Austin streets can be dangerous places for cyclists who fight traffic every day and risk crashes with vehicles.
Though data show a decline in the number of bike crashes on Austin roads in recent years, bike safety remains an issue on the city’s congested streets — as evidenced last week when a cyclist who was critically injured in a suspected drunken driving crash last summer was hit again, less than a year after the collision that put her in the hospital with a breathing tube.
Jojo McKibben, 36, suffered a traumatic brain injury, a lacerated liver and multiple fractures throughout her body in June when a 24-year-old motorist — who was later charged with driving while intoxicated — blew through a red light at the intersection at Lamar Boulevard and West Sixth Street, police said. The driver’s SUV hit a van, spun out of control and crashed into McKibben on her bicycle, pinning her beneath the SUV.
Three police officers and four civilians had to lift the 3,400-pound vehicle off of McKibben to save her, an act of heroism that was later honored by the Austin Police Department.
On Tuesday, McKibben was struck again while riding her bike at Congress Avenue and Lightsey Road. This time she was sent to the hospital with several broken fingers, court documents detailing the crash show. The driver who hit her, identified as 58-year-old Richard Garcia Lopez, fled and was later arrested, police said.
“Jojo’s injuries were minor, and we are grateful for this,” McKibben’s partner, Brendan Sharpe, said Wednesday.
He did not want to talk further about the crash but urged riders to “be safe out there.”
Data compiled by Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services last year show a 60.5 percent decline in bike crashes in the past five years, from 557 in 2012 to 220 in 2017. These figures include crashes with motor vehicles, motorcycles and pedestrians as well as bike-only incidents, with most occurring in the city’s congested central corridor.
Texas Department of Transportation data that look specifically at vehicle vs. bike crashes show less of a drop-off during that time, with 345 crashes in 2012 and 312 in 2017.
Jay Crossley with the city’s Vision Zero task force says bike ridership has increased in that time in Austin but that has not resulted in more crashes.
Serious and incapacitating bike crashes are rare, with 12 deaths reported in the past five years, according to TxDOT figures. Nic Moe, the former board chair with Vision Zero, said these crashes tend to occur on the outskirts of the city, where people are driving fast and don’t expect to encounter cyclists, rather than in the central core.
“They don’t really happen downtown,” Moe said. “The infrastructure is pretty darn good, and people that are driving tend to anticipate that there will be cyclists.”
The Austin Transportation Department has increased the number of bike lanes in the city over the past several years since adopting its 2014 Austin Bicycle Plan aimed at getting more people on bikes.
Despite the drop in reported accidents, an attorney who represents primarily cyclists, Brad Houston, said he hasn’t seen his business slow down. He said Austin’s growth and increased traffic have caused more problems for riders.
“I really don’t think it’s getting safer in Austin. That’s just contrary to what I see,” Houston said.
“Bike lanes are good. They have a positive impact on safety, and they are a big help. But they don’t make it safe. Drivers just need to look in all directions. The problem is people need to be in the moment when they’re driving.”
Houston would like to see stiffer legal consequences for motorists who hit cyclists.
“When they are going easy on these bicycle cases, they are doing nothing to change the situation,” he said.
The driver who hit McKibben last year, Katie Bykowski, was indicted on a charge of intoxication assault, a third-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. She remains out of jail on a personal recognizance bond, and no scheduled hearings are listed in court records. McKibben also sued the Driskill Hotel and Star Bar, accusing them of over-serving Bykowski the night of the crash. The suit is awaiting a ruling in the criminal case, attorneys for McKibben said.
Lopez, the driver accused of hitting McKibben on Tuesday, was arrested and remained in the Travis County Jail on Friday on a charge of accident involving serious bodily injury. His bail was set at $7,500, records show.