Andy Howard of The Hub (center) helps run a bike repair shop in The Quad during last Thursday’s “Bike to School Day.” Photos by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
As many San Marcos residents driving downtown and near Texas State may have noticed, the number of Texas State students riding bicycles swelled last Thursday.
The spike in bicycle traffic can be credited to the sixth annual Bike to School event sponsored by Texas State University’s Student chapter of the National Association of Environmental Professionals (NAEP). The event was intended to encourage students and long-term residents to bicycle more often and to get both cyclists and operators of automobiles to act more responsibly on the road.
“As cyclists, we need to make sure that we are doing things to promote proper cycling and good awareness as to what the laws are,” said Kara Sweidel, Texas State alumnus and former co-president of the university’s NAEP chapter. Sweidel, an avid cyclist, said one of her pet peeves is the “very illegal, very dangerous” practice of riding a bicycle down the sidewalk on the wrong side of the street.
Sweidel expressed strong support for the Safe Passing Bill, which passed the Texas Senate Transportation Committee on a 7-2 vote in late March. The proposed law would require more than three feet of passing distance between a motorist and a “vulnerable road user,” and provide penalties for harassing, taunting, or throwing an object at a vulnerable road user, among similar stipulations intended to promote road safety.
According to U.S. Department of Transportation, more than 52,000 pedalcyclists — non-motorized, pedal-powered vehicles — have died in traffic crashes in the United States since 1932. According to the same entity, 698 pedalcyclists were killed in 2007 and 44,000 were injured in traffic crashes. Pedalcyclist deaths accounted for two percent of all traffic fatalities.
The number of pedalcyclist fatalities in 2007 was 14 percent lower than the 814 fatalities reported 12 years ago. The highest number of pedalcyclist fatalities ever recorded by the government’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System was 1,003 in 1975. Pedalcyclists accounted for 13 percent of all non-occupant traffic deaths in 2007.
Bike to School Day featured free bike repairs in the Quad on campus and offerings of t-shirts and bicycle gear in exchange for canned goods, which were donated by NAEP to the Hays County Food Bank. Students walking to class and cyclists lounging near the bike maintenance tent were treated to a lively skirmish held by the Unicycle Football League (UFL), which is in its third season.
Bike repairs in the Quad were performed by a co-owner of and by friends of The Hub, a downtown San Marcos bicycle sales and repair shop. The Hub co-owner Andy Howard said he performed maintenance on at least 50 bicycles that day, an amount far in excess of his usual daily workload. The Hub also provided gallons of free rice and bean soup of the kind cyclists can enjoy every Thursday night at the bike shop.
Matt Akin, former co-president of the university’s NAEP chapter and a Texas State alumnus, said his former student organization received a grant from the school’s Environmental Service Committee to buy bike equipment, which included patch kits, tire levers, buttons, locks, lights, tools and pumps.
The NAEP chapter also received a grant from the Texas State’s Student Organization Council to purchase bike helmets, and bike tools were bought from The Hub at prices below retail but above wholesale. The NAEP chapter acquired about 200 t-shirts of all shapes, colors and sizes from Goodwills in Austin and San Marcos and solicited the services of Print This to emblazon the apparel with the Bike to School Day logo.
Bike to School Day coincided with a monthly event in San Marcos called “Critical Mass,” which involves dozens of cyclists cruising en masse down major thoroughfares during rush hour. Such events of the same name occur in cities worldwide. The group of cyclists promoting San Marcos’ Critical Mass encourages cyclists taking part in the ride to observe all traffic laws.
“It’s everyone coming together to ride bikes to show that we have the right to be on the road, that it’s a legitimate form of transportation, that it’s a good way to have community and promote community,” Sweidel said.
Akin said more people have been riding bicycles since he arrived at Texas State six years ago, adding that the university has increased bicycle ridership by building more bike racks. Akin said city should do the same rather than increase the number of automobile parking spaces.
“If you make it so difficult for people to drive, then they’re not (going to),” Akin said. “We have all these healthy, young college students who drive their SUVs a quarter of a mile or a mile and back just because they don’t know any better. They’ve been taught their entire life through our car culture that to go to somewhere half a mile you have to drive, (that) there is no other option.”
Howard, who sits on the city’s transportation advisory board, said the city will begin constructing bike lanes this summer on Aquarena Springs Drive from University Drive “down past Post Road,” and on the Wonder World Drive extension. Howard said the city will construct bike lanes on Riverside Drive connecting east and west San Marcos.
Akin said safety concerns can be alleviated by decreasing speed limits, widening the roads, and by more residents cycling so motorists get more accustomed to seeing and watching out for cyclists. Akin said when people get behind the wheels of their cars, they can become overly preoccupied with getting from point A to point B and may experience decreased empathy for others on the road.
“But when you’re on a bicycle, you see people,” Akin said. “It not only takes longer riding a bicycle (because) you’re going slower, but (also) because you meet people on the road and people say ‘hi,’ and you stop and talk for five minutes … You don’t make friends by driving cars. You don’t meet people in traffic jams, you don’t meet people in parking lots. By getting on a bicycle, you open yourself up to this really wonderful community of people that you’re able to instantaneously connect with because there’s no barrier of steel and glass separating you. So, once you start riding a bike, you become part of this great community that I was able to join about five years ago when I started coming to school here. I can’t imagine meeting all of my friends if I didn’t ride a bicycle.”
Bike to School Day also coincided with the monthly “Pub Crawl” — for those cyclists 21 and older — that began at Treff’s Tavern. The day’s festivities were concluded by a live 10 p.m. show in the alley behind The Hub featuring L.A.X. and ZLAM DUNK.
It’s hard to top the excitement of a Unicycle Football League game.
Critical Mass rides down Guadalupe Street.Email | Print