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Why so many pedestrian accidents in San Diego?

The fatal 15 intersections upgraded

How do those with a need for speed fit into ending traffic fatalities by 2025?
How do those with a need for speed fit into ending traffic fatalities by 2025?

A week doesn’t go by without news of a hit-and-run or a near miss caused by a speeding driver. Residents on the Mount Streets in Clairemont have reported parked cars in front of homes getting pummeled by drivers not slowing down on their curved streets. One resident discovered her car scratched up at Sprouts after making a quick stop for milk. Another found $3000 worth of damage on her car, parked on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard on March 17, as she prepared to drive to work.

On February 19, a mother reported that her son and his dog suffered a hit-and-run in a crosswalk on Murray Ridge Road in Serra Mesa. Her son was fine, the dog had to go to urgent care.

Solis and her two young children were almost hit in a crosswalk on St. Patricks Day. A few weeks earlier, one of her children was almost hit with their grandmother in a crosswalk.

On February 23, 59-year-old Delores Odom suffered a hit-and-run that broke her back. A dark sedan struck Odom in a crosswalk at Genesee Avenue and Derrick Drive in Clairemont. “After hitting Delores,” said her neighbor Bob Gate, “the driver [white male, 60s] got out of his car, looked at her, then got back into his car and drove away. Another driver stopped, called the police, and routed traffic around her to prevent further injury.”

Odom is recovering now but has a long road ahead of her.

Letti Solis says a police SUV nearly hit her and her young daughters on St. Patrick’s’ Day. The incident happened at 5:27 pm at Diane Avenue and Clairemont Mesa Boulevard. “We had the right of way. We had taken two steps off the sidewalk when I saw a car coming at full speed. I assumed the car would stop as the light was red for them. I heard the tire burn from the car as it came to a stop right in front of us. If I had taken one more step it would have hit us. That is when I realized it was a police SUV. He didn’t even turn to look at us, he just took off full speed again heading eastbound on Clairemont Mesa.”

Most of the spots residents indentified weren’t on the city’s list of problem intersections.

“It’s insane that my children and I were almost hit by a cop, who was running a red light! And no, he did not have his siren on or anything.”

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Solis said her youngest daughter is traumatized now after her second scary crosswalk incident within a month. Solis’s mother was hit by a car weeks earlier at Frink Avenue and Clairemont Mesa. “She had some stitches and thank God her instinct was to yank my daughter off the ground when they fell because she might have ended up under the car.”

I asked the police department why an officer might be speeding without a siren. Lieutenant Shawn Takeuchi said, “I am not in a position to give you examples of when speeding would be allowed, because it depends on the situation.” Police policy is that officers “shall not violate traffic laws without good and justifiable cause.”

“I typically [speed] everywhere I go,” said Mike, early 40s, drives a newer pick-up truck. Asked why, Mike said, “A combo of impatience and the feeling that the posted speed is too slow for the area I am driving. When I am going somewhere, I want to get there and not take forever.”

“Why would you risk injury or death by not looking or paying attention when walking in the street, crossing a street and walking in a cross-walk? Car versus human, humans lose.”

He said the majority of his speeding is in commercial areas, in which he usually drives 10-12 miles over the speed limit. Mike said he’s had three speeding tickets in his lifetime, one in San Diego about seven years ago for going 82 mph on the freeway.

Mike’s advice to pedestrians: “Why would you risk injury or death by not looking or paying attention when walking in the street, crossing a street, and walking in a cross-walk? Car versus human, humans lose. Stop assuming that you have the right [of way] and that cars will stop. They may not see you, may be distracted, may be speeding. Who knows, but why would you not look, double-check and then try and make eye contact with the driver before preceding? I have so many close calls and half of the blame is on the pedestrian.”

One mid-30s Bay Park resident that drives a full-size pick-up truck said he generally goes 5-15 miles over the speed limit.“I go as fast as I feel comfortable on whatever road I’m on. Pretty much all speed limits in San Diego are lower than they should be, and most people go over.”

He continued, “I’ve had tickets, but none recently. If pedestrians follow pedestrian laws, speed is not a factor. Same for drivers with lights and stop signs. People who walk across the middle of blocks for no reason, scooters in the road, et cetera, are all at fault.”

On average, per California Highway Patrol data, fatal pedestrian collisions are up 39 percent (2011-2018) from the previous decade (2001-2010). While speeding tallied up annually as the number one factor (2001-2015) in all but two collisions, when it came to pedestrian collisions this wasn’t the case. Speeding paled in comparison to pedestrian violations which were nine times more often the primary factor. This included cases of pedestrian death. Between 2001-2015, pedestrian related hit-and-runs averaged 85 per year, with no more than 7 per year related to fatalities. Some of these hit-and-runs took place when the pedestrian was deemed at fault.

The good news is that total collisions and fatalities were down about 25 percent (2011-2018) from the previous decade (2001-2010). For context, so far in 2019, Los Angeles has seven times more total collisions than San Diego. There have been more than four times the pedestrian collisions and five times the pedestrian deaths than in San Diego.

A reformed speeder and Bay Ho resident reminisced about when the 55 mph speed limit went into effect in the 1970s. “We celebrated the law by being the first people to break it. We got on the freeway a few minutes before midnight, drove the legal 65 mph limit, then waited for the day to change.”

What finally cured him of speeding was his second speeding ticket. “After my second ticket within the year, I got a little scared. I heard they could suspend your license after three moving violations. So I decided to fight the new ticket. Before going to court, I removed the speedometer from my 1968 Rambler and tightened the spring that pulls the speed indicator needle back to zero. I reassembled the dashboard and brought the car to a shop that could check the speedometer accuracy. They gave me a document showing that the speedometer said 55 when the car was going 65.”

A few days later, he went to court. The judge eyeballed him for a long time before suspending the ticket on the condition that he didn’t get any more speeding tickets for two years.

“For the next two years, I was careful to not speed. After two years was up, I was out of the habit. I haven’t gotten a speeding ticket since.”

In February, the city finished upgrading the most crash-prone intersections dubbed “the fatal 15.” Twelve of them were in city councilmember Chris Ward’s district, nine of those downtown.

How many fatalities at each of the fatal 15? Tracy Morales from city communications said, “There were two fatalities in 10 years, one at Coronado and Thermal [in South San Diego] and one at El Cajon and 36th [in North Park.]”

The cost to update these 15 hotspots was roughly $255,000 ($17,000 per intersection). “Some intersections already had one or more of the following features, so this estimate is likely high: about $10,000 for crosswalks, $1100 for countdown timers, and $5900 for audible pedestrian signals.”

Per Morales, there will be more improvements in all city council districts. “Sixty-six locations will receive some or all of the following as needed: electronic no-turn signs (when walk sign is on); high-visibility crosswalks.... Additionally, 215 locations will receive pedestrian countdown timers. The city expects to start these improvements this year and finish them before 2023.”

I surveyed planning groups, town councils, city council offices, and residents about their concerns when it came to speeding and pedestrian safety. Most of the top intersections of concern for residents weren’t listed on the city’s list, including the crosswalk in front of Longfellow Elementary school in Bay Park where a parent got hit and died in 2017.

When it comes to enforcement of speed laws, a common concern was that it wasn’t a top priority. One Pacific Beach resident said there seemed to be more ticketing of scooter users than of speeders on residential streets. This same resident has been asking for a pedestrian crosswalk at Riviera Drive and Graham Street in Crown Point for years, but the only improvement he has seen is a 25 mph sign — one that the majority of drivers disregard.

He doesn’t hold out much hope that speeding will cease until driverless cars are more common. Michelle Abella-Shon, chair of the Scripps Ranch Civic Organization said, “The highest pedestrian risk is Mira Mesa Boulevard and the north-bound 15 on-ramp and off-ramp. “Caltrans have not done their part in ensuring pedestrian safety on similar intersections all throughout San Diego. I’ve reached out to them to re-assess how they design and construct with pedestrian safety in mind.”

Ed Cartagena with Caltrans told me how they approach pedestrian on-ramp safety. He said they get notice from several sources, including calls from the public, studies and reports of areas where driving behavior or incidents are occurring at a higher rate.

“Once alerted, we study the area, considering traffic volumes, weather, and changes to traffic patterns to name a few. Our engineers develop options to address these situations which may include a combination of engineering tools like additional signs, and flashing beacons and physical cues like barriers and rumble strips can also be employed.”

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How do those with a need for speed fit into ending traffic fatalities by 2025?
How do those with a need for speed fit into ending traffic fatalities by 2025?

A week doesn’t go by without news of a hit-and-run or a near miss caused by a speeding driver. Residents on the Mount Streets in Clairemont have reported parked cars in front of homes getting pummeled by drivers not slowing down on their curved streets. One resident discovered her car scratched up at Sprouts after making a quick stop for milk. Another found $3000 worth of damage on her car, parked on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard on March 17, as she prepared to drive to work.

On February 19, a mother reported that her son and his dog suffered a hit-and-run in a crosswalk on Murray Ridge Road in Serra Mesa. Her son was fine, the dog had to go to urgent care.

Solis and her two young children were almost hit in a crosswalk on St. Patricks Day. A few weeks earlier, one of her children was almost hit with their grandmother in a crosswalk.

On February 23, 59-year-old Delores Odom suffered a hit-and-run that broke her back. A dark sedan struck Odom in a crosswalk at Genesee Avenue and Derrick Drive in Clairemont. “After hitting Delores,” said her neighbor Bob Gate, “the driver [white male, 60s] got out of his car, looked at her, then got back into his car and drove away. Another driver stopped, called the police, and routed traffic around her to prevent further injury.”

Odom is recovering now but has a long road ahead of her.

Letti Solis says a police SUV nearly hit her and her young daughters on St. Patrick’s’ Day. The incident happened at 5:27 pm at Diane Avenue and Clairemont Mesa Boulevard. “We had the right of way. We had taken two steps off the sidewalk when I saw a car coming at full speed. I assumed the car would stop as the light was red for them. I heard the tire burn from the car as it came to a stop right in front of us. If I had taken one more step it would have hit us. That is when I realized it was a police SUV. He didn’t even turn to look at us, he just took off full speed again heading eastbound on Clairemont Mesa.”

Most of the spots residents indentified weren’t on the city’s list of problem intersections.

“It’s insane that my children and I were almost hit by a cop, who was running a red light! And no, he did not have his siren on or anything.”

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Solis said her youngest daughter is traumatized now after her second scary crosswalk incident within a month. Solis’s mother was hit by a car weeks earlier at Frink Avenue and Clairemont Mesa. “She had some stitches and thank God her instinct was to yank my daughter off the ground when they fell because she might have ended up under the car.”

I asked the police department why an officer might be speeding without a siren. Lieutenant Shawn Takeuchi said, “I am not in a position to give you examples of when speeding would be allowed, because it depends on the situation.” Police policy is that officers “shall not violate traffic laws without good and justifiable cause.”

“I typically [speed] everywhere I go,” said Mike, early 40s, drives a newer pick-up truck. Asked why, Mike said, “A combo of impatience and the feeling that the posted speed is too slow for the area I am driving. When I am going somewhere, I want to get there and not take forever.”

“Why would you risk injury or death by not looking or paying attention when walking in the street, crossing a street and walking in a cross-walk? Car versus human, humans lose.”

He said the majority of his speeding is in commercial areas, in which he usually drives 10-12 miles over the speed limit. Mike said he’s had three speeding tickets in his lifetime, one in San Diego about seven years ago for going 82 mph on the freeway.

Mike’s advice to pedestrians: “Why would you risk injury or death by not looking or paying attention when walking in the street, crossing a street, and walking in a cross-walk? Car versus human, humans lose. Stop assuming that you have the right [of way] and that cars will stop. They may not see you, may be distracted, may be speeding. Who knows, but why would you not look, double-check and then try and make eye contact with the driver before preceding? I have so many close calls and half of the blame is on the pedestrian.”

One mid-30s Bay Park resident that drives a full-size pick-up truck said he generally goes 5-15 miles over the speed limit.“I go as fast as I feel comfortable on whatever road I’m on. Pretty much all speed limits in San Diego are lower than they should be, and most people go over.”

He continued, “I’ve had tickets, but none recently. If pedestrians follow pedestrian laws, speed is not a factor. Same for drivers with lights and stop signs. People who walk across the middle of blocks for no reason, scooters in the road, et cetera, are all at fault.”

On average, per California Highway Patrol data, fatal pedestrian collisions are up 39 percent (2011-2018) from the previous decade (2001-2010). While speeding tallied up annually as the number one factor (2001-2015) in all but two collisions, when it came to pedestrian collisions this wasn’t the case. Speeding paled in comparison to pedestrian violations which were nine times more often the primary factor. This included cases of pedestrian death. Between 2001-2015, pedestrian related hit-and-runs averaged 85 per year, with no more than 7 per year related to fatalities. Some of these hit-and-runs took place when the pedestrian was deemed at fault.

The good news is that total collisions and fatalities were down about 25 percent (2011-2018) from the previous decade (2001-2010). For context, so far in 2019, Los Angeles has seven times more total collisions than San Diego. There have been more than four times the pedestrian collisions and five times the pedestrian deaths than in San Diego.

A reformed speeder and Bay Ho resident reminisced about when the 55 mph speed limit went into effect in the 1970s. “We celebrated the law by being the first people to break it. We got on the freeway a few minutes before midnight, drove the legal 65 mph limit, then waited for the day to change.”

What finally cured him of speeding was his second speeding ticket. “After my second ticket within the year, I got a little scared. I heard they could suspend your license after three moving violations. So I decided to fight the new ticket. Before going to court, I removed the speedometer from my 1968 Rambler and tightened the spring that pulls the speed indicator needle back to zero. I reassembled the dashboard and brought the car to a shop that could check the speedometer accuracy. They gave me a document showing that the speedometer said 55 when the car was going 65.”

A few days later, he went to court. The judge eyeballed him for a long time before suspending the ticket on the condition that he didn’t get any more speeding tickets for two years.

“For the next two years, I was careful to not speed. After two years was up, I was out of the habit. I haven’t gotten a speeding ticket since.”

In February, the city finished upgrading the most crash-prone intersections dubbed “the fatal 15.” Twelve of them were in city councilmember Chris Ward’s district, nine of those downtown.

How many fatalities at each of the fatal 15? Tracy Morales from city communications said, “There were two fatalities in 10 years, one at Coronado and Thermal [in South San Diego] and one at El Cajon and 36th [in North Park.]”

The cost to update these 15 hotspots was roughly $255,000 ($17,000 per intersection). “Some intersections already had one or more of the following features, so this estimate is likely high: about $10,000 for crosswalks, $1100 for countdown timers, and $5900 for audible pedestrian signals.”

Per Morales, there will be more improvements in all city council districts. “Sixty-six locations will receive some or all of the following as needed: electronic no-turn signs (when walk sign is on); high-visibility crosswalks.... Additionally, 215 locations will receive pedestrian countdown timers. The city expects to start these improvements this year and finish them before 2023.”

I surveyed planning groups, town councils, city council offices, and residents about their concerns when it came to speeding and pedestrian safety. Most of the top intersections of concern for residents weren’t listed on the city’s list, including the crosswalk in front of Longfellow Elementary school in Bay Park where a parent got hit and died in 2017.

When it comes to enforcement of speed laws, a common concern was that it wasn’t a top priority. One Pacific Beach resident said there seemed to be more ticketing of scooter users than of speeders on residential streets. This same resident has been asking for a pedestrian crosswalk at Riviera Drive and Graham Street in Crown Point for years, but the only improvement he has seen is a 25 mph sign — one that the majority of drivers disregard.

He doesn’t hold out much hope that speeding will cease until driverless cars are more common. Michelle Abella-Shon, chair of the Scripps Ranch Civic Organization said, “The highest pedestrian risk is Mira Mesa Boulevard and the north-bound 15 on-ramp and off-ramp. “Caltrans have not done their part in ensuring pedestrian safety on similar intersections all throughout San Diego. I’ve reached out to them to re-assess how they design and construct with pedestrian safety in mind.”

Ed Cartagena with Caltrans told me how they approach pedestrian on-ramp safety. He said they get notice from several sources, including calls from the public, studies and reports of areas where driving behavior or incidents are occurring at a higher rate.

“Once alerted, we study the area, considering traffic volumes, weather, and changes to traffic patterns to name a few. Our engineers develop options to address these situations which may include a combination of engineering tools like additional signs, and flashing beacons and physical cues like barriers and rumble strips can also be employed.”

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