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Statement regarding Sunset Blvd crash

posted Apr 26, 2018, 11:11 AM by Rice University Cycling Team

On April 24, the spouse of a Rice staff member was hit and killed by the driver of a dump truck at the intersection of Main St. and Sunset Blvd. while riding her bike. We extend our deepest sympathies to her family.

This tragic and unnecessary loss of life happened only 14 months after METRORail claimed the life of Rice professor Dr. Marjorie Corcoran at this same location. We are devastated and angered that another family member was killed on the doorstep of our university, a place we call home and one where we should feel safe. Wrongful deaths of cyclists at the hands of drivers underscore our commitments to safety, infrastructure development and culture change.

Houston media was quick to blame the victim of Tuesday’s crash by making ill-informed assertions that assigned fault to the cyclist. Irresponsible journalism and media bias fuel driver outrage on news websites and social media with comments implying that being killed is a warranted outcome of riding a bicycle. The apparent indifference toward human life seen in people with whom we share the road daily concerns us deeply.

The Main-Sunset intersection is a vital connection between Rice and the Museum District, Midtown and Downtown. But traversing between Rice and Hermann Park is a dangerous, confusing ordeal that requires crossing two METRORail train tracks and ten vehicle lanes. The 50-yard journey requires five minutes because current infrastructure prioritizes high-speed transportation. Pedestrians and cyclists must use the crosswalk because of the way METRORail splits Fannin into two directions. Aggressive drivers frequently intimidate vulnerable road users exposed in the crosswalk. Many of our club members, peers, professors and friends need this intersection to get to and from Rice daily. Many more would like to ride their bikes and don’t out of fear.

The way this intersection fails to serve pedestrians and cyclists should have been addressed swiftly in 2017, and the City of Houston failed to take meaningful action in the 14 months between the loss of Dr. Corcoran and Tuesday’s tragedy. There is no acceptable excuse for this. We urge the City of Houston to address the design flaws of this intersection immediately.

We also entreat our university leadership to do more to protect us by ensuring that the City of Houston follows through on its commitments. University leadership must prioritize advocacy for our personnel and students moving to and from campus safely by cycling and walking. Although leadership recently appointed a mobility safety committee, this committee is not equipped to handle the traffic engineering and interfacing with the City of Houston needed to improve the safety of our commutes. Rice has also taken haphazard actions such as installing signs around the campus perimeter showing a disturbing depiction of a pedestrian in mid-air after being struck by a motor vehicle. Because nothing was changed for vehicles, we are concerned that the signage contributes to the dangerous sense of driver entitlement that already pervades Houston. Requests to remove the signage have not been acted upon.

Because young Americans increasingly drive less and desire to live in walkable communities, Rice is also losing potential students and professors to the reality that Houston is not doing enough to protect its cyclists and pedestrians. Rice is known for being at the forefront of new and big ideas; we call upon the university to protect our current and future community by leading the way in advocacy for multimodal infrastructure.

Finally, the lack of acceptable infrastructure does not excuse the wrongful death that occurred on Tuesday. Along with BikeHouston, we urge Houston Police Department to uphold its duty to enforce the Vulnerable Road Users ordinance under which Tuesday's victim was legally protected.

In response to this tragedy, our club will invite university and city leadership on a bike ride along popular bike-commuting routes of Rice community members who live within three miles of campus. We encourage Rice leaders to attend this ride to experience the challenges of traveling by bicycle firsthand and to understand the urgency of our concerns.

Rice University Cycling & Triathlon is a club sport with undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff and alumni members.