Too late for the baby who died

City's response to intersection hazard came too slow

Accident site
  • Accident site

The intersection of Catalina Boulevard and Cañon Street has been on the City's radar for a number of years, documents obtained through a public records request show.

Seven-month-old Juniper Aavang died and her father John was seriously injured while crossing at the intersection on March 2, 2015.

Previous complaints about the intersection show that residents had been concerned about vehicle speed and visibility at that precise location. In recent weeks, as reported by the Reader, the city filed a petition with the court to obtain data from the driver's vehicle computer system.

In July 2010, Point Loma resident Jon Connor requested then councilmember Kevin Faulconer's office to look into adopting some traffic-calming measures in hopes of making it safer for pedestrians.

"Mr. Connor says it is like a freeway during rush hour," read the "route slip" sent to the city traffic engineers. "People are going entirely too fast since there are no lights or speed controls in this corridor. Also, he says the right turn back onto Cañon from Catalina is dangerous since it is a complete blind spot for families with kids trying to cross. He says it's dangerous for anyone since cars are coming down without stopping at the crosswalk and they cannot see [pedestrians] on the sidewalk."

The city responded to the request with a survey it had conducted in 2006 which showed that high speed limits were not an issue at the intersection. According to the report, the 40-mile-per-hour posted speed limit fell into the 85th percentile. Accident rates at the site were also less than those at similarly classified street sections.

In September 2010, city traffic engineer Gary Pence responded to Connor directly.

"Regarding the visibility of pedestrians crossing in the crosswalk in the right turn lane on ramp to Cañon Street, our site visit revealed that vegetation near the crosswalk has been recently trimmed and the visibility has been significantly improved. We will convert this crosswalk to a ladder crosswalk which includes numerous perpendicular lines between the two existing crosswalk lines. Ladder crosswalks are more visible to drivers and are intended to enhance the safety of the crosswalk. In addition, we will replace the existing pedestrian warning signs with high visibility pedestrian florescent yellow/green warning signs on both sides of the crosswalk facing northbound traffic."

Connor's opinion of the dangerous conditions were echoed in an online petition started days after the March 2 accident.

"For decades, this intersection has plagued the residential and family-oriented nearby Point Loma community. Residents have pleaded with City and local authorities to remedy the situation, yet their concerns have remain unheard."

So far, about 1500 people have signed the petition to close the street off to vehicular traffic.

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Nothing happens to fix hazards like this until a death occurs. Another dangerous spot is Louisiana St. and University Avenue in North Park, where people jaywalk every day through heavy traffic to/from Haggen (formerly Albertsons). I don't think anyone has died there.........yet. The nearest place to walk across is via a signal crossing at Mississippi St. and University.

You are absolutely right about the need for someone to die before the city of SD makes any effort to alleviate traffic danger. The neighbors can complain to everyone in city government, and all they'll get is jabberwocky about surveys and being checked by traffic engineers.

That notion of 85% is so embedded in folklore now that few know its origin. A normal distribution ("bell curve") has 68% of the cases within one standard deviation of the mean/median. That leaves 16% for each "tail" of the symmetrical curve. Add 68% and 16% for one tail, and you have 84%, which was rounded to 85%. As the theory goes, if you are not in that other 15% (in this case the fastest cars), you are not "deviant". But here's the leap: if the vehicle speed isn't deviant, it must be safe! That is giving a lot of credit to today's impatient and inattentive drivers, and the cars that don't provide a sensation of speed. In recent decades auto traffic has been traveling steadily faster on the same streets and highways. Is it possible that the average driver just doesn't comprehend just how long it takes to react and brake or swerve to avoid a hazard? "Why I drive this fast all the time and I never have an accident" is a typical comment from a driver who will have his/her first one tomorrow.

I've never heard of a study of traffic speed that actually measured in an engineering and human reaction way the proper speed for some piece of roadway, and then compared it to the survey. If anyone did that, I'd guess that in many areas of the US and in many of its crowded cities, the actual speeds exceed the rationally-measured safe maximum speed.

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