Pedaling forerunners have already done the dangerous work of preparing SA streets for two-wheelers
Published: October 5, 2011
Safety, and the image of biking, is an issue that also concerns James Odom, SA’s only bicycle messenger. With courier chops honed in Portland and Austin, Odom has been the sole rider for San Antonio’s Dependable Express since June.
Bike messengers, and the courier business in general, have taken a beating this recession — partly due to advances in signature technology in email, but the scruffy courier image hasn’t helped, either. For that reason, Odom rides clean-cut, like “a UPS guy, but in a red shirt,” he says.
Odom says he can outrun the car messengers he competes against downtown. Most of his customers are in the legal business, which still demands hard-copy documents. Before noon, he often makes 15 trips to the courthouse, taking as little as four minutes to make a run. “I was talking to one of our car drivers today, and it takes him 20 minutes to get 12 blocks around downtown. I can get there and back in 10 or less,” Odom said. Asked what part of town is the safest for a non-professional rider, he replied, “If you’re skill level isn’t that high, I would say suburbs are the safest place. King Williams is a pretty low traffic area. There’s a lot of people who ride bikes in Southtown, but once you start getting more north, going up into Hildebrand, it’s just kind of crazy. There’s two lanes, and then it magically switches to three lanes and people are driving in the middle of the lanes and you’re trying not to die.”
Recently another company started using bikes to deliver, but the Bike Waiter is no competition to Odom’s efforts. Started a little over a week ago by Shane Broussard, the new venture is an outgrowth of the pedicab-pulled billboard business he’s had since 2009. With four riders including himself, the Bike Waiter delivers meals from nine downtown restaurants. They charge a 15 percent gratuity, plus a charge of $3.99 on a minimum order of $20. Their website (thebikewaiter.com) allows customers to order online, a nicety usually restricted to the big chain restaurants but now extended to select owner-operated eateries.
With stops and starts, bikes are coming to SA, and hopefully they’ll stay. Before automobiles arrived at the turn of the century, it was bicyclists who pushed for paved roads in town, and safer roads to rural areas. Today, bicyclists are among the most vocal proponents for development of mass transit, including bike lanes. During Síclovía the Current spoke with Robin Stallings, director of BikeTexas, the state’s largest bicycle education and advocacy organization that delivers bicycle safety instruction to over 20,000 public-school kids every year.
Thanks to last week’s adoption of a complete streets policy San Antonio could move its bronze rating as a bicycle-friendly community to a gold rating in as little as five years, Stalling said. The ratings are given by the League of American Bicyclists, which currently recognizes 14 cities at the gold, or second-highest level for providing bicyclists safety, encouragement, and accommodations. “You’ve got everything in place. At the city level, you’ve got political support for it, but it’s a big jump,” she said. Nationally SA is still on the bottom half of all cities in per-capita spending on bicycling, but at a state level we’re one of only three cities that have adopted both complete streets and a 3-foot passing rule. (Austin and Denton are the other two.) The Safe Passing Ordinance, passed by the state lege in 2009 but vetoed by Governor Rick Perry, cleared SA’s Council in 2010. Like the statewide bill, this local ordinance lists cyclists, pedestrians, motorcyclists, and tow-truck operators as entitled to special consideration when encountered on the roadway by motorists. Another thing we’ve got going for us, said Stallings, is the B-cycle bike-sharing program.
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