San Antonio Lags on Pedestrian Safety

Pedestrian Safety

Two years ago, officials in San Antonio promised its citizens that the roads would be made safer via the implementation of a nationwide initiative called Vision Zero. Vision Zero is a program with a lofty goal: to eliminate pedestrian deaths and serious injuries. It’s a project that was first initiated in Sweden in the late 90s. Vision Zero has taken off in New York City and other municipalities around the country. On paper, it’s a positive project with good aims. But saying you’re going to make streets safer is different than actually making streets safer. That’s a problem residents of San Antonio are now facing.

Action

According to commentary by Robert Rivard, though the city introduced Vision Zero in 2015, the number of deaths has only increased. In 2016, there were 65 pedestrian deaths, marking a jump from 54 fatalities in 2015. It’s this lack of change that caused a local (anonymous) group to employ guerilla tactics. They extended a pedestrian area at a local intersection by covertly setting up a series of plungers and marking the street with polka dots. The group, called the San Antonio Department of Transformation (SADOT), borrowed the polka-dot idea from a more official campaign in Austin, where local residents continually attempt to “keep Austin weird.”

Repeat

And this isn’t the first time such tactics were used. SADOT used similar methods last year, painting stripes, erecting make-shift orange plastic tubes and (to make it fun) painting little frogger-type amphibians on the street. The guerilla group was attempting to address a total lack of pedestrian walk-ways along a quarter-of-a-mile stretch of road in a major area of San Antonio.

SADOT

The guerilla group released a statement to the press last year, outlining their overall mission: “[SADOT] is an informal collection of individuals who are interested in improving the urban experience in San Antonio to make it a more livable, walkable and equitable city.” They continued, “Our goal is to use temporary, short-term, participatory ‘tactical urbanism’ installations to highlight potential solutions to long-term problems.”

As noted by Rivard, the group is influenced by an open source book, entitled Tactical Urbanism, which suggests different methods of instituting change here and now. The book, a brain-child of Mike Lyden and the non-profit Next Generation, suggests small-scale actions to provoke larger (and more long-term) solutions.

In employing these tactics, the group hopes to stir up conversation around the blatantly unsafe roadways, and in doing so, catalyze the process of making San Antonio’s streets safe for pedestrians.

City’s Priorities

According to San Antonio Deputy City Manager Peter Zanoni, SADOT could face fines if they are caught in the act. “TCI crews were […] dispatched to remove the vandalism, resulting in a waste of City crew time and taxpayer money,” he said. “In accordance with city and state law, this type of action may result in a misdemeanor to felony offense punishable with fines based upon the amount of property damage.”

The city, now rated 28th most dangerous for pedestrians, has not attempted to institute temporary changes as they pour money into long-term road safety projects that will take years to complete. SADOT has offered a possible solution for the interim, but most city officials don’t seem interested. It should be stated that the city plans to implement an $850 million bond issue affecting problematic sidewalks, bridges and streets all over the city. But changes like the ones made by SADOT are safe, cost-effective and easy to implement. Why not allow such changes as the city works on long term solutions?

Exemplar City

San Antonio and other US cities might want to look abroad to get a sense of what pedestrian safety can look like. In Vauban, Germany, local ordinances are astoundingly progressive. For instance, residential streets only permit pickups and deliveries, and vehicles are limited to driving at the speed of the average pedestrian. What’s more, 60 percent of shopping trips and other commutes are done via bicycle. It’s because of regulations like these that you find children riding skateboards and bikes in the middle of the street without a care in the world.

Perhaps this is closer to the world SADOT envisions. Either way, street safety advocates hope San Antonio city officials begin to effect change in a city that desperately needs it.