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Walking Can Be Hazardous In San Diego

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Aired 2/8/10

Walking on San Diego streets could be hazardous to your health. Over the last two years, pedestrians have accounted for 20 percent of all traffic deaths in the area. That gives San Diego one of highest rates of pedestrian fatalities in the nation.

— Walking on San Diego streets could be hazardous to your health. Over the last two years, pedestrians have accounted for 20 percent of all traffic deaths in the area. That gives San Diego one of highest rates of pedestrian fatalities in the nation.

The crosswalk in front of Linda Vista’s Bayside Community Center, seen here on January 7, 2010, is a potentially dangerous one for pedestrians. Walkers often have to go around the block to cross the street.
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Above: The crosswalk in front of Linda Vista’s Bayside Community Center, seen here on January 7, 2010, is a potentially dangerous one for pedestrians. Walkers often have to go around the block to cross the street.

San Diego's Bayside Community Center lies just off Linda Vista Road. About 300 people come to the center every day. Many of them walk to and from home.

Center executive director Jorge Riquelme says the streets around Bayside aren't safe.

"One of our seniors, about six months ago, was run over, and was in critical condition for many months," says Riquelme. "And just a block away, one of our after-school kids was run over in one of our major arteries, and unfortunately died."

Riquelme says drivers don't usually slow down for pedestrians in front of his center. He's complained to the city repeatedly.

"And the solution that was brought was simply posting some signs that say, no pedestrian crossing, use the crosswalk," Riquelme says. "So instead of crossing in one street, they have to go now across three streets in order to obey the new signage that's been placed. So only signage that penalizes the pedestrian but doesn't do anything to guarantee their safety."

Over the past 15 years, nearly 2,000 San Diegans have been killed while crossing a street. That works out to more than two pedestrian fatalities a week.

Dave Schumacher is chairman of WalkSanDiego, a grassroots organization dedicated to making neighborhoods safer for pedestrians.

Schumacher says some of San Diego's older areas like Hillcrest and Banker's Hill are more walker-friendly. He says that's because they were designed before the advent of the automobile.

Contrast that with some of the newer parts of town, like Mira Mesa.

"Very dangerous," Schumacher argues. "Mira Mesa Boulevard at the intersection of Black Mountain Road, for example, is ten lanes wide. That's like crossing a freeway. Very, very difficult to walk. So it's ironic that some of the newer, planned communities, the planning for pedestrians is just totally lacking, and they're probably more dangerous than the older communities, that weren't quote-unquote planned."

City officials disagree with Schumacher.

Julio Fuentes is one of San Diego's senior traffic engineers. He says his department definitely takes pedestrians into account when designing streets. In fact, Fuentes says engineers pay close attention to citizen complaints about safety.

"If there are things we believe can be done to improve, then we do, whether it be some signing, or some striping, or there be a capital project, an expenditure," Fuentes says. "If we don’t have funding for that, then we would place it in a needs list."

Fuentes points out the area around PETCO Park has some perfect examples of well-designed streets. There are wide sidewalks for pedestrians, and the roads are narrow to encourage drivers to slow down.

"We would like to provide that same level of comfort and safety throughout the city, if it was possible, but resources are needed for that," says Fuentes.

In the city of Chula Vista, the police and engineering departments work hand-in-hand to improve pedestrian safety.

Chula Vista traffic officer Shon Thurman stands in front of one of the largest stop signs in San Diego County on January 26, 2010. Thurman has helped introduce a number of measures to make walking safer in Chula Vista.
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Above: Chula Vista traffic officer Shon Thurman stands in front of one of the largest stop signs in San Diego County on January 26, 2010. Thurman has helped introduce a number of measures to make walking safer in Chula Vista.

Shon Thurman is Chula Vista's traffic safety officer. He stands at the intersection of 4th Avenue and C Street.

Thurman says at this intersection, no turn on red signs are posted to keep cars from plowing into pedestrians. They've extended the walk signal to make it easier for seniors to cross. The city has also added additional striping in the crosswalks and extra-large stop signs.

Thurman concedes the old adage about the pedestrian never being at fault is true.

"But if you're walking in a crosswalk and you get hit, yeah, you're not at fault, but does that really matter when you're flying through the air and you end up being in the hospital, or you have broken bones?" Thurman says.

Federal officials say a pedestrian is killed about every two hours in the U.S. As it turns out, pedestrians are not blameless in many of these accidents. Officials say that, in 2007, more than one out of three fatally injured pedestrians 16 and older was legally drunk.

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