Safe Cycling Scholarship Winners

The attorneys at Felix Gonzalez Law Firm have a shared passion for cycling. As part of being personal injury lawyers, we value road safety, especially for bicyclists. This scholarship was created to promote education around the dangers of cycling, and if more could be done to ensure the safety of cyclists. Please join us in congratulating our winners! To learn more about this scholarship and how to apply, visit our Safe Cycling Scholarship!

2023 Scholarship Winner: Jacob Choi

Jacob is 20 years old from McKinney, Texas, and is currently a sophomore at Colby College, where he’s diving into Computer Science with a focus on AI, and Economics in Financial Markets. Aiming to innovate in the fintech sector, he plans to blend AI and finance and looks forward to pursuing an MBA at a prestigious institution. Beyond his academic pursuits, Jacob has a passion for music, playing the viola and guitar, and enjoys singing as a baritone. He’s an avid sports enthusiast, actively playing basketball and closely following the Dallas Mavericks and Cowboys and Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League. Jacob’s interests extend to traveling the world, vlogging, maintaining a regular workout routine, entrepreneurship, exploring new cuisines, speaking Spanish, and cherishing moments with his close family and friends.

I am deeply honored and sincerely grateful to the Felix Gonzalez Law Firm for awarding me this
scholarship. Your support plays a pivotal role in easing my financial challenges of college tuition, textbooks, and other educational expenses. It’s incredibly reassuring to know that there are efforts like yours aimed at raising safety awareness for our local Texas community, emphasizing the importance of everyone being safe and happy while traveling by car or bike. I am proud to be associated with an organization that prioritizes community well-being and safety. Your generosity further bolsters my drive to excel and reinforces my commitment to make a positive impact on others in the future. Thank you for believing in my potential and for making such a meaningful contribution to both the safety of local communities and my future success.

Below is Jacob Choi’s Award-Winning Essay to promote Bicycle Safety:

On August 10, 2023, a morning that should have marked the start of new academic aspirations, the community of McKinney, Texas, was shaken by a devastating event. Landon Bourque, a 15-year-old sophomore at Heritage High School, was tragically killed while cycling to school. This heartbreaking incident occurred at the intersection of Independence Parkway and George Washington Drive, a route familiar to many local cyclists. Landon’s untimely death not only brought forth an outpouring of grief but also cast a glaring spotlight on the need to reassess and strengthen cyclist safety in our community. As a resident of McKinney, this tragedy hits close to home, compelling me to delve into the current state of cycling safety and advocate for substantial changes.

Recognizing bicycles as vehicles under Texas law was a key step in cyclist protection, but its impact is limited by poor enforcement and lack of public awareness. The absence of a statewide helmet mandate especially endangers young cyclists, and the inconsistent application of the three-foot passing rule often results in dangerous situations. These challenges underscore the need for not just stricter laws, but also a cultural shift in road-sharing attitudes to genuinely improve cyclist safety.

This need for a cultural shift extends beyond legislation to how we educate our motorists. Currently, the driver education programs in McKinney offer only a cursory glance at cyclist safety, leaving a critical gap in road-sharing knowledge. To bridge this gap, there’s a pressing need for reform in driver education, incorporating a more robust curriculum focused on cyclist awareness. This enhanced program should include practical scenarios and simulations, preparing drivers for real-life interactions with cyclists and emphasizing the importance of understanding cyclist signals and maintaining a safe distance.

Moreover, enhancing the cycling infrastructure in McKinney is crucial in supporting these educational efforts. While creating clearly marked bike lanes marks a positive step, further actions are necessary. Implementing physically separated bike lanes, for example, where feasible, would significantly bolster cyclist safety. These lanes, by providing a dedicated space for cyclists, would greatly reduce the risk of collisions. Strategic placement of these lanes, especially on routes with high cyclist traffic, like the paths to local schools and major thoroughfares, is imperative in creating a safer cycling environment in our city.

Building on these infrastructural developments, the need for comprehensive legislative measures becomes even more apparent. The introduction of a statewide helmet law in Texas is a critical action point in this regard. The current recognition of bicycles as vehicles under Texas law has been a commendable advancement, yet the lack of a mandatory helmet law exposes a significant vulnerability in our approach to cyclist safety. This oversight is particularly concerning in light of recent tragic events in McKinney. Helmets, while not an absolute solution, are crucial in mitigating the risk of serious head injuries, one of the most severe consequences of cycling accidents. Their use, especially in high-risk areas and among younger cyclists, could dramatically alter the safety landscape for cyclists throughout Texas.

In the context of Landon Bourque’s tragic accident, the critical role of helmet usage in cyclist safety becomes starkly evident. Head injuries, a leading cause of death and long-term disability in cycling accidents can be dramatically mitigated with helmet use. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that helmets can reduce the odds of a head injury by 50% and the odds of head, face, or neck injury by 33%. This compelling statistic underscores the life-saving potential of helmets, highlighting the necessity of not only encouraging their use but also exploring additional safety measures.

The necessity of helmets in McKinney spurs the consideration of safety-enhancing technologies, such as helmet-mounted cameras and collision detection systems, as vital tools for cyclist protection. These technologies serve a dual purpose: they enhance safety on the road and provide accountability in incidents. Helmet-mounted cameras, for instance, offer a unique perspective of road conditions and incidents from the cyclist’s viewpoint. In the unfortunate event of an accident, footage from these cameras becomes an invaluable resource for understanding the incident, aiding in legal and insurance processes. This visual evidence is also crucial for advocating improved cycling infrastructure and policies, offering a firsthand perspective of the challenges faced by cyclists. Additionally, the presence of these cameras on helmets can act as a deterrent to aggressive driving, as motorists are aware that their actions might be recorded.

With the help of the Texas government, we could initiate a pioneering program to equip bicycles
with these collision detection systems. This initiative would not only demonstrate the state’s commitment to cyclist safety but also serve as a model for other regions. Funding could be allocated from road safety budgets or through partnerships with technology companies specializing in smart cycling solutions. Such a program could include subsidies for retrofitting existing bicycles with collision detection technology or incentives for purchasing new bicycles already equipped with these systems. By making these technologies more accessible and affordable, the Texas government can play a crucial role in reducing the number of cycling accidents, particularly in densely populated urban areas like McKinney.

In conclusion, the loss of Landon Bourque is a stark reminder of the risks faced by cyclists every day. In response, McKinney and the state of Texas must adopt a multi-faceted approach to improve cyclist safety. This approach should include legislative reform, enhanced educational programs, infrastructural improvements, promoting safety technologies, and active community engagement. Such comprehensive measures will not only honor Landon’s memory but will also ensure that cycling remains a safe, sustainable, and enjoyable part of our community’s transportation landscape. As a member of this community, I am dedicated to advocating for these changes, driven by the belief that every cyclist deserves to travel safely on our roads.

2022 Scholarship Winner: Allison Zilafro

My name is Allison Zilafro. I am a senior at Stratford High School in Houston, Texas. Next semester, I plan to play soccer and major in psychology at the University of Dallas. I play club soccer and am on my highschool’s varsity soccer team. I am also in National Honor Society and on the Prom Committee. After I receive my undergraduate degree, I plan to go to law school, one day becoming an attorney. I love to read, paint, workout, and spend time with family and friends.

Thank you so much to Felix Gonzalez Law firm for this very generous scholarship. I am sincerely honored to have been selected as the recipient of the Safe Cycling scholarship. This money will contribute to my future college education and success. I believe it is important that every citizen is safe on the road, whether traveling by car or bike. As an aspiring law student, it means a lot to me to have gained the support from the Felix Gonzalez Law Firm.

Below is Allison Zilafro’s Award-Winning Essay to promote Bicycle Safety:

I have a bicycle, I love to ride my bike for several hours, at the bayou, close to my house in Houston, Texas. Bicycling makes me feel relaxed, the only real way that I can clear my head.
In the last decade, bicycling has been the fastest growing mode of travel used to commute to work.

1 As this mode of transportation increases in popularity, it is imperative that bicyclists are aware of the laws that govern bicycle “rules of the road.” My parents always tell me, “When I grew up, we did not have to wear helmets when we rode our bikes, we could ride on the sidewalks and on the roads.” In fact, upon my research in preparing to write this essay, they were RIGHT! There were few to no laws to be found in the early 1990s regarding traffic laws and bicyclists.

Laws governing bicycling became necessary as more and more people were using bicycling as a form of exercise as well as an easy way to get from place to place. Current laws in the U.S. consider bicycles as “vehicles.” Most states have accepted this definition, thus adopting the “same rights, same roads, same rules.”

2 Rules of the road for bicyclists can be confusing, especially for novice riders. Increased popularity of bike share program, which allows people to ride from station-to-station across multiple city locations also places naive cyclists on the roads. Awareness of bicycle “rules of the road” is imperative to ensure bicyclist’s safety. Reviewing the bicycle laws prior to riding a bicycle on roadways that occupy cars and trucks, is highly recommended. I discovered so many exceptions to the rules of bicycling, it is not surprising that riders can become confused! Confusion includes passing vehicles, turning left, avoiding hazards, riding in a lane that is not wide enough for a car to safely pass, riding on a one-way street, always ride on the right of the road. Not to mention, variations of the laws depending on the state in which your ride!

Because of the uncertainty associated with the laws of bicycling, increased popularity of bicycling and more bicyclists on the shared roads, accidents are bound to occur. The CDC, Transportation Safety Division, reported “nearly 1,000 bicyclists die and over 130,000 are injured in crashes that occur on roads in the United States every year. Most bicycling deaths occur in urban areas. About 64% of bicyclist deaths occur on sections of roads away from intersections (where higher speeds might occur) and 27% occur at intersections.” 3 Additionally, the newest data released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that bicyclist fatalities increased again in 2021 by 5%. 4 Due to the increase in bicycle accidents, one may think that this would equate to United State laws requiring the use of bicycle helmets for all riders.

Nevertheless, according to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, very few state laws have been adopted in the last ten years, and the “pace of new helmet laws has slowed to almost zero.” 5 It is not clear that mandatory helmet laws will be widespread in the future. They will likely have continued relevance and continue to exist in many jurisdictions, but current trends seem to be pushing against them.”6

After reading several articles, laws, and guidelines regarding bicycling, I decided to resolve a few unanswered questions in my mind. Surprisingly, in Texas, there is no state law prohibiting individuals from riding bicycles on the sidewalks. However, the city Houston bicycle ordinance stated that “bicycles are not permitted on the Houston sidewalk unless there are hazardous road conditions.” When a person is riding a bicycle upon a sidewalk, the cyclist must yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian and shall give audible signal before overtaking and passing any pedestrian. 7

I routinely drive upon a group of cyclists, slowing down traffic, occupying an entire lane and wonder what the law states. A person operating a bicycle, if moving slower than traffic, shall ride as near as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway. Roadway does not include the shoulder of the roadway. Under the following conditions bicyclists may take the full lane of travel: persons operating bicycles on a roadway may ride two abreast. Persons riding two abreast on a laned roadway shall ride in a single lane. Persons riding two abreast may not impede the normal and reasonable flow of traffic on the roadway. Also note, bicyclists can’t make passage of traffic “unreasonably inconvenient”. Texas Penal Code 8.

Houston requires the use of a helmet for all children, ages less than 18, who ride a bicycle in any side car, carrier, etc. I also discovered the “Houston Bicycle Helmet Fund,” which is a non-for-profit organization that provides bicycle helmets for the use of members of “very low-income families.”

Although rarely enforced, bicyclists must use hand signals to signal their intent to stop, turn left, or turn right. Using hand signals is important for all bicyclists, to alert others of their intended movements. Education is always the key! To inform our communities regarding bike safety, I believe that legislation should consider mandatory “bicycle safety education.” This education could be provided one time per year to every elementary school student. I am sure the city/town’s bicycle shops would be happy to provide this brief educational session to children! This presentation could include basic “rules of the road,” discuss helmet laws per jurisdiction, including the Bicycle Helmet Fund. Together we can make a difference in making bicycling a fun and safe way to travel.

REFERENCES:
1, 2, 3, 6, Bicycle Laws in the United States-Past, Present, and Future; Ken McLeod,
League of American Bicyclists Legal Affairs Committee, April 2016.
3. www.cdc.gov/transportationsafety/bicycle/index
4. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
5. Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute; Helmets.org
7., 8. Texas Transportation. Code § 551.101, see also Tex. Transp. Code, Title 7, Subtitle C. Rules of the Road, Chapters 541 – 600.

2021 Scholarship Winner: Alesi G.

Congratulations to Alesi G. for being named the 2021 scholarship winner! Alesi is from Harlingen, Texas. She is a senior at the Mathematics and Science Academy at UTRGV Brownsville. After graduating from high school, she will already have 61 college credit hours. Alesi is currently pursuing a pre-nursing major and will attend Texas A&M at College Station in the Fall of 2022. There she plans to start nursing school in the Fall of 2023. Her goal is to obtain a master’s in nursing and become a neonatal nurse practitioner. As an active community member, Alesi often participates in volunteering events. Her favorite ones are clean-up events, races, and sporting events. She enjoys promoting active and healthy lifestyles in her community. In addition, she has lots of hobbies, including spending time with her cat, gardening, learning new languages, playing the piano, reading, and going to the beach with friends and family.

“I am so thankful to the Feliz Gonzalez Law Firm for being awarded this scholarship! I also very much appreciate the attention that this scholarship opportunity has brought to cycling safety. It means so much knowing there is a scholarship out there not only promoting cycling safety but also helping students with their financial needs. This scholarship will be a big help paying for college as it will provide some relief for my family and me.”

Below is Alesi Garza’s Award-Winning Essay to promote Bicycle Safety:

With a mother who cycles three times a week and a father who cycles to work, the subject of cyclists’ safety is very personal to me. Knowing that my parents will return home safely from their rides is why I feel very strongly about the matter. According to advocacyadvance.org, in 2019, 1,089 bicyclists lost their lives with 712 cyclists dying in motor vehicle crashes. In addition, according to bayareabicyclelaw.com, on average 751 cyclists die in bicycle accidents each year in the US. An increase in the number of SUVs and trucks on the road, along with increased speeds on the road are just some factors that have increased cyclist death and injury over the past ten years. These deaths and injuries can be preventable with more laws that promote cyclists’ safety and educate both cyclists and drivers.

First off, while I think bike lanes can help prevent accidents, I feel more can be done to ensure the safety of cyclists. For example, designated bicycle lanes should be a different color than turning lanes. Right now, most biking lanes are white and not clearly labeled, so I feel lots of people, including myself, mistake them for turning lanes. This is unsafe as the misunderstanding can lead to an accident. Moreover, a section on cyclist safety should be added to driving tests. Personally, I just recently obtained my license, and other than being instructed to be aware of cyclists, I do not remember a lot being taught on cyclist safety during my driving course. I feel that a more substantial section with a greater emphasis on how to drive while you are sharing the road with other cyclists can prevent a lot of accidents and bring more awareness. In addition, a “Ten Commandments” of cycling, should be created for cyclists. Just like there are ten commandments for gun safety, such as always assuming a gun is loaded, do not have a gun on you while intoxicated, keeping all guns away from children, and so on, there should be a set of rules for cyclists. Some of these can include cycling with the flow of traffic, always wearing a helmet, always wearing reflectors, and checking and securing your equipment. I believe this can be a beneficial law to make.

My mother has witnessed lots of accidents during her bike rides and most of them could have been prevented if these rules were followed. On one occasion, a cyclist’s water bottle fell due to not being properly secured properly. My mother’s friend rode over the water bottle at high speed, causing her to lose control and crash her bike. Thankfully she only suffered minor bruising and no one else was impacted; however, this accident could have been prevented if the cyclist had double-checked that all equipment was properly secured. In addition, cyclists should learn how to properly maneuver slippery roads. During a bicycle ride, my mother fell and tore her rotator cuff as she was trying to turn on a slippery road. I feel that the injury could have been prevented if my mother had taken a course that involved instruction on how to properly ride on a variety of road conditions, including slippery roads. Finally, I feel cities should provide more community rides. Not only will this bring awareness to cyclists on the road, but if you are a cyclist, you understand cyclists. Therefore, it will result in more community kindness to cyclists on the road.

As a resident of Texas, I am aware that we already have multiple state laws in place for safe cycling; however, many of these laws are not widely known. For example, while Texas has no required helmet law, the state has designated April as Child Safety Month which, amongst other things, promotes ways to reduce injury and death with the use of bicycle helmets (Texas Government Code § 662.105). In addition, Texas has multiple laws aimed at reducing distracted driving, such as a person under the age of eighteen cannot operate a motor vehicle while using a wireless communications device and a person under the age of 17 who holds a restricted motorcycle or moped license may not operate the motor vehicle while using a wireless communications device (Tex. Transp. Code Ann. §§545.424; 545.425). Furthermore, Texas law requires a person operating a bicycle on a roadway, at a speed less than the speed of traffic, shall ride as near as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway. This does not apply if a person is passing another vehicle in the same direction, preparing to turn left, if there is a roadway condition that prevents them from riding as near the right curb as possible, and if the outside lane the person is cycling on is too narrow for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to safely travel side by side (Tex. Transp. Code Ann. §551.103). Finally, Texas law prohibits driving motor vehicles under the influence of alcohol or other controlled substances. Because the definition of motor vehicles is so broad, intoxication offenses involving motor vehicles may apply to bicyclists (Tex. Transp. Code Ann. §49.04; §32.34(a)(2)).

All in all, while Texas has multiple laws that help ensure the safety of cyclists, I believe there is more that State legislators can add to further prevent cycling death and injuries. The addition of a more prominent section on cyclists in the driving exam, the ten commandments on bike safety, and community rides are just some of the many ways the government can bring more awareness to cyclists on the road. I know there are many others like myself, who have family members that cycle, and want to be certain they will return home safely to them. The addition of these laws and more is the first step in that direction.

2020 Scholarship Winner: Grace Schuler

Safe Cycling Scholarship Winner Grace SchulerCongratulations to Grace Schuler for being named our 2020 Safe Cycling Scholarship Winner! We are honored to award Grace $1,000 to go towards pursuing her degree. She is a current sophomore at Drexel University where she studies hospitality management. Her goal is to graduate with a Bachelor’s in Science and a focus in event planning. In addition to her studies, Grace is active in part of campus life. She participates in school clubs and volunteer work. She also enjoys singing, spending time with friends and family, and exploring Philadelphia to find the best foods

“Thank you so much for awarding me with your scholarship! You have helped lighten my financial burden, which allows me to focus more on the most important aspect of school – learning. I am grateful for the time your scholarship will give me to focus on learning and continuing with my volunteer efforts. It is also a relief to have some academic financial support as the pandemic has hit the hospitality industry, and my event planning position, especially hard. Although I have been working since I was 14, and will continue to do so throughout college, it will be scholarships such as this one that will allow me to complete my education. Once again, thank you for the vote of confidence and the scholarship!

Thank you again for this scholarship and for helping me further my education—it means more than you know.”

Below is Grace Schuler’s Award-Winning Essay to promote Bicycle Safety:

“April 11, 2017. I started the day off great with a college visit and ended it watching my older brother get wheeled into the operating room about to undergo neurosurgery for a traumatic brain injury received when he was hit by a car while riding his bicycle home from baseball practice. A college-recruited athlete, he was a month away from graduating high school and had a 50% chance of survival. And while he did make it, it has come at a great cost to himself and our family over the past three years.

My brother’s accident is why I am applying for this scholarship. Much of his three years of physical, occupational, and speech therapy weren’t covered by insurance, however, my family and I believe it was essential to getting him to where he is today. Unfortunately, the additional treatment cost the money my parents saved for our college education, so although I’ve been working since I was 14, and will continue to do so, it will be scholarships such as this one that will allow me to complete my education.

Bicyclists face many problems each day including, but not limited to: safe passing, vulnerable roads, where to ride, dooring, and so on. However, as my brother learned, the biggest problem bicyclists face on the road today is distracted drivers – specifically those who text while driving.

Since 2009, the state of Maryland has banned texting while driving. All drivers are prohibited from writing or sending text messages while operating a motor vehicle. Maryland recently passed a law that there is a $500 maximum fine and one point on the offender’s driving record for anyone who texts while driving. If the offender is under age 18, their license is also suspended for three months.

In 2017, 3,166 people in the U.S. were killed in motor vehicle accidents blamed on distracted drivers according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Of that total, 599 were pedestrians or bicyclists. Over the last five years in my Maryland county alone (Montgomery), five teenagers have been killed and at least 292 teen pedestrians/bicyclists have been hit by cars due to the drivers texting or being otherwise distracted. In April of 2018, the county instituted the “Stay Alert. Stay Alive” campaign directed at both distracted drivers and pedestrians and bicyclists to try to combat the problem.

I think the Maryland laws regarding the main topics as outlined by the League of American Bicyclists (i.e.: distracted driving, safe passing, helmets, vulnerable roads, dooring, etc.) are appropriate and would not say that they need to be changed, so long as they are being upheld.

As far as improving awareness of bicyclists and road safety, I have an idea:

How about an invention to help lower the temptation to drive while distracted. I believe installing a device similar to the ignition interlock breathalyzer that would prevent your car from starting until you listened to/viewed the following checklist could be helpful.

While I am not sure that a specific invention or device can make someone take more personal responsibility regarding keeping bicyclists safe, I do believe being acutely aware of the causes of distracted driving and paying the price for not following the rules are keys to stopping the problem.

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