The coronavirus pandemic sparked a surge in bike sales and bike riding across the Houston region at a time when pedaling — and driving — area streets is deadlier than ever.
A sharp drop in driving could not stop road fatalities from reaching a record high based on data compiled by the Texas Department of Transportation.
That lack of safety was especially true in 2020 for bicyclists, who represent a fraction of road users but 5 percent of those killed. Last year 31 men and three women died on area roads. The annual total of 34 exceeds that of 2019, which also was a record at 27 for the region in a single year.
Based on a preliminary analysis — reports can take weeks to enter the state’s crash database maintained by TxDOT — crashes involving bicycles are down 15 percent while deaths are up 26 percent from 2019.
Safety researchers and cycling advocates, however, were reluctant to draw too many conclusions from the early numbers or begin laying blame for the jump on any single cause. In fact, where crashes occurred and who died does not align with the noticeable increase in recreational cycling but, rather, the same factors present before the pandemic: a lack of safe space for bicycles, inadequate or absent lighting, and street design choices that enable drivers to speed.
“These aren’t accidents,” said Joe Cutrufo, executive director of BikeHouston, a local advocacy group. “Our streets were intentionally designed to accommodate one mode and only one mode.”
Source: 2020 was the year Houstonians stayed out of their cars and grabbed a bike. A record 34 of them died.