Photo: Patricia Dillon / The Woodlands Villager
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The death of an elderly woman on Jan. 24, who was struck and killed by an SUV while bicycling on New Trails Drive in The Woodlands has led to a renewed focus on bicycling safety tips.
Qiaolian Chen, 68, of The Woodlands, died at the scene of the accident near the intersection of New Trails Drive and Technology Forest Boulevard on Jan. 24 after being hit by a 2008 Chevrolet Trailblazer. The motorist stopped and is not facing charges, according to Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Sgt. Erik Burse. New Trails Drive was closed for several of hours as law enforcement officials investigated the accident, Burse added.
Chen was hit while riding her bike in the middle of the roadway, and as the probe continued in late afternoon on Jan. 24, both pedestrians and other bicyclists rode by the scene unaware at the time that the victim had been riding a bicycle.
Randall Cade, president of the Bike The Woodlands Coalition, said once members of the cycling community had learned Chen was riding a bike at the time of the incident, questions arose about the specifics of the incident and how riders can be safer on area roads. He said the death saddened him and members of the coalition, as it was one of numerous bicycling deaths in the township in recent years.
“It is really tough to get information about accidents and fatalities, and there is a lot of word of mouth…mainly it is people asking questions about what happened, and people are asking for better information,” Cade said. “(Chen’s death) Is a good example, I was alerted to the accident on Facebook and we got a large amount of comments about this. I’ve been working toward finding out what happened. We started (several years ago) the ‘ride of silence.’ We ride a certain route and stay silent during the ride in memory of those who have died on the road (bicycling). It is a very effective and meaningful way to memorialize cyclists that have been killed.”
In regard to safety tips, Cade said there are two primary types of bicycling activities in The Woodlands — riding on the groomed, paved 200-mile trail and pathway system and also road riding, which is when a bicyclist is on a street, main thoroughfare or highway. The pathways, he added, are obviously safer due to no motor vehicles, while road biking involves riding with motor vehicles in close proximity. Either type of riding requires enhanced awareness, he added, and common sense safety practices.
“These are general good practices. In The Woodlands, the vast majority of individuals use the wonderful pathway system and in general, the pathway system is pretty safe, it is slower speeds and it is a wonderful asset for The Woodlands. The other type of riding is road riding, for people who want to go longer distances or training. We are blessed in this community with wide shoulders to ride on here. There are, however, roads without shoulders and that’s a growing problem because bicyclists, if they want to use those roads, have no where to (ride).”
When it comes to safety on the pathways or the roads of the township, Cade offered these simple tips to help create a safer experience and lessen dangers facing bicyclists.
“To start, we would urge everyone to wear a helmet, protecting the head and brain is pretty important and I can say from personal experience, it has really saved my bacon more than once. We see a lot of parents riding with kids, this is almost always on the pathways, as often as not, the kids will have helmets and the parents won’t. There is an issue of the parent’s safety, but it provides a good example if parents had helmets (on),” Cade said. “We would urge everyone to wear bright clothing. Bright clothing is much more visible day or night. Another thing for any ride is to use lights. Lights are a great asset for a bike, a bright white light on the front and a red light on the back. It is great for visibility.”
Cade said pathway riding can be dangerous because many of the trails in the township cross driveway entrances to stores, shopping malls and other businesses or offices.
“When people go zooming down the pathways across these entrances where cars go in and out, that is a really dangerous location,” Cade said. “There might be bushes there and drivers may not be looking. People need to be really careful especially when crossing the entrances.”
Road bicycling requires more awareness and safety than pathways, because of the mixing of bicyclists and drivers who are often going much faster than a biker can pedal, Cade noted.
“Knowing the rules of the road is pretty important. In Texas law, a bicycle is substantially treated like a vehicle. In general, they need to follow the same laws as vehicles,” Cade added. “Stay on the right, stop at stop signs, stop at stop lights, and as we’ve seen from the recent tragedies in The Woodlands, people need to be hyper vigilant and be very concerned and aware of what is happening around you. Even if a bicycle may feel they have the right of way, a vehicle weighs roughly (2,000 pounds) and there is no contest there. Regardless of what a bicyclist may think, you need to be hyper aware of vehicles. If there is any doubt the vehicle has the right of way, err on the side of safety because the car is going to win that contest.”
He also advised that road bicyclists should stay as far right in lanes as possible for both safety and also to not slow down traffic, to use shoulders when they are present and also wear a helmet, bright clothing and outfit bicycles with electrical battery-powered lights. Riding in groups can also help promote safety and visibility when on the road.
Although The Woodlands Township has no role in accident investigations such as the incident where the elderly cyclist was killed on Jan. 24, township Communications Director Nick Wolda — who is an avid bicyclist himself — said officials and staff were very saddened to learn of Chen’s death and that the incident is a reminder of being safe on area roadways.
“The Woodlands Township certainly supports cycling, but it’s an activity that needs 100 percent concentration. Any time you have cycling death, it is tragic for so many people,” Wolda said. “We urge our cyclists and drivers to always pay attention to their surroundings, particularly when vision might be obstructed. Both cyclists and drivers always need to be focused and not distracted by things such as cell phones and head phones.”
Each May, the township joins other partners — including the Bike The Woodlands Coalition — for National Bike Month in May. Wolda noted that the township has planned, “a myriad of events for cyclists of all ages and abilities to enjoy during the entire month of May.” The celebration includes social rides, public art rides, a Bike to Work Day as well as bicycling safety and maintenance workshops.