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City, university officials work to create safe bicycling community

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Amber Alomran, alumna with a degree in nutrition, and Hunter Turk, electrical engineering senior, ride their bicycles Jan. 27 on a section of E. Hutchison St. which has no designated bicycle lane.
Photo by: Daryl Ontiveros | Multimedia Editor
Amber Alomran, alumna with a degree in nutrition, and Hunter Turk, electrical engineering senior, ride their bicycles Jan. 27 on a section of E. Hutchison St. which has no designated bicycle lane.

Traffic congestion is a rising issue as San Marcos continues to grow, and drivers are not the only affected party.

San Marcos residents spoke out about the traffic problem at the Jan. 19 city council meeting. Texas State bicyclists chimed in about how congestion affects their travels as well.

“Drivers just don’t give you enough room in the city,” said Joshua Harrison, exercise and sports science sophomore and frequent cycler. “I constantly feel like every car that passes me is going to hit me with their side-view mirror.”

Abby Gillfillan, San Marcos planning and development permit manager, said local officials adopted a comprehensive plan in 2013, which shows San Marcos’ future growth.

“One of the big pieces of that comprehensive plan is that we wanted to be a more walkable and bike-able city,” Gillfillan said. “We really wanted to develop our alternative transportation network.”

She said one of the plan’s main visions is to rewrite the city’s development code, known as Code SMTX. Officials plan to take cyclists into greater consideration when implementing transportation planning, as outlined by the code.

“In the past, our cross sections and our transportation planning only focused on cars as the main element of a cross section,” Gillfillan said. “Now, we’re trying to include everything from vehicles to pedestrians and bicyclists altogether sharing the roadway.”

Code SMTX is set to be complete in the spring and has received input from officials and community think tanks since July 2014, Gillfillan said. The Department of Planning and Development hopes to present the code at adoption and city council meetings in the later months of summer and early next fall.

“We’re a really fast-growing community and people have responded pretty positively about this added accommodation to alternative transportation,” Gillfillan said.

Samantha Armbruster, Main Street Program manager, said it is important for residents to remember that bicycling on downtown sidewalks is prohibited. Officials have worked to accommodate cyclists by adding bike racks and designated lanes in the area.

“I think that we have enough bike racks, but I am not sure that we have them in the right place,” Armbruster said.

She said bicyclist groups came downtown and took pictures of people putting their bikes in the wrong place.

“Basically, bikes were being put in rails and poles whereas, down the street, the new bike racks had no bikes on it,” Armbruster said. “I think while we do have more amenities out there, maybe the bicyclists and the engaged community around this initiative could better educate us and guide where those amenities are put.”

Armbruster said once adjustments are made, businesses in the downtown area could benefit and visitors could have better alternative transportation experiences.

Harrison said Texas State is not a biker-friendly campus.

“The campus is full of steps and it seems like a lot of the wheelchair ramps are not safe for bikers to ride in,” Harrison said.

According to Texas State Bicycling Laws and Rules, bikers must yield to pedestrians and give an audible signal before overtaking them. Harrison said it is important for students to be aware of those biking in designated areas on campus, so someone doesn’t get hurt.

“The campus is already crowded as it is, and everybody walks around with their damn headphones in,” Harrison said. “I’ve tried ringing my bell and letting pedestrians know that I am riding by, but nine times out of 10, they can’t hear you anyway.”

The rules also state students are to dismount their bikes and walk them in safety zones, such as the area west to east from the LBJ Student Center to Old Main.

“We’ve had many complaints that bicyclists move a little too fast from these high populated areas,” said Daniel Benitez, University Police Department captain. “I’ve seen many accidents between bikers and pedestrians on campus because they are not abiding by the rules and regulations.”