Cyclist community speaks out; officials address concerns

The group of cyclist gathered early Saturday morning at the Sun Valley Plaza parking lot for a social ride through parts of Harlingen and San Benito.

HARLINGEN — Early morning risers include not only birds, but also cyclists, who wake up a little bit after sunrise to start their daily rides.

In Harlingen, a community of cyclists has been growing over the years, and this group has noticed where Harlingen can make improvements to make roads safer.

Jaime Flores, a Harlingen resident, complained on the city’s Facebook page about the debris being left on Loop 499.

“Can Loop 499 please get cleaned for cyclists? The bike lane is completely covered with loose rocks and pebbles,” his post read.

Soon after, more cyclists began to add to his request, and the city replied to him.

Loop 499 is a state roadway, which makes the maintenance work TxDOT’s responsibility.

The city told Flores in the post TxDOT had been contacted and cleaning would start soon.

However, other commenters mentioned how areas of Harlingen could be improved to make the cyclists’ experience safer.

“What has been bothering me is that work is being done on the loop, but all the debris, trash, and pebbles is being blown onto the bike lane be it by the workers or vehicles. The only clean part is about 10 inches away from the lane itself,” Flores said.

“I’d like to believe that motorists would switch lanes to give us space, but I’ve experienced it where they don’t. What some motorists don’t realize is that, by law, we have a right to be on the roads as well. We do need to follow the laws and certain guidelines as well, such as having a headlight, tail light and helmet,” he said.

For Flores, an improvement would be for people in cars and vehicular traffic to understand cyclists are allowed to be on the roads, and they need space.

“Some pass by and rev their engines as they pass us. They won’t change lanes. If anything, they get closer,” he said.

Since COVID-19, things have changed for cyclists, but they are slowly coming back to normal.

“We went months with no group rides. Everyone was out riding solo. Slowly people are starting to venture in groups, but they are riding with face masks, riding further apart and even at rest stops they are staying more than the six feet apart,” Flores said.

He has been cycling since 2017 and was looking for an activity where he could feel the wind and keep his heart rate down.

“When I would run, my heart rate would spike and would affect my vision. You see back in December of 2013, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. One of my symptoms was double vision. The doctor told me you, ‘either lose weight and get healthy or this condition could get way worse and you could lose your career,’” Flores said.

“Being that running would spike my heart rate, I figured that cycling would be best because I would either be with the wind, or against the wind, but either way I would be cooler,” he said.

Flores confirmed there is a big cycling community in Harlingen, each person with their own personal stories and reasons for cycling.

“(The late) Henry Roberts and his wife Kelly Roberts are big advocates for cycling. They have been very helpful to not just me, but many people. Just pay a little more close attention to Loop 499, FM 509, Paso Real, and the frontage roads from here to Raymondville in the late afternoons and on weekends, and you will see cyclists,” he said.

Tommy Aguilar, of Harlingen, is also an avid cyclist.

“I’ve been cycling in Harlingen since 2013. The city could help by creating more bike lanes. There has been an increase in cyclists during this time that we’re in. The loop’s bike lane only extends from the Primera exit to 25th Street, which is about a little over three miles long. That’s it,” Aguilar said. “Many cars tend to drive on the bike lane to turn right as well. I understand it can be used to turn but not driven on it for a great distance.”

Aguilar said cycling has become a passion and a lifestyle he embraces every time he gets on the saddle.

“It’s my getaway from everyday life. The great Henry Roberts was a great advocate for cycling and for cycling education. Unfortunately, he’s no longer with us, but what he stood for still rides with us while we are on our bikes,” he said.

For him, the issues he is most concerned about are cars speeding while he is riding, as well as the debris left.

Assistant City Manager Carlos Sanchez agreed there is a cycling community to take care of and said he sometimes takes those roads, too.

“The idea is to make them safe for pedestrians and cyclists. We have adopted master plans to outline areas where we have identified to include bike lanes, both on city roadways and state roadways,” Sanchez said.

“Through the plan, the idea is to include additional funding for material for pavements and Loop 499, Tyler, Harrison Road and Dixieland Road,” he said, adding that trails are part of the master plan, too.

“There is a strong interest in supporting access for citizens to stay active through cycling or hike and bike trails,” Sanchez said.

TxDOT is also aware of the concerns and is working on fixing the issue, said Octavio Saenz, Public Information Officer.

“TxDOT is doing preparatory work on the road prior to a seal coat, which is scheduled for April 2021. We are aware of the issues brought up by Harlingen residents regarding the bike lanes.  TxDOT began performing sweeping operations this week on the shoulder and the inside lane,” Saenz said.

“The area is being prepped for maintenance work and will be treated with ‘level ups’,” he said.

Saenz explained an asphaltic level up is a process of adding material to minor depressions and areas with surface roughness before resurfacing with a seal coat or overlay.

“Daily maintenance chores will finish with a thorough sweeping of the area. The work should take an additional week and a half, weather permitting,” Saenz said.

ecavazos@valleystar.com