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In Hermosillo, cyclists mourn the toll of deadly streets — and demand change

The weekly Bikes and Beers group ride is normally a raucous, lighthearted affair: dozens ride through the night in a circuitous route that invariably ends at a bar or brewery.

But on a recent Wednesday, the mood was more somber. As organizers had requested, many came dressed in white to show their solidarity with a recently fallen comrade.

Just a few days prior, the city’s cycling community learned that Raul Pacheco, the head of nursing at a major local hospital and an active member of his union, had been fatally struck by a car at the north end of the city. A close family member told KJZZ News that he had just finished up a ride at the popular Bachoco trail system.

Wearing white, Victor Rivera said he came to help “set a precedent.”

He wanted to send a message to local authorities and cycling groups, to work together to improve the safety situation not just for bikers, but also pedestrians.

And that situation is grim. Federal data shows that between 2017 and 2021, 30 cyclists were killed on Hermosillo’s streets — the highest municipal figure in the country — and several hundred more were injured. Pedestrians fared even more poorly, with 91 killed in the same period, and well over 1,100 injured, both top ten national figures. Together, bikers and pedestrians accounted for more than 40% of all Hermosillo roadway deaths.

‘Didn’t have to happen’

Before the massive group headed out into the night, an organizer called out the evening’s route. The first stop would be a monument to cyclists killed on the city’s streets that would be familiar to Arizonans: a white bike atop a tall pole in the middle of a grassy island bounded by busy streets.

“This didn’t have to happen,” said longtime bike activist Jose Olivero in an address to the crowd, as participants laid flowers and lit candles at the monument’s base. With sufficient investment in bike infrastructure, like protected bike lanes, he added that “this doesn’t have to happen again.”

He asked for a minute’s silence in honor of Raul and his family, a number of whom were present. Mournful faces glowed in the candlelight.

Veronica Miranda, Raul’s sister, had been waiting at home with another sibling on New Year’s Eve with plans to ring in 2023 as a family. Instead, all that came was terrible news.

“My brother left behind four children,” she said. “We’re asking for justice so that my family can rest.”

Part of that is accountability for the person responsible. But her brother’s death has also opened her eyes to the dangers faced by all cyclists in the city.

“Sadly, this had to happen for our family to become aware,” she said.

Biking was one of Raul’s joys, and now she wants to help raise awareness about the issue, and bring about a “more friendly road culture.”

‘Attention needed’

While touting the sizable system of bike infrastructure that has been installed, Jose Carrillo, the head of Hermosillo’s municipal planning body IMPLAN, said, “For cyclists and pedestrians alike, we recognize that the infrastructure needs more attention.”

Part of that is doing a better job to ensure the regular maintenance of the bike lanes that already exist, to keep the paint visible and space free of dirt and refuse, sources of perennial complaints from cyclists. Carrillo says the current administration hopes to add steadily to the network of some 110 miles, and in a way that improves its interconnectedness.

KJZZ News obtained the location datafor hundreds of recent bike and pedestrian incidents. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they are heavily concentrated along the city’s wide, high-speed thoroughfares. A single particularly notorious road — Bulevar Solidaridad — was the site of over 13% of fatal crashes in the roughly five years of data.

Cyclist collisions in Hermosillo

Pedestrian collisions in Hermosillo

IMPLAN is also monitoring that data — using it to prioritize projects in problem areas — and Carrillo said that Solidaridad is on their radar.

But infrastructure is only a part of the equation. There is also Hermosillo’s infamous road culture of fast, erratic driving, and general disregard for others.

A piece of federal legislationapproved last year seeks to reduce crashes, and make Mexican roads safer for all users. One change he highlighted would set a maximum speed of roughly 30 mph for urban streets, which Carrillo says could go a long way toward making traffic less deadly.

Many states, including Sonora, have yet to update their laws to mirror the reform, but work is underway, according to Carrillo.

Too slow

Back at the monument, the group ride had carried on, but activist Sebastian Gaxiola hung back to share his thoughts.

He called Hermosillo’s deadly mix of often distracted, reckless drivers and inadequate infrastructure a “breeding ground” for tragedies like Raul’s. He’s the head of a committee that advises local leaders on cycling issues, and he said they’re being listened to.

“But we’re going slow,” he said. “And we want them … to pick up the pace.”

“We don’t want any more dead cyclists in the city.”

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Born and raised in the Intermountain West, Murphy Woodhouse has called southern Arizona home for most of the last decade. He’s one of two field correspondents at KJZZ’s Hermosillo bureau, where his reporting focuses on the trade relationship between Arizona, Sonora and the rest of Mexico.Before joining the station, Murphy was a reporter at the Arizona Daily Star and the Nogales International. Prior to his reporting career, he completed a master’s degree at the University of Arizona’s Center for Latin American Studies and did three wildfire seasons with the Snake River Hotshots. He’s a proud graduate of the University of Montana’s School of Journalism.When he’s not reporting, Murphy is often out in the woods running or riding singletrack, or swinging in a hammock with a book.