CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Sharing the road with cyclists isn't just common courtesy, it's become a matter of life or death.
There's an estimated 52 million bicycle riders in the United States, according to consumer data.Corpus Christi has its own growing community of recreational riders and bike groups.
The Coastal Bend also has several populations who use bikes as their main form of transportation, including children, students, people with health conditions or legal conditions that may prohibit them from driving, people who find bicycles financially beneficial and people experiencing homeless.
However, many fear local leaders aren't prioritizing safety for cyclists of all kinds. Some say they've demanded change and have not seen any action.
Those with worries are now asking how many more close calls, life-threatening or even fatal crashes will happen before something gets done?
Advocating for cyclists
Shirin Delsooz is a cyclist advocate, who's been pushing the city of Corpus Christi to ensure safer streets.
Before moving to Corpus Christi, Delsooz lived in Montreal. The Canadian city has a reputation of being one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in North America, with more than 400 miles of bike paths, bike lanes and trails.
"I saw how it really helps the community," she said. "I see people from all walks of life using protected bike paths to get to their jobs, schools, and I saw how it really improves the city and people come from all over the place just to cycle there."
Delsooz and her husband find joy raising their kids in the Coastal Bend. However, she said the city has been lacking safe places for cyclists, despite bike paths painted on specific Corpus Christi Streets.
"Paint doesn't protect people," Delsooz said. "It's always scary out there. I'm with my kids. I have two kids and I want them to cycle. I want them to be healthy, I want them to be active."
For several years, she has been an active and passionate representative for cyclists in the Coastal Bend community. She even launched a website called I Bike CC.
The site provides news, data, information and resources for cyclists. She also frequently participates at Corpus Christi City Council meetings to share information and studies she has gathered regarding the dangers of streets and potential solutions.
Delsooz has been persistent in this cause because she empathizes with those who rely on bikes as their only form of transportation. She also believes improving the infrastructure to accommodate cyclists can improve a person's physical and mental health. Delsooz also cites sources to show how protected bike paths can boost tourism, the local economy and benefit the environment. However, saving lives is her top priority.
"Commercials and education efforts, sure that's great, but I'd rather go with the statistic of 90 percent safety and just build a concrete island, or add bollards or some physical barrier that separates cyclists from drivers," she said. " These are human lives and you can't replace that."
Delsooz said there are grants available for the city to use to start projects for cyclist safety.
She provided resources from The Texas Department of Transportation and the U.S Department of Transportation.
In 2021, Delsooz also created a petition to promote the construction of protected bike baths. The petition garnered almost 1,000 signatures of support. Some of those signatures include family members of a young man who died in 2021.
Joseph Filmore's final bike ride
A message from Janie Valdez Delsooz' petition:
"I'm signing because my 18-year-old nephew, Joseph Filmore was killed in August by a car that recklessly drifted into the bike lane he was riding his bike within. An entire precious life is gone. He was mere days away from moving into his first dorm. He was hilarious, so intelligent, and kind He was not the first to die while riding his bike on this same road (Holly Rd). If Corpus doesn't make serious changes, he won't be the last. I have seen bike lanes with more than just a line to protect bikers from vehicles. If Corpus had invested in its bike lanes so that bikers were better protected, my nephew could still be alive."
Filmore's mother, Ruby Olivarez was one of hundreds who also signed the petition, following her loss.
"My son just wanted to go to the store and buy something, you know what I mean?" Olivarez said. "A driver swerved into the bike lane and hit him. He ended up going to the hospital, in ICU and put on life support and he never— he never woke up."
Her son became a part of a tragic statistic. TxDOT's most recent data reports more than 8,200 crashes of all kinds on Corpus Christi roads in 2021.
Of that number, 41 crashes were fatal. 10 percent of deaths involved a commuter on a bike, including Filmore. Olivarez knows first-hand, the death of just one person is one too many.
See crash data by clicking here.
"I feel for the families who have lost their family members, you know people are trying to live and just get around," she said.
KRIS 6 News first reported the story of the tragedy in August 2021.
In 2022, reporters were able to connect with Filmore's mother and father, who were demanding the city to make changes to the infrastructure. They specifically pointed out bike paths with faded paint on the very road their son was found fighting for his life.
After KRIS 6 News reached out to the city about the initial issue, the city promised to refresh the surfaces. It appears to be a promised fulfilled.
However, it came more than a year after Filmore's death. His mother said their action was too little, too late.
"As time passes on, people are at risk of losing their life," she added. "It's very tragic to think that if the city had maybe made more efforts to make the bike lanes safer for bicyclists, maybe this would've prevented my son from getting killed. But the driver did say he didn't know it was a bike lane. But at the same time, how are you not going to see someone on a bicycle?"
Currently, Olivarez is still hoping to find solutions and answers. She doesn't want other families to experience a tragic loss like what she's experienced. She also said she hasn't received an update on her son's fatal crash investigation.
According to MPO datathe driver involved who hit Filmore was preoccupied during the time of the crash. KRIS 6 News is actively working to seek more answers for the family.
From life-threatening experience to life-changing experience
Cars running into cyclists could be a more common occurrence than reported. Former BMX Cyclist Wade Watson said he's been hit by cars several times while he was riding his bike. He's brushed off other incidents, but was unable to recently.
"You're out in the open and you're just battling these two ton vehicles that just run you over," he said.
Watson, who is employed at a local restaurant, uses his bike to get to work every day. In mid-March he was heading home for a lunch break and suddenly found himself on the ground when he was riding close to his neighborhood.
"I didn't make it to dinner shift," he said, "I ended up on the ground and couldn't move my legs."
He claims a car hit him and drove off. He was able to get to the hospital and was told it would take several weeks to fully recover.
"My pelvis was all busted up. They had to pin that together, screw some stuff together. Then my femur was broken. The crown broke off, so they had to put a steal rod down my femur and then put these other pins and screws in to put all that in place," he said.
Watson admits he didn't file a police report due to the area of the crime He said there are no cameras on the street the crash happened and there were no witnesses willing to talk.
And while it's still painful for him to walk, he said what's hurting him the most is his mind and his wallet.
"It impacts my livelihood a lot because I can't make any money and I'm not the type of person to sit around anyway," he said "I can't go out and ride bikes anymore, I can't work, I can't do anything. So it's not good for my mental health to be stuck here like this."
Watson, Olivarez, and Delsooz have gone through different paths of life and experiences. However, they said they all hope for the same outcome to change the course of the future.
KRIS 6 News asked City Manager, Peter Zanoni if there are plans to add extra protection for people on bikes.
"We care about cyclist. We care about safety of all persons that are using our roadway facilities. We do have somewhat of an out-dated Bike Master Plan that the Metropolitan Planning Organization created several years ago." Zanoni responded.
This interview came days before Zanoni witnessed a close call while he was riding his bike. Click here to see the story.
Zanoni said the MPO agreed to update the plan.
MPO Director, Robert MacDonald also provided this response for KRIS 6 News request for information:
We are about to launch a variety of component transportation plans with our local government partners (cities and counties) and agencies. I’ve highlighted the bicycle planning effort and the Safety Action Plan on the attached scopes of services. The topics vary and all will combine into our next 25-year long range regional transportation plan a.k.a. the 2050 Metropolitan Transportation Plan (2050 MTP).
These are from our $2.0 million contract with TxDOT using 100% federal transportation funds to advance these transportation planning efforts. The 23 MPOs in Texas (600 nationally) all do similar planning efforts.
We encourage public engagement, so we will share with many in the coming weeks. Our public communications teams will be assisting in the outreach activities over the next 12-18 months of the 2050 MTP development. We drive all that talk with us to our website: www.corpuschristi-mpo.org [corpuschristi-mpo.org]. to obtain the latest information and to know when they can engage in the portion of the process that most interests them: bicycle planning, traffic safety, project identification, funding prioritization, etc.
Link to the City of Corpus Christi GIS Data
TxDOT released the following information in regards to bike and pedestrian safety:
At just 14 years old, Alexei Bauereis was struck and killed while walking his bike across a crosswalk in Austin, cutting short his young life and promising ballet career.
“He was on the verge of that stage where you find out how you stack up against professionals,” Alexei’s dad Eric Bauereis said.
Alexei is just one of many tragic deaths on Texas roads every year. Each one takes someone special from their family, friends and community. This spring, as warm weather brings out pedestrians and cyclists, TxDOT and the Bauereis family are reminding drivers why it’s important to follow traffic safety laws, including stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks.
“We have a shared responsibility to every member of our community – to every family and every individual – to help reverse these trends and reduce traffic fatalities in Texas,” said TxDOT Executive Director Marc Williams. “We’re asking all Texans to watch out for one another whether you’re behind the wheel, on foot, or on a bike. Obeying traffic safety laws is a critical first step.”
In 2021, 935 people died in pedestrian and bicyclist-related traffic crashes in Texas, accounting for one out of every five of the 4,496 fatalities on state roadways. In the five-year period from 2017 to 2021, pedestrian fatalities resulting from traffic crashes increased 34% and bicyclist fatalities increased 58%.
- In TxDOT’s Corpus Christi District in 2021, there were 142 traffic crashes involving pedestrians, resulting in 27 fatalities and 33 serious injuries
- In the Corpus Christi District in 2021, there were 71 traffic crashes involving bicyclists, resulting in four fatalities and seven serious injuries.
The Corpus Christi District is made up of Aransas, Bee, Goliad, Jim Wells, Karnes, Kleberg, Live Oak, Nueces, Refugio and San Patricio counties.
- In the city of Corpus Christi in 2021, there were 98 traffic crashes involving pedestrians, resulting in 11 fatalities and 19 serious injuries.
- In the city of Corpus Christi in 2021, there were 49 traffic crashes involving bicyclists, resulting in four fatalities and four serious injuries.
TxDOT’s “Be Safe. Drive Smart.” campaign urges all Texans to know and follow the laws for safe driving, walking and biking. That includes the Lisa Torry Smith Act, which went into effect in 2021. Named after a Texas mom who was struck and killed in a crosswalk while walking her 6-year-old son to school, the law requires drivers to stop and yield the right of way to people in crosswalks. Motorists who fail to stop and yield and cause serious injury to someone in a crosswalk can face criminal penalties.
Texas law states if you’re driving:
- Stop and yield for pedestrians, bicyclists and other vulnerable road users in crosswalks.
- When turning, yield the right of way to pedestrians and bicyclists.
- Pass bikes at a safe distance and give bicyclists room to ride.
If you’re walking:
- Cross the street only at intersections and crosswalks.
- Obey all traffic signs and signals, including at crosswalks.
- Use sidewalks. If there’s no sidewalk, walk on the left side of the road, facing oncoming traffic
If you’re riding a bike:
- Always stop at red lights and stop signs.
- Ride in the same direction as traffic and use bike lanes or ride as near as possible to the right-hand curb.
- Use hand signals when turning or stopping.
- At night, make sure your bike has a white light on the front and a red light or reflector on the back.