At its core, transportation is the ability to move: from city to city, place to place—where ever your destination. San Antonio’s transportation efforts are built with Vision Zero in mind: to reduce deaths and injuries on our city streets. Residents should know that there are competent, bright female leaders who are zealous professionals, working to create safer travel for all. We spoke with three influential women in the City of San Antonio to get their perspective on leadership and bringing change to how San Antonio moves about the city.
Shirley Gonzales / City Councilwoman, District 5:
Q: What work are you most proud of in supporting the community with safety and transportation options and solutions for the public?
A: I’m most proud of the equity budget that brings more dollars to places that need it the most, especially places with high fatality rates. Communities with people of color need it most. We need a redirection of funds to budget for crosswalks, lights, and basic infrastructure—not just to make it safe for pedestrians—but good for all road users. Also, if all thoroughfares are tied to a maximum of 25 MPH, there can be a reduction in crashes. Lighting has helped quite a bit as well. It has been requested consistently since 2015, so people can actually be seen crossing the streets, see obstacles in the road, and the street markings also make a huge impact.
Q: Who did you meet with to get Vision Zero started in San Antonio?
A: I listened to different constituents who had lost family members. Like the mother-in-law, whose family lost her when she was on her way to church. Or the family whose son was hit by a car on Culebra by St. Mary’s University. I found information about Vision Zero by researching street safety, and I went to a Vision Zero conference to see how to make a difference in San Antonio and what we could do to change our streets in the city. Another big supporter at the beginning was Councilman Joe Crier of District 9, back when two children were fatally struck. It showed how much we needed to have Vision Zero to help save our families.
Q: What are some best practices you would like to implement to motivate the public to be safer on our roads and help promote the Vision Zero mission?
A: Although I do not travel far, I only drive 25 MPH in my car, unless I’m on the highway. I am fortunate not to have to travel far, and with the lower speeds, I’m less likely to be seriously injured in a crash. A state representative out of Austin is helping me to implement a plan to limit downtown traffic to 25 MPH and allow the City to set its own speed limits. Currently we cannot, if it is an unmarked road, it is 30 MPH automatically. The San Antonio community would need to ask their legislators to help lobby at the state level to change this policy.
Q: Are you able to collaborate with others to find new ideas and solutions?
A: I’m always working with law enforcement, other cities, their representatives and our constituents. Recently I was able to speak with JBSA (Join Base San Antonio), which reported that the U.S. Air Force had no fatalities on their military installations around the world! All their bases have 25 MPH speed limits. To have compliance and enforcement is one thing, but as far as the local community supporting the school districts and their neighborhoods in lowering speed limits? That can be more impactful. Ideas like installing cameras on school buses last year with the help from the state level shows we need to continue to seek help from our legislators and bring about the change. We need the work to spread beyond just school zones, and know our entire community’s safety is in need of change and improvements.
Q: How would you inspire younger generations to participate in safer and efficient travel?
A: Young people are leading the movement and inspiring me to make these changes. Seeing how young people are making priorities in walking more, and senior citizens are asking for safer routes to get to where they want to go to participate in their communities. If you ever get to go to the Vision Zero networks, most of the audiences are young and attempting to make this a world they want…and it is demanding. The movement is also showing a lot of women leading the way for safer transportation and mobility throughout the nation.
Bianca Thorpe, Public Works Capital Programs Manager
Q: What are you most proud of in your work supporting the community with safety and transportation options and solutions?
A: I have always taken great joy in spreading the Vision Zero safety message at our local schools. When you empower a child with safety knowledge you can see their minds working on how it affects them and their family. I love their curiosity and insight. I know they are the future of our mission and will carry the message and smart safety behaviors into the future.
Q: Your position requires you to stand up for the public good. What communication techniques do you use to do that? Does being a woman play a role, or no?
A: My communication usually begins with engaging someone regarding their own personal experiences. When they identify certain concerns or needs, I ask them what their solution to the problem may be. I provide information regarding the way a process works and ask for their input. I never doubt that someone else could have a better solution to an issue. I also think it is key that the community feel their voices are heard and have an opportunity of be part of the solution. I believe the path to success for women in this industry is definitely more of a challenge. Support for fellow women colleagues and women and leadership positions can start the trend in the right direction.
Q: How would you inspire younger generations to participate in safer and efficient travel?
A: I believe it is never too early to invite our youth into the transportation conversation. Educate them on how they transportation system works and the impact of safety and mobility. Engage them in identifying concerns and needs, but also in finding solutions in their community. Allow a student representative on local boards or associations. Those who are engaged and have a voice will be the best advocates for the future they want to see.
Officer Tessa Davidson, SAPD Downtown Bike Patrol
What would you tell someone who wanted to volunteer their time to support safer transportation choices/education?
Start at our downtown office by taking a bike safety course. Volunteers are welcome, and it’s where rules of the road are taught, what proper protective gear to use, and how to check your equipment prior to use. The course helps increase awareness. Children should certainly try to take it with their parents to learn safer practices; some folks are not aware that the course is offered! Take drivers education for instance: people should be required to take a course to become more aware of bicyclists and pedestrians and the types of citations we issue drivers that are associated with negligence. The responsibility should be there, and it should be made mandatory to increase awareness like when a driver blows through a stop sign.
What are you most proud of in your work supporting the community with safety and transportation options and solutions?
I’m proud of the fact that we are spreading awareness about bicycling and following the rules. Issuing a “hey did you know…” instead of a citation...being able to educate people, since I’ve been a part of the downtown community for the past five of my seven years with SAPD.
Are you able to collaborate with others?
It’s a necessity to work with all organizations –especially those downtown—to help cohesiveness. Things are changing constantly; rules are changing, and we need to keep everyone informed.
Your position requires you to stand up for the public good. What communication techniques do you use to do that?
It is expected of us to correct whatever driver behavior requires corrective action; citizens expect us to stand up if someone is breaking the law (like blowing a stop sign) and take a stand for the greater good. The techniques we use include making “basic conversation,” especially if a warning does not suffice. Sometimes we hold classes to educate children and adults, or we create bike courses and ask park police and other organizations to participate.
How would you inspire younger generations to participate in safer and efficient travel?
Make it fun! Make it exciting for kids to be able to ride and have that access to bikes and to learn new things. Parents, teach your daughters! Learning is something that is meant to be hands on, so make it exciting to be courteous on the road and avoid the heartache! We work cohesively with the City’s SAFFE unit and within SAPD to ensure education is available and that people practice safety on the streets.
Jessica Brunson is an avid cyclist who can be caught biking to and from work along downtown San Antonio’s bike lanes. Brunson champions all modes of transportation, and she uses her skills as a Senior Transportation Planner for the City's Public Works Department (PWD).