City Council Fights on Bikes
by Rene Leon
Posted on September 18, 2007
For a time long being, bicycle advocates have been calling for the City of El Paso to become friendlier to cycling enthusiasts. At Tuesday morning’s City Council meeting, two city leaders who regularly ride their bikes to work attempted to do just that – make the City more open to those choosing to pedal instead of drive, but those efforts were met by resistance from some on Council.
Up for debate was an agenda item calling for a uniform requirement for all new businesses and commercial developments to a lot a set amount of space for cyclists to park their bikes. The proposal would have made it mandatory for commercial property owners to make five percent of their parking space available to patrons to park their bikes, but that percentage did not please all council members; some thought that number was just too high an amount for some businesses.
Rep. Susie Byrd, a supporter of the measure, said she wanted the item to go before the legislative review committee so that the City could make bike space allowances uniform throughout the city, instead of required for some properties, but not for others.
Assistant City Manager Pat Adauto gave a few examples to Council as to what a five-percent bike space allotment would mean for larger businesses.
She stated that the Super Target store on the far-East Side is required to provide 859 parking spaces for its customers, and of those spaces, 44 bike slots would have to be installed.
Adauto also used the new hospital being constructed on the same side of town as another example, saying that of the required 220 spaces, there would have to be space reserved for 11 bicycles.
City Engineer Alan Shubert later pointed out that bike spaces are much smaller than vehicle parking slots, adding that five bicycles could fit into one vehicle space.
Balking at the notion of requiring new businesses to install bike racks, Rep. Alejandro Lozano said, “Another thing would be to use horse ties. I have a horse, and what if I want to take my horse to Cielo Vista Mall?”
Lozano then turned to Byrd, and said, “I’m sorry, but this is absurd.” He added that the proposal should not be on the Council’s agenda.
Lozano then asked Shubert for his thoughts on whether El Paso had a “bicycle problem.” Shubert, who at first was reluctant to share his thoughts on the matters, which he claimed was outside of the direction usually given to his office, first stated that since he was asked for his opinion he would interject, then added, “I believe the current progressive planning features would call for more bicycle lanes and bicycle spaces.”
Lozano then stated that the proposal was more special interest pandering by the council, though he did not elaborate as to which special interests were pushing for the ordinance.
Rep. Melina Castro questioned Shubert as to where the bicycle spaces would be installed and whether the requirement would affect any businesses that would be considered “grandfathered,” or exempted from law because they were in operation before it was enacted. Shubert said the requirement would only affect new development. “Everything that is in current legal use would remain in current legal use,” he stated.
Rep. Steve Ortega expressed his support for the item, saying the City “should look at this (item) to deal with traffic congestion and promote a healthy lifestyle.” Ortega then criticized the measure’s detractors, saying they were not contributing any solutions to the City’s problems. “Are we going to promote alternative solutions to address the problem?” he asked.
While echoing Ortega’s support for the item, Rep. Beto O’Rourke also questioned Lozano’s motives behind his motion to delete it from the agenda. “It’s hard to understand where you’re going with some of these things,” O’Rourke said, criticizing Lozano’s support for an item one day, and his opposition to that same item the next.
Lozano had initially supported dropping the five percent requirement down to two percent when the issue discussed at the LRC when the proposal was discussed.
Late Tuesday, O’Rourke said Lozano’s change of position was a “classic case of him advocating one thing at the (LRC) meeting, then coming up with another thing at the public meeting.”
O’Rourke was referring to Lozano’s decision last week to not support the eventually-approved extension of Lee Trevino, a route he initially proposed himself.
As the debate continued, many on Council suggested that City staff take another look at the measure and come up with different suggestions, such as keeping the bike space requirement at five percent for smaller business, but capping that amount at a lower percentage for larger businesses.
Mayor John Cook supported allowing staff to further explore the proposal, saying, “they understand where it is that the Council wants to go with (the proposal).”
Rep. Eddie Holguin did not outright oppose the item, but he did express some apprehension as to the costs involved with the five-percent stipulation. “I wouldn’t agree with five percent,” he said. “I think that’s a lot.”
Byrd agreed with Holguin’s concern, suggesting that the requirement could be scaled for large developments. She then brought up another issue that had not yet been discussed: the need for the city’s poorer residents to get to where they need to go.
“We have a community where 30 percent of the impoverished do not have cars,” she said. “They have to take public transportation.”
Byrd said that bicycles could be a viable alternative for those who cannot afford cars. She also suggested that bikes are also being widely considered by those who do not want to pay high gasoline prices. “Right now, more and more folks are riding bikes just because of the price of gas,” Byrd stated.
Again, while laughing, Lozano disagreed with the notion that bicycles offer a possible solution to the City’s larger transportation problems. “Traffic congestion is not going to be solved by bicycles,” he said. “This fight is a dumb fight. I don’t care.”
The council eventually voted to postpone the item for one week to give city staff time to come up with better suggestions as to what percentages should be applied to small and large commercial properties.
* * *
Rene Leon can be contacted at email@example.com, or at 915.351.0605.
Most Viewed Stories
- 18 Dead in Two Years: Cereso Prison Gang War Unsettles Juarez
- Deindustrialization, drugs and recovery
- Government responds to motion to dismiss: Jones-Sanchez conspiracy, bribery indictment not too late
- California judge crusades for marijuana legalization
- Trying to be 'fair,' city punishes new neighborhoods with annexation and impact fees, plus taxes
- The Lion's Den Pt. 2: Labor Day breakfast showcases candidates
- Holt: MHMR waiting list ought to be a call to strengthen the mental health system
- Medical association leaders: Reform will be good for Hispanics, El Paso, and the border
- Review: "Blockading the Border and Human Rights: The El Paso Operation That Remade Immigration Enforcement"
- Juarez Mayor Reyes Ferriz: "(The) national war is necessary"