The bright red jerseys of the H-E-B cycling team members were especially prominent among the 110 cyclists, City officials, first responders, and family members who gathered at Yanaguana Garden at Hemisfair Sunday morning to participate in the World Day of Remembrance Bike Ride and underscore the City’s Vision Zero aspirations.
H-E-B riders were there to remember fellow rider and employee Allen Williams, struck from behind and killed by a speeding driver on Bandera Road on Sept. 2, four days after the birth of his second child.
Williams is one of 129 people who have died on San Antonio roads this year, according to City officials. Pastor Jimmy Robles of Last Chance Ministries led the morning prayer, but only after lamenting the loss of his own 19-year-old daughter Victoria and two children, ages 5 and 7, in a rollover accident last year.
“It was horrible news to hear. No father or mother wants a lose a child,” Robles said. “I took a baseball bat to church that Sunday and asked my congregation, ‘Have you ever been hit by something so hard you don’t even know what happened to you? That’s how I feel this day.'”
While San Antonio adopted the Vision Zero pledge in September 2015, the City remains a long way from attaining such status. The international program promotes safe street initiatives and seeks to prevent and eliminate traffic fatalities involving occupants of vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians. Last year 65 pedestrians died on city streets, up from 46 in 2015.
City Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5), the most active cyclist among local elected officials, along with her husband Kevin Barton, led efforts to bring Vision Zero to San Antonio.
“We suffer human losses because of culture and public policy decisions that have resulted in the built environment we have today,” Gonzales said after the ordinance passed back in 2015. She was absent Saturday due to the recent birth of the couple’s third child.
San Antonio regularly shows up on national lists of the most dangerous cities for pedestrians and cyclists. Drivers seldom face any charges after such fatalities. Hit-and-run incidents occur with frequency.
Williams, 36, a licensed electrician at H-E-B, was nearing the end of a Saturday morning training ride on Bandera Road on Sept. 2 when a driver in a Ford F-350 pickup truck fatally struck him from behind.
The accident occurred four days after Williams’ wife, Kristine, gave birth to Elinor Rose, their second child. Williams had planned on participating with other H-E-B riders in the annual Bike MS: Valero Ride to the River on Oct. 7-8, the region’s biggest annual charity cycling event. He was two years way from completing his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering at UTSA.
The driver of the vehicle has not been cited or charged in the incident, according to Kristine, who said Sunday morning that the case remains open and that investigators told her evidence at the scene indicated the driver was exceeding the speed limit when he struck.
“It was a clear, sunny Saturday morning on a straightaway section of Bandera Road. The driver later said my husband swerved in front of him, but his statement at the scene and what he’s saying now are different,” Kristine said. “Allen was on the far right side of the right lane when he was hit and probably died instantly. The investigators said the driver was probably going at least 76 miles an hour when he hit Allen.”
The City of Helotes reduced the speed limit on Bandera Road from 65 to 55 mph in 2015 in response to the roadway’s popularity with cyclists and the high number of vehicle-cyclist incidents.
Kristine was on hand at Yanaguana Garden Sunday along with her father and her 18-month-old son Jack and 2-month-old Elinor Rose to pose for photographs with H-E-B cyclists and participate in the event.
“There are 4,000 miles of roadway in San Antonio, and we want them to be safe for everyone: pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers. But to do this, we need to unite as a community and own how we interact with one another on San Antonio streets,” said Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1). “Knowing that 129 people have died on our roadways is heartbreaking. Education, awareness, and safe infrastructure are key steps that Vision Zero brings to our community, but now it’s up to all of us – whether we drive, cycle, or walk – to implement these safe practices in our daily lives.”
San Antonio Police Capt. Chris Benavides also addressed the gathering and cited the factors preventing San Antonio from achieving its Vision Zero goals.
“Speed kills, plain and simple, so slow down San Antonio, slow down,” Benavides said. “Speed increases the likelihood you’re going to be involved in a crash and speed increases the probably of serious injuries.”
Obey speed limits, drive sober, avoid cell phone use and engaging in other distracted driving practices, and share the road are the four keys to better public safety, Benavides said.
Grace Ybarra, a longtime bus driver with the San Antonio Independent School District, showed up Sunday on her well-used fixie bike to join the ride.
“I’ve been commuting to work for 25 years, waiting for something good to happen for cyclists in this city,” Ybarra said. “We are doing better these last few years, but drivers need a lot more education about our right to ride and not putting us in danger. Cyclists need to be better educated, too, about obeying traffic laws, but it’s the drivers who put us in danger by not sharing the road.”
A trio of downtown bike patrol officers were among the many SAPD officers on hand to make Sunday morning’s ride a safe one. SAPD motorcycle patrol were at the front, side, and rear of the ride, and SATX Social Ride and other local cycling groups served as ride marshals.
Grant Ruedemann, a SAPD bike patrol officer, said a recent visit to Portland, Oregon, impressed him with the size of the cycling community and the city’s infrastructure designed to encourage shared road policies.
“There are a lot more bikers coming downtown here in San Antonio, which is great,” Ruedemann said, “I just came back from Portland and they have a great downtown for biking. They have a lot more bike lanes, a lot more infrastructure, and way more cyclists. Drivers seem more aware there of the many people on bikes.”