It was seven o’clock in the morning on Thursday, November 12 when Emely Rojas (24) was hit by a Transantiago bus in the Netherlands with Nueva Providencia Avenue, while she was going to the cafeteria where she worked. His death caused a national commotion. His family and the entire cycling community mourned his departure and marched asking for better road conditions for their circulation. Especially because Rojas was the fourth cyclist to die in the last 15 days in the country. But there was something in that claim that was missing: her case was not the norm. In the capital, most cyclists do not die in Providencia. Nor are they run over by public transport buses.
A review of the figures of the Carabineros Traffic Accident Investigation Section (Siat) revealed it: of the 97 deaths occurred this year -until November 12 at the national level-, 32 of them have been in the Metropolitan Region. But not exactly in the eastern sector. While Providencia has had only one fatal accident, in Central Station, Quilicura, La Granja and Pudahuel there have already been three deaths. The difference is even greater if the deaths of 2019 are combined with those of this year: in Estación Central and Quilicura the number rises to five deceased cyclists, while Puente Alto is positioned as the third commune with the most deaths. There were four fatal accidents there last year.
There are other details: Despite the fact that in the last 12 months in the Metropolitan Region there have been 10 accidents with deceased cyclists in which a Transantiago bus was involved, the highest number of fatalities is caused by private vehicles. However, the responsibility would be shared, since of the 32 deaths this year in the capital, 15 of them have been due to the recklessness of a cyclist, 11 due to the driver of the vehicle and four due to other external factors. “It is very true that there is a very large mass of people traveling by bicycle without knowing how to use it as a vehicle and therefore they commit all the mistakes or imprudence that one could imagine. However, it is not very likely that a cyclist will die in a collision with another motorized vehicle if the latter was going at a permitted speed ”, he says. César Garrido, spokesman for the Movimiento Furioso Ciclista.
The dean of the UDD School of Architecture and member of the National Council for Urban Development, Pablo Allard, speaks of a trilogy of factors. The natural growth that the use of the bicycle has had due to costs or quality of life was already a phenomenon that had been growing for a long time. To this was added the decrease in the use of mass transport for fear of exposure to Covid and the increase in delivery with delivery men who prefer bicycles over motorcycles. “That has increased the friction between vehicles and cyclists. Despite the existence of bicycle lanes and that the Road Coexistence Law is already in force, quarantines and restrictions on mobility meant that during this year, although the number of vehicles in the city decreased, they are also walking faster ”, he explains the urban planner.
David Traslaviña, Secretary of Planning (Secplan) of Pudahuel, provides another precedent: “This commune was long months without its operational Metro stations after October 18. This considerably increased the use of bicycles as a means of transport. The increase in accidents in Pudahuel is a regrettable part of this trend, ”he says.
For that very reason, JOrge Castro (31) came out to protest in Pudahuel on September 24. It was a bike ride that was held every Thursday in the same commune to demand greater safety for cyclists on the streets, achieve better coexistence between vehicle drivers and, above all, remember those who have died. Castro since he was a boy who liked to pedal. He did not compete or use it so much for sports activities, but it was for his routine: lHe was busy to study Engineering at the University of Las Américas, a career he later left to manage a family coffee and pastry store. Only in rare cases, when he had to go far from home, did he borrow his dad’s car.
That Thursday he had to ask. He had to go shopping, but first he took Víctor Castro – his father – to his grandfather. The condition of occupying the car was to pick it up after the paperwork and the cycle that ended around eight in the afternoon.
Three days before Castro went to that march, 11 kilometers further, Pamela Valenzuela (22) was leaving her house in Quilicura to buy a new inner tube for the wheel of her bicycle. Although after a while her twin sister, Paulina, began to feel bad. Pains appeared in his chest and an anguish that did not go away. To calm down, he called Pamela. He estimates that there were about 45 calls that he left on his cell phone.
A police officer answered number 46 to tell him that he had had an accident in Eduardo Frei Montalva with Catorce de la Fama, in the Conchalí commune.
Pamela Valenzuela died as a result of a collision with a Transantiago bus. The prosecution closed the case on November 17 after concluding that she was responsible for the accident, and not the driver. However, the street he was driving on was difficult. Av. Eduardo Frei Montalva is one that is repeated in the data of the causes registered by Siat in the last time. The Gran Avenida José Miguel Carrera in San Miguel, Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins, Avenida Concha y Toro in Puente Alto and Américo Vespucio are also repeated.
That the deaths are occurring in the most peripheral communes of the RM, for Carolina Rojas, an academic at the UC Institute for Urban Studies, is a reflection of another form of social inequity which describes it thus: “The inequality that we see in our cities is reflected in the layout of the land, which conditions mobility. It is not the same to move in an industrial area that may be completely fragmented, than in a residential and service area, with parks, restaurants and sectors of a maximum 30 kilometers ”, he argues.
Allard is even sharper: “This proves the thesis that the need for infrastructure for active mobility is not a problem for the elite, nor is it something for the emerging upper classes or millennials. It is an issue of equity. Because in all those communes where unfortunately the highest numbers of fatalities are, they are people who perhaps opted for bicycles because they did not have the means to pay for other transport ”.
The differences in infrastructure and equipment, such as the layout of traffic lights, signage, bicycle lanes and green areas, for academics is abysmal. However, the construction of bicycle lanes would not be exactly the solution. The crossing where Pamela died was one kilometer from the Dorsal bike path, which crosses part of Recoleta and Conchalí. In fact, of the 20 deaths between 2019 and 2020 in the communes with the most fatalities, the maximum distance from the nearest bike path is three kilometers. But many of these circuits are recreational, in the middle of parks, interrupted by crossings, or inefficient when it comes to getting around. For this reason, for many the theory of avoiding the interaction between cyclists and motorists as much as possible is absolutely ruled out as a long-term solution.
Think so Jaime Fernández, spokesman for the Furioso Ciclistas Movement: “If the streets were safe, we would not need bicycle lanes ”. Allard agrees. Only for him, the bike lanes should be in the most dangerous streets. « It is no coincidence that accidents occur on large avenues. » But they would not have to exist on the rest of the streets. It is motorists and bus drivers who have to adapt to a multimodal transport system, where even the Road Coexistence Law indicates that space must be given to cyclists and new active mobility vehicles. But there is something that explains why some have not understood it: “Motorists feel that the car is an earned right for them, so anything that prevents or affects them they feel like an invasion. And that’s not the case, because having a car, strictly speaking, is a privilege. We must recover the street for the people ”, assures Allard.
Jorge Castro was one of those who wanted to recover the street on the bike ride on September 24. But after 8:00 pm, he still hadn’t come to pick up Victor, his father, from his grandfather’s house. And it was what they had agreed to. So Victor had to go back on his own. He had been at his home in Pudahuel for 10 minutes when a group of young people knocked on his door. He had to get out, they told him. Something had happened.
Ricardo Formas Yáñez (32) he had found a new identity on his bicycle. After ending a four-year relationship, and being forced to return to his father’s house, he, a risk preventionist, began to descend hills in it as a hobby. Many times he did it with friends, on excursions that lasted all day. So it was on August 15, 2019.
That day he had gone with friends to pedal to Peñaflor. On the way back, he got out of the truck in which they were taking him, to get to his home in Pudahuel on his own. While I was coming through the bus corridor of Av. Gladys Marín, right at the intersection with Santa Corina, in Central Station, it happened. A bus from the 404 line hit him at the right windshield. Ricardo Formas died at 11:15 p.m. that day.
His father, Ricardo Formas Aravena, was working when he heard on Bío Bío radio that there was a deceased cyclist in Estación Central. He never thought it could be his son. That was until the Metro on his way home saw a news story that had a photo of a yellow bicycle that sounded familiar. Formas father knows that it was his son who was to blame: “I didn’t even want to go to the place, it gives me something. I know there is a three-stroke traffic light. It seems that he did not see that the bus line was green, he came and went ”.
That corner is complex. A year later another person was going to die there, 200 meters away, on the north road of Av. Pajaritos with Las Torres.
In the Municipality of Central Station they did not know that they were the commune with the most deaths of cyclists between 2019 and 2020. But they are aware that there are fatal crossroads that could be resolved. That is why they already have in mind a bike path project in the Ortuzano Canal, with funds from the regional government. If that bike path had existed last year, probably Ricardo Formas would not have died.
In these communes with the most fatalities, there is a feeling of hands tied: on the one hand, there is what they can do with their resources, but on the other, the lack of infrastructure in the region and the little education that exists regarding the Law of Coexistence Vial make things more difficult. “Each commune does what it thinks is good for itself, because there is no city-wide layout of safe high bike lanes,” explains Miguel Abdo, mayor of Estación Central.
On the Farm, which accumulates three deaths this year, they feel left out regarding infrastructure development: “The entire southern area has a very large deficit of bicycle lanes. There is a lack of investment. Not only by the municipalities, but also by the regional government ”, says su mayor, Felipe Delpin. That is why some councilors in the area went on Thursday to deliver a letter to the head of the portfolio, demanding the delivery of more resources to their communes for bicycle lanes and put an end to discrimination in the allocation of budgets, compared to other of the eastern zone or Alameda axis with lower accident rate.
It was like that for Jorge Castro. The lack of a bicycle lane forced him to circulate on the street that September 24, while he was returning to his home in Pudahuel. It was coming through the Drake Sea heading north. When he reached the corner with Puerto Antofagasta, a truck that had been passing another car from the south ran over him at 20:09. Jorge died at the scene. Victor, his father, arrived when it was too late and there was only the body of his son in the street and his bicycle, a Trek bought four months ago, split in two. “It was too strong a blow. He broke it whole, ”he recalls.
At that crossroads, a group of friends put a little animation to remember him. They are white bicycles that are placed every time a cyclist is run over. Victor Castro began to pass by there every day. He does it to light candles. To wish this never happens again.
But it keeps happening.
It happened, in fact, three weeks later, on October 15. That Thursday, at 6.15 am, a cyclist was hit by a vehicle while going to work. And it was neither in Providencia nor in Las Condes.
It was at La Granja.