Richard Tomlinson and his group Houston Ghost Bike post memorial bicycles to mark every spot where a Houston area driver has hit and killed a cyclist. When Tomlinson started the group a couple years ago, he’d hoped to raise awareness, to get more motorists to safely share the road with cyclists and, eventually, to see local bike fatality stats fall.
But lately cyclists are dying on the roads faster than he can get the painted-white ghost bikes out to crash sites. It could be a while before he chains a ghost bike out on the corner of Antoine and Long Point, where an Isuzu box truck ran over a cyclist Monday evening.
“We still have another bike to set up before we can even get to that one out at Antoine,” Tomlinson said.
One recent national survey of major metro areas shows that on average five cyclists die in crashes on Houston streets every year. But cycling advocates say the crash at Antoine caps an alarming spate of recent cycling deaths, with three cyclists hit and killed by Houston area drivers in just three weeks.
The first was cyclist David Rosenfeld, who in late May was hit by a car in Bellaire near the corner of Bissonnet and Newcastle. Rosenfeld had been biking to a memorial ride for Jon Trevelise, another cyclist hit and killed by a Galveston driver last spring. It’s unclear if any charges will be filed against the driver (Sgt. Daniel Kerr, the Bellaire PD officer investigating the crash, wasn’t available to talk Wednesday).
Another cyclist was hit and killed while trying to cross the road the 4300 block of South Post Oak Road on June 5. Police say the driver had the right of way and charges aren’t expected (the victim’s identity wasn’t clear Wednesday).
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Then this past Monday, a white Isuzu truck ran over a cyclist after both were stopped at a red light at Antoine and Long Point. (Comments posted to this northwest cycling club Facebook page identify the victim as Dan Hertweck.)
“The driver remained at the scene and told responding HPD officers he did not see the bicyclist either at the light or when he drove through the intersection,” according to an HPD statement. Police spokeswoman Jodi Silva says the investigation is ongoing. If more serious charges aren’t filed, it's possible the driver will be cited for violating the city’s safe passing ordinance, which requires drivers give cyclists at least three feet of space when passing.
Still, numbers HPD and municipal court provided the Press last month show that the city’s safe passing ordinance is hardly ever enforced, despite the fact that collisions involving cyclists are a daily occurrence in Houston. Between May 2013, when city leaders passed the three-foot safe passing ordinance, and April 2015 there were at least 950 crashes involving cyclists just within Houston city limits, with at least 213 hit-and-runs involving cyclists during that time. Yet only eight drivers have been handed citations for violating the city’s safe passing ordinance.
Cycling advocates like Tomlinson insist that if the city did more to enforce the ordinance, Houston area drivers might more safely share the road with cyclists. “When you’re in a car and you hit another car from behind, it’s almost automatic you’ll be cited with failure to control speed,” he said. “If you hit a cyclist, all you have to say is ‘I didn’t see him.’ That’s what happened at Antoine.”