48-year-old husband and father Alejandro Rivera Marquez, a migrant worker from Puebla, a Mexican state in the southeast region, is the latest victim of a bicycle accident in Leamington and Kingsville.
He is in critical condition. He lies in Hotel-Dieu Grace Hospital clinging to life.
Marquez is the most recent victim of a tragic traffic pattern deadly accidents that occur when motorists refuse to share the road with cyclists. Cycling is simply not safe on the roads between Leamington and Kingsville.
Marquez was the victim of an allegedly drunk driver, and is the 8th migrant worker to be killed or seriously injured while cycling in 8 years. Abraham Soto-Lopez lost his life at the scene of his accident 4 years ago; the driver wasn’t found for 3 days. Soto-Lopez was only 41 years old. In 2006, 49-year-old Arnulfo Garcia Gutierrez struggled with critical injuries, unconscious, before succumbing to death a day later. The year before, Alberto Tableros was killed instantly, after only 46 years of life. Tableros was due to return home in weeks. Another, unknown migrant worker died on the scene this past July.
That’s just the cases that have been reported.
If these were local residents working at a local plant, I think council would have said, Gee, we need to do something about that, says Sue Omstead, a member of Share the Road Essex County, a cycling lobbyist group. This is both the tragedy and the challenge.
Between 4 and 6 thousand migrant workers are employed by farms here in Essex County. Most are the only bread-winners in their family, and they travel across the globe to labor for 8 months each and every year. Their hard work drives our local economy the greenhouses that have been built by migrant workers since 2009 resulted in a nearly 34% increase in jobs in Leamington in 2012.
These hard-working individuals may not be citizens, but they are part of our community. And we shouldn’t send them home in coffins.
The solution seems to be forthcoming, but deferred an attitude hinted at in Omstead’s sentiments. Migrant workers cant afford the expense of purchasing and maintaining a vehicle, and may not even be able to obtain a drivers licence. But public transportation is limited to 2 small buses in Leamington and Kingsville doesn’t even offer an option. Bicycling is the only way for these workers to get around.
Locals have provided safety gear such as reflective vests, as well as bike safety education courses and materials; however our Essex County roads are simply not built to be bike-friendly. Shoulders are narrow; ditches are deep. And Soto-Lopez was actually wearing reflective gear when he was left on the side of the road by a hit-and-run driver.
Though Omstead has been lobbying to expand County Road 20 to provide room for cyclists since 2005, the migrant farm workers must still resort to riding down a worn path in the grass along what is considered one of the most dangerous roads in the area.
A small victory was won this year when Leamington and Essex County allocated a budget of more than $143,000 to perform a design and engineering study dedicated to creating cycling accommodations on County Road 20. Kingsville allocated over $81,000 for a similar study to be performed in 2014. The actions, while a step in the right direction, seem poorly prioritized.
County Road 20 isn’t the only byway with no leeway for cyclists. Highway 77 serves as another major route for migrant workers, but bicyclists were neglected when the road was rebuilt by the province in recent years, despite lobbying from Leamington that the roads shoulders should be widened and paved.
These migrant workers share our community ¾ of the year but they don’t have a fraction of a vote; no voice and no one speaking up for them.
And now a Mexican family may have lost a patriarch again.
Original reporting by columnist Anne Jarvis of The Windsor Star