The Bus Stops Here

shelters for bus riders 001 In a day when retailers, manufacturers and other purveyors of goods or services are promoting their product to reveal new customers, it’s apparent to some that our VIA Metropolitan Transit is doing none of that, or, if anything, it is coming late to the dance. Yes, in the last few years VIA has rolled out its Primo line, a high-end “accordion-style” bus that plies a route, among others, from the Medical Center to downtown, as well as their hybrid express service which traverses the city on our highways. However, it would appear they’ve left the average rider holding onto older bus models. And while San Antonio continues to be the largest city in the country without commuter rail, our attempt at light rail, hatched in a strange way over a less then meaningful route, went south when citizen opposition recently resulted in an overwhelming “no” vote, short-circuited afterward by the San Antonio mayor and Bexar County judge.

In an attempt, I presume, to convey the notion that VIA is, in fact, trying to reach out to new customers, Jeffrey Arndt, the president of VIA Metropolitan Transit, announced at a recent luncheon I attended the installation or upgrading of 1000 bus stops on VIA’s large system of 91 bus routes rolling throughout San Antonio and Bexar County. To which I say, why has it taken so long? And further, is what VIA has planned really enough, given what they’ve been operating with for many years as the city and county continue to grow in population by as much as 35—40,000 residents each year?

photo I often find myself driving into areas I’m not overly familiar with and often as not finding VIA has already gotten there, though oftentimes only with numbered plaques on top of poles they call bus stops announcing a bus route. Such is the case on Blanco Road between Bitters and Churchill Estates Blvd. There, heading south, one will find four poles, er, stops within a .07 mile distance. And those four stops, lacking seating for the most part, sadly, seem representative of what VIA has been using as stops throughout its system for many years, part and parcel of the entire company’s shortcomings, albeit coverage throughout the City and County seem sufficient if not overly so. With some imagination, however, an example can be made of these stops, as Mr. Arndt has suggested they will do, to promote VIA among its ridership and other citizens and to better accommodate its daily patrons.

I had attended another luncheon some 3 years ago at which Mr. Arndt spoke, giving a “layout” of VIA’s network. At the time, I believe in 2012, they had 441 buses covering an area of 1,226 square miles with 91 routes (in 2011, VIA carried 44,625,113 riders.) The system is in operation 7 days a week, 21 hours a day, “the largest of all bus systems in the United States,” exclaimed Mr. Arndt, which, in part, begs another question that will be answered at a future date. Will there be other means of transportation in future years, meshing with buses and giving residents a more flexible and complete system? Frankly, I doubt Mr. Arndt is in a position at this time to answer that question.

Mr. Arndt continued, saying the cost per passenger of this system was approximately $2.60, the most underfunded in Texas, which I’m sure has a profound effect on the lack of legitimate bus stops in use in San Antonio.

more bus stops 004Bus stops here presently come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Just ride around our city to see four or five common styles: the no  bench look (though hopefully abutting a grassy slope or stone wall); the one concrete bench; the two concrete bench; or the three-sided open-air look. However, in a city where temperature can go from the low 20s in winter to the low 100s in summer, with precipitation a more common phenomenon in the last few years, the preponderance of  stops are merely that, a place where a bus stops.

shelters for bus riders 005In Salt Lake City, for example, “shelters” built around multiple seats are commonplace at bus stops, generally 3 or 4 sides of plexiglass which keep weather elements out. And electronic signs, available on VIA’s higher end Primo lines, announce arrival and departure time of buses. Most “inside” shelters greatly enhance a rider’s transportation experience by providing service information, a safe waiting area and protection during inclement weather. They generally have a map and schedule of bus routes. Some also contain a QR code which can be scanned with a smartphone to provide real-time bus arrival and departure information.

In San Francisco, USB charger outlets and Wi-Fi coverage, when connected to the bus stops, allow passengers to follow the course of the bus their waiting for, helpful in knowing when it will come to their station, are par for the course.

In addition, many city transit companies have upgraded their buses to include fold down seats, opening space to accommodate suitcases, etc., increased legroom and Wi-Fi equipment to allow riders the advantage of computer use while en route.

So, Mr. Arndt’s promise of an upgrade to VIA’s bus stops, and I trust its overall bus experience, seems a timely effort, but just the tip of the iceberg, I hope. Let us hope it all actually does come to pass, so when we say “the bus stops here,” VIA is making an important stop to pick up important riders, San Antonio and Bexar County residents.

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Are Accidents Waiting to Happen in Car-Infested Parking Lots

 crossing shopping center parking lots 002Are we sanctioning auto and pedestrian accidents by promoting the concept found in most shopping center parking lots, admonishing drivers with signs to be wary of shoppers crossing car paths, while no such signs warn shoppers of approaching cars, in effect saying it is okay for shoppers to keep their eyes somewhere other than on approaching cars. And further, are shoppers misusing the privilege and walking carelessly across parking lots, being lulled into a sense of security by such nonchalance?

As recently as 2012, it has been shown that Texas was ranked by the U. S. Department of Transportation with the second highest number of pedestrian deaths in the country, 478, a number perhaps smaller in comparison to other states because Texas has a very large population. And San Antonio, large but by no means the largest city, has been ranked with the eighteenth highest number of deaths.

Now granted, walking across a parking lot is not the same thing as walking across an active street or highway. However if we say it’s okay to walk “outside the lines” in a parking lot are we not condoning that fact, and the conditions setting it up, on “larger” city streets. I recently saw two people walking while carrying on a conversation as they strode across a parking lot and on getting to the other side, stopping to talk while still in the “line of fire,” so to speak, of approaching cars. And more often than not, shoppers walking across an active driveway separating a store, say a large supermarket, from parked cars, will often have their eyes averted toward their cell phones without so much as a glance upward toward an approaching car, often too busy even to mind their young children who may be walking hand-out-of-parent’s-hand, or worse, ahead or behind the parent.

More often than not, I see folks crossing parking lots, from the likes of H-E-B and Target, given the green light as it were, by signs erected in the drive suggesting to drivers “Stop for Pedestrians.” And given the fact there’s no sign advising pedestrians to make eye contact with drivers gives one pause that an accident is waiting to happen, I believe. In fact, while mostly on city streets and not necessarily in parking lots, the California Department of Motor Vehicles Driver Handbook states “Remember, if a pedestrian makes eye contact with you, he or she is ready to cross the street. Yield to the pedestrian! (

I even question whether buses should be stopping mid-block, a distance from crosswalks or traffic lights, as it were, disengaging riders who wait until the bus passes before walking across a street, not in the crosswalk or by the traffic light, mind you. With a bit of irony, coincidence and tragic occurrence flashing through my mind, last week I saw a woman with a young boy, perhaps 3, jump off a bus between Bitters and Cadillac Drive and walk across Blanco Road, a 7-lane street, mid-block and far removed from the crosswalk or traffic light and wondered whether she got her training in a large parking lot, though to the woman’s credit, she stopped to look for oncoming traffic while holding onto the little boy’s hand.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (, in 2012, 4,743 pedestrians were killed in traffic accidents in the United States, just shy of 400 per month, and another 76,000 pedestrians were injured, averaging one crash related pedestrian death every 2 hours and an injury every 7 minutes.

Quick Facts from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

Who are most at risk?

Older adults, age 65 and older accounted for 20% of all deaths and an estimated 9% of all injuries

In 2012, more than one in every five children between 5 and 15 who were pedestrians, were killed.

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Creating Community, One Rocker at a Time

Lately, I’ve been reflecting back on a painting I drew in my head some 3 ½ years ago when I helped a couple find a house outside Loop 1604, they knowing all along they’d settle in the same subdivision, if not on the same street, as their children. Why? So they, grandma and grandpa, could be at home when the grandkids jumped off the school bus to be greeted by the waving grandparents standing, or sitting in rocking chairs, on their home’s front porch. Unfortunately, a part of the painting never really materialized; grandma and grandpa were home to greet the grandkids, alright, but the house they purchased was blocks from the bus’s gated drop-off point, and there was no porch to wave from.

As I remember that painting, another canvas pops into my head showing an area of San Antonio that would be the perfect setting for the first picture, a street in a neighborhood called Jefferson on which the school bus rolls slowly down—no gate here—or leaving children at the corner. This new painting shows children exiting the bus a short distance from their home where their grandparents are sitting on the porch, of course, waiting excitedly for the grandkids arrival.

The two scenes are but a microcosm of what’s taken place in San Antonio over the last fifty or more years as San Antonio grows outward from its center, and less personal.

The Jefferson area, like a few other areas inside Loop 410, including Mahncke Park, Monte Vista and King William, date back in some cases to the early 1900s or earlier, and many of the homes still look the part. That is sometimes a good thing, though, especially when the front parts of a house promote neighborhood, an interaction with neighbors spelled p-o-r-c-h-e-s and s-i-d-e-w-a-l-k-s, in effect, allowing the residents of these neighborhoods to develop a camaraderie we don’t much see these days. And much of that camaraderie is conditioned on houses being designed with porches at the front, and neighborhood sidewalks.

Ernest Pickering ( in his The Homes of America, states that “a history of American homes is necessarily a history of American life. Concurrently, it may be stated that the history of the American front porch is itself a history of American life as well. For the American porch has, in its time as an American cultural symbol, represented the cultural ideals of community in our nation.”

There was a time when front porches meant community, the welcoming gesture of reaching out to our friends and neighbors, in effect saying “wait here until I can open the door.”

In fact, with the introduction of sidewalks and porches, what became a common sight were folks sitting on their porch, their children playing games, biking on the sidewalk or arriving home from school. And often, those living in the neighborhood would stroll by, call out their hellos and often mosey up to the porch to start a conversation. My how neighborly that must have been, and how unfathomable a sight it would be in today’s fast-paced society.

As more and more people move to San Antonio—when I arrived here there were 735,000 residents and now, 38 years later, the city has all but doubled in size—land outside Loop 410 (much of the land inside 410 is spoken for) has become expensive to develop, no doubt. So much so, I remember hearing a comment a developer made on why he wouldn’t put sidewalks in his development, that being because “it would take land away from the homeowner who would mind giving it up.” Not, mind you, the developer adding sidewalks on his own, making the streets running through the subdivision narrower by 6 – 8 feet to accommodate sidewalks, especially as streets in many subdivisions are unnecessarily wide to start with, and the reason why sidewalks don’t exist, at a cost borne by the developer, no less.

The death of porches, so to speak, was the impact of the automobile and the boundless miles and miles of concrete we call roadways. And further aiding in its demise, especially here in the hot climes of south Texas, was the increased commercial use of air-conditioning in homes.

With nostalgia, than, it’s fun nowadays to ride through some of the old neighborhoods, see how folks used to live, and remember the good old days when porches were the norm.

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Let Us Wonder Where the Mildew’s Gone…

Often, realtors host open houses so other realtors can view new listings before the general public has a chance. I visited an open house a couple of weeks ago and loved the house. In fact, my only observation was I thought the walkway from the street needed a good washing to clean off built-up mildew. The realtor’s reaction was “no, that’s just character.”

My suggestion was an honest assessment, still it dovetailed conveniently into something I’ve given a lot of thought to lately as I ride around our city; namely that stone walls, steel and wood fences fronting subdivisions are often unsightly collectors of mildew and mold, invariably perimeters that are just not cared for. Mind you, I’m not against a patina of discoloration, which does show character, however a thick coat of mold or mildew is a little much.

In two previous posts to this blog, I’ve written about subdivision looks, from the outside looking in and from the inside looking around and about. And in most cases, I’m pleased to say, homeowner associations (HOA) as well as homeowners themselves do maintain the inner looks of their neighborhoods. But in this post, my concern is that some subdivisions allow the passage of time to take a toll on the aforementioned perimeters.

more mildewed walls 006 In a follow-up to the comment I made about the stone walkway, I queried other realtors to see if, before a house goes on the market, they suggest when necessary, that the homeowner power wash the house itself if it needs it. The answer was a resounding “yes.” So, I ask, why don’t HOAs take similar care of their outer walls and fences when needed, so passersby can derive similar pleasure from the entire look of the neighborhood. No doubt, the perimeter wall or fence will likely take on that build-up of mold and mildew, as well.

Mildewed subdivision stone walls 008 I ride Wurzbach Parkway quite a bit and find it distressing to see stone walls fronting the Inverness, Elm Creek and Whispering Oaks subdivisions—Elm Creek being one of the earliest and toniest subdivisions on the north side of San Antonio – in a state of disrepair, all, more or less bordering on what will very soon be a major San Antonio thoroughfare running between I-35 and I-10, opening that area, often to both cars which wouldn’t otherwise pass this way on a regular basis as well as riders on a regular basis, asking if they should be treated to, if not spot-clean, at least a relatively clean perimeter fencing. However, what a mess they’ll be seeing now; years of mold and mildew build-up, a bother to a friend who lives in one of the subdivisions wondering why nothing is done, especially as two of the subdivisions collect a tidy sum of homeowner fee from residents to keep the subdivisions neat and tidy.

more mildewed walls 001 And more than these older subdivisions along Wurzbach, other neighborhoods need to take note of their steel or wood fences, and stone walls, and keep them clean as well, whether or not a heavy or light measure of traffic goes by.

A number of different kinds of mold or mildew exist. In temperate climates such as ours, they may form at any time of the year. During warm and somewhat drier periods, mold is most apt to form on shaded areas and on hard surfaces – roofs, walls, decks, and concrete slabs – if moisture is present.* We no doubt have the warm weather here in San Antonio and wish there was more rain. But sprinkler systems that irrigate lawns can stand in place of rain. And trees and shrubs, overhanging roofs, fences and walls collect moisture as easily and “distribute” it indiscriminately on a number of different varieties of porous stone walls and steel fences, playing an integral part as well in the defacing process.

So, whatever the cause and effect, it should be understood that subdivision or homeowner association management maintain a clean look about the subdivision for the sake of passersby, but surely for residents who will be “looking” on a daily basis. And further, it should be incumbent upon cities and counties to have it written in their by-laws, if necessary, that this process takes place regularly. After all, our best foot forward should be the order of business.

*Tom Geary TCG on the internet as the Stucco Guru.

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Homeowner Associations or Not, the Choice May Come Down to the House You Love

In a previous post to this blog, I wrote about the look of a subdivision, suggesting that if you wanted to know what it looks like on the inside, stand outside and look in. The point of that statement was, if you wanted to know the physical nature of the inside and whether it was clean and respectful of its residents, odds are the entrance would make that point.

However, if the human nature of the subdivision – how its residents interface with one another and whether they treat the environment in a clean way – is your main objective, and by gosh it should be, your best bet short of riding around the inside and in short order getting to know the residents (with a guard or coded gate at the entrance, that might be difficult) is to check with the likely homeowner association (HOA.) And further, once you’ve made contact, you could find out additional information by gaining hold of the rules and regulations (covenants), either through the management company or a realtor, the documents being the paperwork through which the HOA governs. In fact, I strongly recommend you do both, since homeowner associations are not all created equal, nor do they offer the same amenities.

Very recently, I “shepherded” some folks around our metro area looking for a house. The man steadfastly stated he did not want to live in a subdivision with an HOA, believing associations dictate rules he didn’t want to measure up to.

If you’re the type who is fastidious about your house and property, an HOA with any kind of, if not stringently enforced, rules might be for you since it invariably keeps a steady and watchful eye on its residents and the neighborhood. If, on the other hand, you mind that fences are standard height, cars can’t be parked in the street and dogs aren’t allowed to walk the neighborhood alone and poop on any lawn they choose, think twice about where you’ll live. I live in a subdivision that has amenities such as a pool, tennis courts and a clubhouse, charges $230 a year mainly to pay lifeguards during summer months of pool operation as well as having the center esplanade mowed twice a month, but little else. They do, though, have an architectural review committee that judges plans you present to change the look of your property, an addition to or deletion from it.

08 Other homeowner associations may charge the same amount, or more; the price varies dramatically. I’m familiar with a homeowner association that charges more than $3000 per year and save for a guard at the gate, offers little else in amenities. Others may do more, but unquestionably not less than my subdivision. For instance, a friend lives in a subdivision who’s HOA won’t allow cars to park on the street overnight, nor have garbage cans left in front or alongside the house, “exposed” as they are to passers-by.

HOA regulations may run the gamut, but will certainly include what your front landscaping can look like, i.e. a lawn or xeriscaping versus letting it go to weeds, if you can place a religious symbol a distance from the house (generally controlled, as well, by a city or community ordinance), the types of vehicles you can park on the street or in your driveway (typically no RVs or trailers), permissible height of fences (generally not the popular Texas ranch white picket variety unless you live in a large acreage subdivision), or where garbage cans can be placed, likely in a garage or on the side, but out of sight. If you want to do anything different than what is called for in the HOA rules, you will have to ask for a variance. And depending on where you live, many rules are generally superseded by a city or township ordinance.

In recent memory, residents of another subdivision I’m familiar with had their dogs run free and left garbage cans on the street for three days beyond the day the garbage was picked up. If either of those, more or less, is a concern, you’ll want to check further with the HOA to see what’s on its “allowable” list and what’s on its’ “what, I didn’t know that,” list.

002 Oh, by the way, the client who didn’t want a homeowner association found a house with an HOA, one that leaves its’ residents as much alone as can be, and now he can have his trailer parked on his property, albeit in a detached garage / workshop a distance from his house.

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It’s Time the City’s Arts & Culture Gained a Measure of Respect

I can’t really blame the San Antonio Express-News for the emphasis it places on sections of the paper that attract advertisers. It’s all about money in any business, after all, and newspapering is no exception, especially as more and more people these days get their news off the internet rather than through the newspaper.

However, is the Express-News punishing those businesses in the San Antonio area that are famous for being on the short end of money, call that “small change to spend”, for not attracting the clientele who would purchase advertising. Yet, when the tide turns, with new advertisers attracted by new venues, will the newspaper offer up a new direction? The answer is, apparently not.

I’ve been pondering this issue as I remember a meeting I attended some years back. I believe it was convened by the city’s arts and culture department. In attendance were artists, gallery owners and others involved in the arts, with the discussion centering on finding ways to raise money to draw viewers to shows, or to further efforts to gain attention through the media. Now I was not one of those artists or gallery owners, rather an interested bystander who wanted to hear the discussion and the answers coming from it. And while it is quite possible I may have been the only one not involved in the arts, I daresay, someone from the newspaper probably was there as well.

I say that, because as the Express-News has evolved over the last five or so years, new sections have been introduced to readers, including for religion (Faith), for auto sales (Drive) and for food (Taste), a much ballyhooed section which, according to the paper, has garnered awards for its performance among papers of a similar size; approximately 140,000 daily circulation and 250,000 on Sundays.

Still, one section that has not been born is for the arts. And no matter what you call it, Today’s Art, Arts and Culture, Art Happenings, or On The Town, the time is right for just such an animal. With the opening of the new Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, with its many resident companies, the existing Majestic Theatre and other venues and events jockeying for positioning in the paper, advertising is at once plentiful enough so that this new section can become a stand-alone, even a money-maker for the newspaper.

Presently, the Express-News uses varying pages in varying sections to cover the arts. They might argue that mySA is their go-to Arts section, but San Antonio Symphony goers might argue right back that reviews of concerts, often coming two days later then actual first performances, are used as filler with no real place in the paper. On two successive Sundays this November, reviews appeared two days after they were actually written, and placed in the front, News, section. In fact, the final paragraph of one review mistakenly, I presume, left in the article, did read “The program repeats at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Tobin.” And furthermore, the Sunday reviews appeared on different pages in each week’s issue, one on page 2, the other on page 9, of, I repeat, the front News section.

If the time hasn’t yet arrived for an Arts section, the Express-News should explain what it will take to get there. Anything short of a section about the arts and culture, even leisure and travel, needs to be part of the paper, and not for Sunday publication only. I can’t get no respect may be good for Rodney Dangerfield, but the arts in San Antonio deserve better.

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A Re-gentrified Center for the Performing Arts

Opening of Tobin Performing Arts Center 003 On a warm evening last Thursday, when the University of Texas Roadrunners were playing the University of Arizona Wildcats in an early season football game at the Alamodome, festivities celebrating the grand rebirth of San Antonio’s venerable Municipal Auditorium were getting underway to much fanfare at the re-gentrified and stunningly attractive auditorium, re-named the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.

Opening of Tobin Performing Arts Center 006 And inside the resplendently new performing arts center, where a main performance hall and two smaller theatres “reside,” two resident companies, Ballet San Antonio and Opera San Antonio, performed with musical accompaniment from the third major resident, the San Antonio Symphony, before an enthusiastic audience of 1750 culturally excited San Antonians.

Opening of Tobin Performing Arts Center 012 The new $203 million Tobin, in the “vision and build” stage for the last three years, was aware of the lead role it played in the evening’s festivities and, acoustically and aesthetically, performed beautifully, accompanying the opera’s sopranos, whose voices rang out clearly to the upper reaches of the balcony level, and the symphony’s instrumentalists. You could even hear the Ballet dancers’ slippers as they slid along the stage.

San Antonio has waited a long time for this new center for the performing arts to crystallize, looking out, as it does, over a lively downtown and backing to the beautifully serene San Antonio River, an added feather now in the city’s cap, especially as many cities across the U.S. have long had performing arts venues. And though late coming to the ball, San Antonio’s Tobin, along with the Majestic, Empire, Lila Cockrell, and Aztec Theatres will now play a leading role in bringing major entertainment to this city.

And, in addition to the Symphony, Ballet and Opera, the Tobin will host seven added resident companies, the AtticRep live theatre, the San Antonio Chamber Choir, the Chamber Orchestra of San Antonio, SOLI Chamber Ensemble, Children’s Chorus of San Antonio, Youth Orchestra of San Antonio, and the Children’s Fine Arts Series.

Maestro, raise your baton and let the performance begin!

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