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A Mother’s Plea for Safety Improvements On 54th Street

Video Credit: Brian Myers, Media Arts Center San Diego

By Brian Myers

Last October, Veronica Cortez’s son Jonathan was killed on 54th Street near Lea Street. He was skateboarding to his father’s house when he was struck by multiple drivers. None of the drivers stopped.

“I hate this street,” Cortez said while visiting the intersection with her younger son. “I hate passing by, knowing that my son was left there to die.”

An informal sidewalk near that intersection has become a memorial for Jonathan.

“I’ve been wanting to drop off flowers for him. And I’m just scared, the cars go by so fast. I don’t want this to happen again,” she said.

Since the accident community members have been calling on the city to improve conditions for pedestrians and cyclists on the stretch of road. Bill Harris, a spokesman for the city, said Wednesday the city has approved a plan to install a buffered bike lane in the area and that the work is scheduled to begin in July. A buffered bike lane includes a painted median to add separation between cars and cyclists, adding safety for pedestrians, too.

Anastasia Brewster is an Active Transportation Assistant for the City Heights Community Development Corporation and lives in the area.

“The community is adamant that we can prevent deaths like this,” said Brewster.

The street is the only direct connection between the communities of Chollas Creek and Oak Park. Children from both neighborhoods attend Oak Park Elementary School on 54th Street, making a a dirt trail alongside an existing, narrow bike lane highly trafficked by pedestrians.

“There’s no access point from where I’m standing to the Oak Park community, which is two hundred yards away,” Brewster said. “Other than through this really dilapidated, dangerous, rocky, thorny trail.”

The city doesn’t consider the trail a sidewalk and doesn’t perform maintenance on it.

“It’s crazy right here,” said Alma Carriollo, a Chollas Creek resident.

Carriollo walks or rides bikes with her daughter to Oak Park Elementary School. She says the cars travel at unsafe speeds and prefers to ride on the trail instead of the bike lane.

The opposite side of the street lacks a bike lane and sidewalk.

“I would like to see a real sidewalk where you can be with your kids at your side and be safe,” she said. “There’s not enough space on the trail to hold your kids by the hand.”

The city has proposed the Chollas Triangle Master Plan to redevelop the area with new housing, a park, and pedestrian- and transit-friendly infrastructure. Funding has not been allocated to implement the proposals. Councilwoman Marti Emerald said she’s asking they mayor to at least fund the park in his budget. Crews would likely improve pedestrian infrastructure along with adding the park.

Cortez said infrastructure improvements in the area would mean justice for her family.

“We need to fix these streets and stop this from happening,” she said. “If we could stop it at least on this street then I could feel better and I could say that my son’s death wasn’t in vein.”

The family requests any information that may be helpful identifying the vehicles and drivers that hit the teenager.


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