On 'World Day of Remembrance,' families to honor victims of traffic collisions
On a sunny morning in July 2021, Laura Shinn said goodbye to her husband, Steve, got on her bike and began riding from her home downtown to San Diego State University, where she worked as an architect and campus planner.
The ride took her up Pershing Drive, an arterial road through Balboa Park. A driver who was going the legal speed limit at the time — 50 mph — veered into the painted bike lane and struck her from behind.
"He hit her so hard that she was actually ripped out of her shoes that were clipped into the bike," Steve Shinn said. "We were always very careful in our cycling, and had helmets and lights and safety gear and mirrors that we could see behind us. But all of that wasn't enough."
Laura Shinn died that day at 57.
"We did everything together, we were in the same profession," Steve Shinn said. "I realized with her loss, that it was like losing half of me."
Shinn will be one of several speakers at a vigil outside City Hall on Friday evening to mark World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. The event is being organized by Families for Safe Streets San Diego, made up of people who have lost loved ones to traffic violence.
Among their requests to Mayor Todd Gloria is a commitment to install 75 miles of protected bike lanes in the coming fiscal year, which starts on July 1. That would represent a massive increase from the status quo.
"The response has still been mostly supportive in terms of words, but not a lot of action," Shinn said of city leadership. "I understand we have tight budgets. But at the same time, when we have plans in place and goals in place and we're not following through on those, I think the city needs to do more."
Eight years ago, the San Diego City Council signed on to Vision Zero, a campaign to end all traffic deaths and serious injuries. The council gave itself until 2025 to achieve that goal.
Gloria, then a city councilmember, voiced strong support. He also questioned whether city engineers were as committed to ending traffic deaths as he was.
"I think it would be important and beneficial for the folks who are actually designing our streets … to be here to say that they stand in solidarity with this council and with members of the public to achieving this goal," Gloria said at a Council meeting on Oct. 27, 2015.
Gloria is now mayor, and all the city's traffic engineers report to him. Yet safe streets advocates said his Transportation Department continues to pursue projects, such as the addition of a fourth travel lane to Grape Street in Little Italy, that prioritize vehicle speeds over pedestrian safety.
Gloria told KPBS he wants the design of San Diego streets to put safety first, and that the number of people dying in traffic collisions each year is "unacceptable."
"I grieve for them, and for every San Diegan that's been impacted by traffic violence," Gloria said. "We need to balance our system to take into consideration the needs, particularly the safety needs, of pedestrians, cyclists, transit users and others. And the projects that are happening all across the city are trying to achieve that particular balance."
Gloria added: "We don't always get it right."
With the city's Vision Zero deadline of 2025 just over one year away, the death toll on San Diego streets is essentially unchanged. Two people died in collisions on Thursday, bringing the number of traffic deaths in 2023 to at least 50, according to city data. In 2022, at least 53 people died in collisions in the same time period.
Steve Shinn acknowledged that some streets are getting safety improvements, such as the protected bike lanes that are under construction on Pershing Drive where his wife was killed. But he lamented the fact that the project faced years of delays due to disagreements between city engineers and the county transportation agency, SANDAG.
Two months after his wife's death, 34-year-old Johnny Sepulveda was killed by a driver while he was riding a scooter up Pershing Drive.
"It's just discouraging that it actually took two deaths to get the city and SANDAG to step up and start to make the improvements that were slated to already be done, that could have saved both of those people," Shinn said.