From Sunday, August 7th to Monday, August 14th, four people were killed while using bicycles in San Diego County. Alongside BikeSD, Circulate San Diego, SD350, the Climate Action Campaign, and others, we’re sending an open letter to SANDAG and the cities of Carlsbad, National City, and Escondido demanding rapid safety improvements to the streets where these crashes occurred and a commitment to prioritizing bike and pedestrian safety in the project planning process.
Please help support our campaign for safe streets by signing our open letter below.
Dear SANDAG Board of Directors and Mayor Hall, Mayor Soleto-Solis, and Mayor McNamara,
We are writing on behalf of the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, Families for Safe Streets San Diego, Circulate San Diego, BikeSD, and SanDiego350 to report the heartbreaking news that four people have been killed while riding bikes in San Diego County within the past week. The recent surge of fatalities pushes the total number of people killed while riding bikes in San Diego County this year to eight. We are calling on SANDAG and the cities of Carlsbad, National City, and Escondido to renew their commitments to Vision Zero and specify the short-term actions that they will take to prevent further bicycle fatalities on their streets.
At 5:45 PM on Sunday, August 7th, Christine Hawk Embree was carrying her 16-month-old daughter on her E-Bike when the driver of a Toyota 4-Runner struck her at the intersection of Basswood Avenue and Valley Street in Carlsbad. Embree was taken to the hospital with life-threatening injuries, where she passed away on Monday. She leaves behind a husband and her daughter, who was miraculously uninjured. Although both Basswood Avenue and Valley Street are residential streets that abut Carlsbad High School, no traffic calming elements such as speed speed bumps, curb extensions, or tightened turn radii exist on either road.
Just four days later, at 6:15 AM on Wednesday, August 10th, another woman was struck and killed by a driver while walking her bike on Highland Avenue in National City. With two lanes in each direction, a concrete median, no bike lanes, and no curb extensions at crosswalks, Highland Avenue is designed to maximize vehicular throughput with no regard for pedestrian or bicycle safety. Unsurprisingly, 29 bicyclists and 108 pedestrians have been the victims of crashes on Highland Avenue in the last 10 years. This road is systemically unsafe.
On August 11th, a 73-year-old man was riding his bike in the bike lane of Broadway, North of El Norte Parkway in Escondido, when the driver of a Honda Accord struck him from behind. He died at the scene. This road has two lanes of traffic each direction, narrow painted bike lanes in some areas and no bike lanes in others, and a 35 mph speed limit. As we would expect, this road design has made Broadway systemically unsafe for bicyclists and pedestrians. From 2012 to 2021, 76 Bicyclists and 58 Pedestrians were the victims of crashes along this stretch of Broadway.
Finally, at 1 pm on Monday, August 15th, a motorcyclist fleeing law enforcement struck and killed a man riding his bike on Carlsbad Boulevard near Palomar Airport Road. This beachfront road has a 35 mph speed limit and a striped bike lane in each direction, through which motorists merge at high speeds from Palomar Airport Road. From 2012 to 2021, 56 bicyclists and 14 pedestrians were injured in crashes along this section of Carlsbad Boulevard.
While it is too early to determine the precise cause of each crash, these fatalities are part of a disturbing trend in San Diego County: far more people die while riding bikes here than in most places in California. In 2021, a record seventeen people were killed while riding bikes in San Diego County. This was the highest bicyclist fatality rate of all counties with populations over 600,000 people in California: 0.51 per 100,000 residents, versus 0.32 in Orange County, 0.27 in Los Angeles County, 0.26 in Santa Clara County, and 0.18 in Alameda County.
This disproportionally high fatality rate in San Diego County is likely due to a variety of causes that cannot be easily separated. However, the actions that help reduce bicycle fatalities are clear and well-established. Installing a separated Class IV bikeway on an urban road where none previously existed can reduce crashes by over 80%. Replacing a stoplight or stop-controlled intersection with a traffic circle or roundabout can reduce fatal or serious injury-causing crashes by 80%. While the risk of death for a pedestrian or cyclist is only 10% when hit by a car traveling 23mph, that risk increases to 50% when a car is traveling 42 mph. Lowering speed limits in the places people bike and walk saves lives. Even better, installing traffic calming infrastructure that makes it difficult and unintuitive to drive fast can prevent drivers from reaching the speeds that kill cyclists and pedestrians.
SANDAG recently adopted a new Vision Zero resolution that would expand this commitment to eliminating traffic deaths and serious injuries to every city in San Diego County. In the wake of the four tragic deaths this week, we are calling on SANDAG and the cities of Carlsbad, Escondido, and National City to follow up on this resolution with immediate action.
We ask each respective city to quickly make safety improvements to the streets where these people were killed to prevent further deaths. Furthermore, we ask each city to present an action plan for how it will prioritize pedestrian and bicycle safety in the project planning and implementation process over the next five years. Any such plan should include a policy of reviewing the crash history of any road that is due to be resurfaced, and implementing proven safety improvements based on the most common types of crashes in the area during resurfacing. This response to traffic violence will allow for immediate progress in the push towards Vision Zero.
We are devastated by the string of deaths that has struck San Diego’s bicycling community this week, and we urge you to take urgent action and redouble your commitments to traffic safety.