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Bicycle Safety: Hidalgo County adding 82 miles in bicycle lanes

20130803-Bicycle-Ride-020It can be dangerous riding a bicycle on streets and highways in the Rio Grande Valley. Last year, there were 68 cyclists involved in accidents on local roads.

But that’s not the half of it. Sometimes motorists intentionally run cyclists off the road, just for the fun of it.

Erica Womeldorf, who rides with a McAllen cycling group called the Cyclepaths, said she has had people even throw beer bottles and water bottles at her while riding.

“The passenger in the vehicle threw a water bottle and a beer bottle, both attempts were a miss,” Womeldorf said. “The majority of my rides are not as intense…but it’s still a shocker.”

Ramon Hermida, who rides with the 5AM Wake-Up Ride group that travels through Edinburg, said two cyclists from his group were hit by cars. One of them was killed on Trenton Road.

Such tragedies have sparked a campaign for greater safety for cyclists on Valley roads.

Several area cities have recently adopted local ordinances to protect vulnerable roadway users. The ordinance requires motorists to allow a three-foot distance when passing a cyclist or other vulnerable roadway user.

Hidalgo County Metropolitan Planning Organization (HCMPO) Transportation Director Andrew Canon said the ordinance was created to allow space for people who are cycling, running, jogging, walking or handling construction on roadways.

“McAllen, Edinburg, Pharr and now Mission all have the same ordinance,” Canon said. “We have more cities in our local area than any other area in the state.”

Canon said cities are slowly adding more designated lanes to roadways for travel by hikers, joggers and cyclists.

There are now 33.5 miles of existing bicycle lanes in Hidalgo County, 17.3 miles of existing bicycle trails, 20.2 miles of shared use path between cyclists and vehicles and a total of 82.2 miles of bicycle lanes proposed to be added to the county.

It is illegal to cut off a cyclist on the shoulder of a roadway, and vehicles should yield to them when they are making turns. Canon said there are safety tips for cyclists on the HCMPO website to help riders have a successful experience.

Cyclists should always ride in the same direction as traffic; a cyclist can legally use the roadway lanes just like a vehicle can. Canon said in the Texas Motor Vehicle Code, there is a requirement that if you are on a bicycle you must ride as far to the right as you safely can.

There are regulations when the roadway is shared between a vehicle and cyclist. Womeldorf said there are still many issues while on the road, especially when making right turns.

“I do caution people that vehicles should not ride on the white line, our space is limited,” Womeldorf said. “I try to always wave at people, it’s a reassurance for me that they see me. That’s important, but people are becoming more aware.”

Cyclists are supposed to follow all traffic signs and signals.

Hermida says cycling has now turned into a daily exercise routine for him. He said though there isn’t much traffic at 5 a.m., but there is still the need to practice bicycle safety.

“You minimize the risk by riding in a group, and being visible,” Hermida said. “Wearing brightly colored clothes, several of us have very bright lights on that you can see from a half a mile away. It’s about being predictable and courteous, we follow the laws.”

The 2012 federal transportation bill, called MAP-21, requires that transportation lanes be considered for pedestrians and cyclists when roadways are built with federal dollars, Canon said.

“So if you are going to widen a road or reconstruct a road that didn’t have a shoulder or bike lane before, there is a requirement to consider doing construction (to accommodate bike lanes),” Canon said. “Whether it be a 14-foot lane, a shoulder lane or bike lane…”

While more roadways are seeing additions for cyclists, Canon said it is an important move for the Valley to assist with health and exercise.

“I think it’s important to build this in the Valley, since we have such a high rate of obesity and diabetes,” Canon said. “We need to try and provide safe platforms in which kids and adults can get out, ride and be safe doing some type of recreational sport, choosing a healthier lifestyle.”

Hermida added, riding is not just about exercise. He said it has been helpful with stress relief and satisfies the need to be social.

“Bike riding is a social sport; people like riding with each other,” Hermida said. “There are people who have gone through a divorce on the rides, they call it moving therapy.”

Whether riding is for fun, social interaction or exercise, safety is important for every rider.

“You just have to let fears go,” Womeldorf said. “If you hold a fear while you are riding, you won’t enjoy it.”

For more information on bike safety and research on cycling in the Rio Grande Valley, visit the HCMPO’s website at www.hcmpo.org.

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CoverageAreaThe Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.

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