McALLEN — Over 100 people gathered here to remember loved ones who were killed while cycling in the Rio Grande Valley.
The cyclists, who gathered at The Monitor parking lot Wednesday evening before embarking on a 10-mile group bicycle ride through the city, hoped to raise cycling awareness via a worldwide effort known as the Ride of Silence.
Each year, hundreds of cyclists are injured or killed in collisions with motorists along Texas roads and highways. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, there were 12,789 bicycle crashes between 2007 and 2012, which resulted in 12,132 injuries and 297 deaths.
TxDOT statistics also show that Hidalgo County has the unenviable position of being one of the top 10 dangerous counties for cyclists. In that same time period, the county recorded 137 cycling crashes and 14 fatalities.
It’s a reality that has spurred community action to increase cycling awareness and encourage motorists to share the road and reduce the number of fatalities via events like the Ride of Silence.
As the Rio Grande Valley continues to grow, the number of motorists and cyclists competing to use the same roads will also grow — a fact alluded to by McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez just before the Ride of Silence began.
“We are a large city; we have lots of vehicular traffic and all we see on our horizon is growth and growth means more traffic,” Rodriguez said.
The chief added he hoped events like the Ride would help educate the public. “If we get one person to see today … learn from it today, then perhaps that’s the one person that ends up getting saved in the future,” he said.
Though the Ride of Silence originally began in Dallas 17 years ago, Wednesday’s McAllen ride marked the event’s sixth anniversary in the Valley. The event gained traction locally five years ago after a well-known cyclist, Eddie Arguelles, was killed by a drunk driver while on a routine morning ride in Edinburg.
As cyclists milled around the parking lot prior to the ride, one woman could be seen sitting in the shade holding a framed photograph of a cyclist in a cheery yellow jersey riding on a grassy field.
It was Arguelles’ mother, Sylvia Garcia holding a photograph of her son. She sat surrounded by family who all wore T-shirts in the same vibrant shade of yellow.
“I know he’s here with us and he would be very proud,” Garcia said.
Garcia has attended every Ride of Silence since her son’s death, always holding his photograph to bear witness to the support of the cycling community he helped foster.
“I know that my son would have loved — he would have participated in an event like this,” she said.
Retired school teacher Michael Padgett was one of Arguelles’ cycling buddies. He reminisced about Arguelles. “He was like a son to me. He and I would ride together all the time,” Padgett said.
Padgett was also friends with another cyclist, Melissa Robles, who was killed by a distracted driver near Second Street in McAllen a year and a half ago.
For him, reducing the number of distracted and impaired drivers is one of the primary reasons the Ride of Silence is so important to him.
“We’re trying to bring awareness so that we don’t have the distracted drivers, or the drunk drivers,” he said.
Like Arguelles, many members of Robles’ family attended Wednesday’s event. Robles’ brother, Sam Robles, said his sister first became involved in the Ride of Silence after Arguelles’ death. The pair had been good friends, he said.
In the wake of his sister’s death, Robles said he was similarly moved to help raise cycling awareness. “I was never a part of this until last year, and I will be here every year going forward,” Robles said.
“It’s good for my family to get out here and remember and see all of my sister’s friends remembering,” he said.
In 2013, when Arguelles was killed, his death was the third cyclist fatality in the Valley in just a month’s span. Conversely, last year, there were no cyclist fatalities in the city of McAllen. Officials say events like the Ride of Silence may be helping to turn the tide of fatal incidents.
“We haven’t had a fatality here in this last year, so we want to believe that every ounce of this kind of stuff helps towards that,” Rodriguez said.
“Awareness will, in the end, I think, translate into safety, and safety will translate to lesser casualties,” he added.
Arguelles’ mother echoed those sentiments, saying she’s seen a difference since her son’s death.
“It’s been helping because there’s a lot more awareness and there’s a lot more safety,” she said. “We have a long ways to go yet, but things have been improving.”
Other cyclists agree. “The mentality is changing,” said cyclist, runner and Olympic cross country skier, German Medrazo.
Medrazo, who spoke to the crowd prior to the 10-mile ride, said he hopes more people become cyclists. If they do, he said, it will mean more people will have a personal connection to someone who rides, and that will ultimately help make the roads safer for everyone.
“The more people that are cycling, the closer a cyclist is gonna be for you, right?” he said.
“The more people that we can inspire to come and ride with us, the more, the safer our city is going to be.”
PHOTOS FROM WEDNESDAY’S EVENT