more people are interested in bicycling and adding treatments on roads, whether it's 'sharrows,' bike lanes or paths are all intended to enhance safety," added Mulry.

Officials see building the commuter population as a multi-step process.  The addition of B-Cycle in 2011 and the Mission Reach trails in 2012 were two key steps.  Both promote cycling but more for leisure than lifestyle.

"We've seen on Leon and Salado Creek, hundreds of cyclists daily," said Mulry. "In some areas, up to thousands a day."

"I think we're getting there, I think we're moving along," added Mancilla. "Maybe not as fast as some of us would like."

In 2010, San Antonio was named a Bronze-level bike-friendly city by the League of American Bicyclists. Officials reapplied this and the league will release the new rankings on Tuesday.