HOUSTON (AP) — Tensions have increased in Houston's cycling community, with two bike riders killed in recent weeks in unsolved hit-and-run crashes.
The recent deaths are among the at least 23 fatalities of bike riders on Houston streets in the past five years, the Houston Chronicle reported (http://bit.ly/M0CLTD ) Sunday.
A review of records by the newspaper shows that drivers in Houston have been charged with a crime after fatally hitting a cyclist only four times in five years.
Cycling community advocate Fred Zapalac, co-owner of Blue Line Bike Lab bike shops, said anger is simmering over a lack of accountability.
"If we are getting run down, and there are no consequences for the driver's actions then our lives have about as much value as a stray animal," Zapalac said.
Some cyclists contend police aren't ticketing cars for coming too close to riders or doing enough to find people who run them down. Others say the city hasn't created enough clean, safe bike lanes.
A review of municipal court records conducted at the newspaper's request found that no citations were issued during the first six months of a city ordinance that went into effect in May. It requires cars to stay at least three feet from cyclists and pedestrians, and trucks to stay six feet away.
Some motorists, however, counter that certain cyclists think they own the roads and openly defy traffic laws.
City Councilman Ed Gonzalez, who has been an advocate for cycling issues, said more should be done to protect and educate riders and motorists and to train police on enforcing the "three feet" ordinance.
"We are a very car-centric city," he said. "We are very dependent on the automobiles, and we don't have a very robust mass transit system. There are some major shifts that need to occur."
Despite criticism from some cyclists that authorities aren't doing enough to prosecute biker deaths, Harris County prosecutor Alison Baimbridge said the cases are investigated as thoroughly as the deaths of motorists or pedestrians.
"Their lives are just as valuable as anyone else's," she said.
She said many cases in which bikers have been killed in car crashes are especially challenging because they often involve both the motorist and the cyclist doing something wrong.
News of a bike rider's death is difficult for Xenia Sanchez, whose daughter, 6-year-old Leslie Roman, was hit and killed in 2009 by a silver PT Cruiser as she rode her bike in her apartment complex. The driver has never been found.
"I know exactly how his or her mom is feeling. It is painful to see other people go through what we went through," she said.
Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com