SAN ANTONIO – You may have never heard of complete streets, but they’re changing the way San Antonio accommodates all forms of traffic in an effort to connect communities.
The city is finding new ways to improve the ways we commute as it continues to grow, with 1.5 million people and another million more expected by 2040.
“A complete street is an approach to a street that makes all modes of transportation viable on that street, whether it be motor vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians. It's designed to have as many different types of transportation use that street as possible,” said Paul Berry, spokesperson for Transportation and Capital Improvements.
SA 2020, a local nonprofit organization, has a dashboard that tracks 61 community indicators through more than 27 data providers. It reports that information to residents to give them a perspective of how the city is doing.
SA 2020’s data dashboard shows that, according to the San Antonio Department of Planning and Community Development, the city had 2,370 miles of complete streets by 2016. The organization received new data in November and is expected to have a report sometime early next year, officials said.
“We use complete streets as a measure of whether or not our community is connected. When our vision was created, San Antonians said they wanted a transportation system with a model of efficiency that our neighbors would be connected, that we could walk, wheel or ride wherever we needed to go, and complete streets was a measure of success in tracking that,” said Molly Cox, president and CEO of SA 2020.
But some streets can’t accommodate all forms of traffic, leaving commuters without many options.
“I don't think I'm saying something provocative to say that San Antonio was not built for public transit. We grow outward. We are built for cars. We have our freeways and we like our cars,” Cox said.
While not every street can be made complete, the city has been using a “complete streets lens” to build or refurbish roads since 2011.
“What we will do is we will look at a street and say: Can we do some parking lots? Obviously, we want to have motor vehicles, but should there be some sidewalks? What kind of lighting should go with those sidewalks? Should there be vegetation or landscaping done?” Berry said. “It just takes a look at a street in a way that tries to get as many modes of transportation to utilize that street.”
Scooters have added a new element to the way San Antonians commute within the city. They can alleviate ways to complete the first mile or last mile, which are the first or last leg of a person’s trip within a city after they park their car or get off some form of public transportation, such as a bus or train.
But the city isn’t too worried about accommodating scooters.
“A scooter is kind of treated more like a bicycle right now, and so there's a bike lane. That's the perfect place for a scooter to go,” Berry said.
The city currently has 300 miles of bicycle lanes, Berry said.
“As we are working on streets, we will look at ways to make sure that bicycles and scooters … have access on the complete streets,” he said.
Complete streets are more than just point A to point B. They also have other benefits that aren’t always measured.
“For us to get our hands around transit, complete streets, multimodal transit use also has other implications for outcomes in our community,” Cox said. “What I think we are starting to understand now is that more and more people are realizing that public transit (is a) means by which we can become healthier. It impacts our environment. It changes the way our neighborhoods are connected. We start to think about development differently and what we're building around our neighborhoods when we can get to them in easier ways.”