Victor Pizarro knows about the dangerous intersection of St. Claude and Elysian Fields avenues — that embankment on the side of the road that forces big rigs to take the turn wide, with the potential for catching those around them unawares.
But the longtime cycling enthusiast and safety advocate was not prepared for what he witnessed as he drove along St. Claude on Thursday afternoon.
As often happens, an 18-wheeler was taking a wide turn onto lakebound Elysian Fields. Philip Wayne Geeck, 52, of New Orleans, was riding his bike alongside, and he could not act quickly enough to get out of the way.
“He saw what was happening, but the truck was going fast and he didn’t have a chance,” Pizarro said. “It dragged his bike underneath. The tires were on his chest and … the look on his face. I pulled over and called 911. … I was in shock. I still am.”
Police said the 18-wheeler, driven by an unidentified 51-year-old man from Violet, was headed west on St. Claude and was turning onto Elysian Fields when the accident happened about 1:40 p.m.
According to a daily police log, Geeck hit one of the truck’s back tires as it made the turn, sending him under the truck. He died at the scene.
Police did not issue any citations to the driver of the 18-wheeler.
Geeck’s death is the latest incident to rattle a community of cycling advocates in New Orleans who for years have been pushing for more dedicated bike lanes on the city’s roadways, better signage to mark those lanes and more safety education for motorists and cyclists alike.
The death came on the heels of a cycling accident that took the life of an Atlanta firefighter and seriously injured his brother-in-law in April while they were training for an Ironman Triathlon on Chef Menteur Highway. In that case, the driver of the vehicle was arrested and booked on negligent homicide charges, among others.
Hoping to bring attention to the latest death, Pizarro and others organized a meeting and a mass bike ride Friday evening, starting at Café Flora at Royal Street and Franklin Avenue in the Marigny neighborhood.
Tim Eskew, the service manager at Bicycle Michael’s, a bike shop on Frenchmen Street only a few blocks from where the accident happened, said his boss’ daughter came into the store a few moments after it occurred, saying she had seen a body at the intersection.
He rode out a few minutes later to see the aftermath for himself.
He said he wasn’t surprised to see an accident at that particular intersection. “There have been many close calls out there,” Eskew said, noting that most cyclists try to avoid the area. “It’s like that at Claiborne and Carrollton and at Tulane and Carrollton. It’s a mad rush of vehicles.”
Eskew has worked at Bicycle Michael’s for 20 years. He said he has met with city leaders about possible steps to alleviate some of the hazards that cyclists encounter on roadways. But he said not much has been done.
“When we look at solutions to these problems and we ignore it, then shame on us,” he said. “We all have to learn, or we at least have to try.”
Pizarro was even more emphatic.
“If this city is interested in interested in attracting cyclists, in promoting the culture, then they better do something about it,” he said. “Enough is enough.”