SAN ANTONIO – Efforts to promote street safety and active living are occurring at the city level thanks in part to work by the San Antonio Complete Streets Coalition.
With October being National Pedestrian Safety Month, coalition members believe the collaboration is happening at no better time.
According to a 2022 report from Smart Growth America, San Antonio was ranked as the 20th most dangerous city for pedestrian safety. Data in the report was gathered from 2016 to 2020.
“We appreciate the leadership and work being done by the city and the various community groups involved to equitably address the mobility & transportation challenges we face locally,” ActivateSA Executive Director Joey Pawlik said.
The complete streets concept is a part of the advocacy of local groups such as ActivateSA, one of the coalition’s members.
What are complete streets?
The model is an approach to planning, designing and building streets that enables safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit users.
Further, the model emphasizes a safe and equitable transportation network, specifically focusing on investment in historically underserved communities.
Bike lanes, sidewalks, crosswalks and road medians are some aspects that make up complete streets. All of these efforts aim to mitigate traffic fatalities.
Last year, there were 47,472 total crashes in Bexar County. Of those crashes, 250 were fatalities, TxDOT crash and injury data said.
San Antonio adopted its current complete streets policy in 2011.
Greg Griffin, an associate professor of urban and regional planning at UTSA, notes that while the policy has been in place for 12 years, it lacks potential monitoring and enforcement.
“This proactive policy created a direction, but it lacks either enforcement or monitoring of the policy,” Griffin said in an email. “The work isn’t getting done.”
Does the complete streets model exist in San Antonio?
While the numbers seem dire, Griffin notes that recent projects in the city are making efforts to combat any significant increases in the numbers.
“Recent projects show substantial effort and success — such as the protected bike lanes and sidewalks along Buena Vista Street,” Griffin said.
A 2021 paper in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health — with research from UTSA Civil Engineering — shows a correlation between motor vehicles and bicycle crashes in San Antonio.
“The downtown area experienced the highest crash density, while severity hotspots were located at intersections outside of the downtown area,” the paper said.
Of several recommendations from the study, one central point is the separation of bicycle lanes from the roadway.
Streets such as Avenue B are examples of “reallocating existing street space to serve emerging needs,” as Griffin says.
“Although we have many streets that are congested with vehicles, and maintaining that use is warranted, many can be redesigned as complete streets to save lives, improve the quality of life and save money from asphalt re-surfacing,” he said.
While areas of San Antonio contain the complete streets model, Griffin said it’s difficult to assess the overall impact of the model’s positives.
“Our successes have been piecemealed by hardworking city staff and consultants, but there is no area of the city with a comprehensive network of complete streets to even assess impact,” Griffin said.
‘We need more follow-through to get projects done’
Griffin notes that while the city has done excellent planning in the field, it’s a matter of coordination and collaboration to see results.
“The city has done excellent planning, but we need more follow-through to get projects done,” Griffin said. “Collaboration is key to each part of building complete streets.”
Collaboration comes from several groups, from TxDOT to the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, property owners and residents.
Part of the follow-through comes from setting goals and monitoring performance, which again goes back to collaboration.
“With aggressive leadership, grant-writing, and additional funding sources, our city could progress quickly, efficiently and equitably,” Griffin said.
The San Antonio Streets Coalition will hold a San Antonio Complete Streets Town Hall on Dec. 6. The event details are soon to come. Residents are encouraged to visit the San Antonio Complete Streets website and sign up to be notified of the town hall and future events.
To go deeper on the subject of complete streets, click here.