hillcrest, we have a problem

hillcrest, we have a problem

(UPDATE: Many commenters continue to blame jaywalkers for all collisions, even though a majority of cases in San Diego are the driver’s fault. Of course pedestrians bear responsibility for their actions, but many are being hit while crossing legally.)

Two Sundays ago, pedestrian Aaron “Curtis” Voorhies was killed while crossing University Avenue between Vermont Street and 10th Avenue. The driver did not stop.  The incident occurred near an opening in the Uptown District plaza that funnels pedestrians to the street at mid-block:



Pedestrians will often cross the north side of University here, find refuge in the thin median, then cross to the south side. Voorhies was leaving the median (or may have been reaching to pick up his roommate’s dog) when hit. This stretch of University, much like the rest of it from 6th Ave eastward, is up to 8 lanes wide: 4 lanes dedicated to auto through-travel, up to 2 turn lane pockets at intersections, and 2 lanes for street parking. So out of these 6-8 lanes, we’ve set aside 0 for cyclists, and 0 to reduce crosswalk distance for pedestrians. The median is more to keep cars from hitting each other than hitting people.

Because Voorhies crossed the street outside of a crosswalk, some Facebook commenters actually said he deserved to be killed:

If this indeed happened because the person was jaywalking, (I’m probably going to be hated after this next statement) I feel no sympathy as stupidity deserves the punishment that befalls upon it.

And idiots jaywalk expecting cars to see them. Roads are for cars. That’s why there are crosswalks.

One commenter speculated Voorhies was under the influence, a dog thief, and/or homeless.  So it seems only drivers are entitled to our public streets, and if a bicyclist or pedestrian is hit, they’re to blame.  While the SANDAG Uptown Bike Corridor has been proposed as a traffic-calming measure for University, that feature is less important than the potential loss of any street parking. As one bike lane opponent said, “It should be about the money”.  Yes, because people’s lives are less important than money.

Another commenter asked how a two-ton vehicle is supposed to stop “on a dime” for a jaywalker.  No one is expecting this to happen, but by reducing speeds, a pedestrian – in or out of a crosswalk – has a dramatically-increased chance of surviving a collision:

Eighty percent of pedestrians struck by a car going 40 mph will die; at 30 mph the likelihood of death is 40 percent. At 20 mph, the fatality rate drops to just 5 percent.

This is the main commercial thoroughfare in the neighborhood, but the roads are designed to encourage travel speeds in the 40+ mph range. Those speeds are dangerous for pedestrians, even if they’re crossing legally. I can personally attest to the dangers of walking and biking in Hillcrest, since I was nearly hit in the unprotected bike lane on Cleveland Ave, and yelled at for crossing University “too slowly” while in a crosswalk. An intermediate step would be a mid-block crosswalk at this location until traffic-calming bike lanes go in, assuming they aren’t stopped by the opposition.  

Walk San Diego performed a pedestrian survey of Uptown over 10 years ago, identifying multiple trouble spots on University. Apart from some sidewalk bulb-outs and pedestrian lead-time crossings, little has been done to increase pedestrian safety.  The recent fatality on University is the same location where another serious pedestrian injury occurred in front of Rich’s a few months ago. And another life-threatening injury occurred at 6th and Evans last year.  In fact, in the 9 years after that 2003 survey (1/2004 to 11/2012) there have been 48 reported pedestrian collisions on University from Washington to Normal (where the bike lane is planned).  Here’s are some partial maps – each dot represents a collision:




From my interpretation of the causes given, in nearly two thirds of the cases, the driver was at fault. Drivers were also at fault in a majority of city-wide collisions (and these are just the reported incidents).  San Diego is one of most dangerous places in the country for pedestrians.

Considering the above, it appears there’s been a failure of leadership on pedestrian and bicyclist safety in Hillcrest. Is a lack of funding due to the city’s poor financial condition to blame? Then community leaders from Uptown Planners, Hillcrest Town Council, and the Hillcrest Business Association would welcome the substantial traffic calming funds provided by the proposed University Ave bike corridor. Instead, they all strongly oppose the project, because they’ve prioritized parking and traffic flow over safety. (UPDATE: Speaking of businesses, I forgot to mention that traffic calming increases business revenue [slower drivers see more businesses] – and nearby residential property values.) And it’s not getting any better: at the recent Uptown Planners election, 6 out of the 7 candidates (and all 3 elected) opposed the bike lane project.

Hillcrest’s (and San Diego’s) streets don’t have to be this way. In many countries, pedestrians have a greater right to public street space. For example, in the UK, where jaywalking is legal, road fatalities are one fourth the rate of the U.S. In the Netherlands, drivers have a higher threshold of responsibility in bicyclist collisions. In Sweden, roads are built for safety, not speed and convenience: “We simply do not accept any deaths or injuries on our roads.” That approach is known as Vision Zero, which new NYC mayor Bill DeBlasio has implemented. How great would it be if new San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer did the same? At the state level in California, a new bill to protect vulnerable road users has been introduced.

Cities around the country are implementing protected bike lanes to provide traffic calming as part of complete streets projects. Let’s hope Uptown will reconsider its opposition to them so we can address this urgent issue.

15 thoughts on “hillcrest, we have a problem

  1. Glad you like the blog Ivan. Thanks for pointing out the grammar issue. I try to do a final read-through to catch these kinds of errors, but I’m often nodding off by that point in the evening. I’ll try to be more vigilant in the future!

  2. I love your advocacy and the importance of your positions. However, you do need to be aware of your too frequent misplaced modifiers. Here’s an example: “No one is expecting this to happen, but by reducing speeds, a pedestrian – in or out of a crosswalk – has a dramatically-increased chance of surviving a collision.” Who in this sentence is “reducing speeds”? Only the pedestrians. An easy rewrite: But by DRIVERS reducing speeds, pedestrians have a dramatically-increased chance…”

  3. Hi Lisa, unfortunately many drivers have a “we own the road” mentality towards pedestrians and bicyclists. Some who oppose the Uptown Bike Corridor in Hillcrest say, “We can’t lose one parking space!”. To me this comes from the same mindset – they’ve chosen to drive exclusively, so tough luck to anyone else. On the positive side, I have encountered lots of drivers who are more than willing to share the road, and it seems to be getting better in Uptown.

  4. I was almost hit in that crosswalk in front of Blind Lady a few weeks ago, and the driver flipped me off on the way by. CLASSY!

  5. Mr. Shaw didn’t meet Tonya Hall, Aaron’s mother.

    I did.

    Tonya stated “If the street isn’t going to be safe for pedestrians, why not tear out the sidewalks and just put in a freeway”

    She also made a reference to all of the alcohol serving establishment offering bottomless mimosas on Sundays. (I don’t know if that actually happens, but the alcohol flows freely at Mr. Shaw’s establishments.)

    Mr. Shaw is speaking out of turn if he has anything to say about Aaron that will come from Tonya or Myself.

    Shame on you Mr. Shaw.

    Patricia Lundberg

  6. Hi Amanda, thanks for your comment. I’m glad they put the crosswalk in by Blind Lady, but you’re right: cars didn’t stop when I’ve used it. It could use a pedestrian signal/embedded lights like the one they put on Park in front of Numbers. How about a kickstarter for it, given the city’s financial condition? Also, it’s poorly lit at night – we didn’t see pedestrians (wearing black) in the opposing lane of the crosswalk until our car was almost next to them. But even after we hit our brakes the car behind us didn’t stop for them.

  7. As a resident of nearby Normal Heights, I think this is an important conversation to have. Recently a crosswalk was painted on Adams avenue, yet most vehicles don’t even slow down as they approach. Pedestrians and drivers need to be careful for everyone’s safety but drivers especially need to be cognizant of the dangers they present.

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