Nine months after 15-year-old Jonathan Cortez was killed on 54th Street south of University Avenue in a hit-and-run crash, city workers are installing new sidewalk and marking bike lanes on the east side of the street.
Police believe Cortez was riding his skateboard northbound on the east side of the street, where there was no sidewalk or buffer zone. Investigators think he was hit by more than one vehicle, according to Lt. Scott Wahl of the San Diego Police Department. No one has been charged in his death. But neighborhood activists, who were already aware of the dangerous stretch of road, mounted a push to get the sidewalk installed faster than the usual two-to-three-year timeline.
"It took getting people together and getting Jonathan's parents to come and support this to make this happen," said Maria Cortez (not related) of the City Heights Community Development Corporation. "It was needed long before he died there."
Jonathan Cortez was on his way to his father's house when he was killed, his mother told Speak City Heights. The dangerous, fast stretch of 54th Street is the main connection between Chollas Creek and Oak Park neighborhoods — a connection used by Chollas Creek kids to get to the Oak Park Elementary School and Will Crawford High School. In that stretch, the street is like a highway, with speed limits of 35 mph but traffic moving at speeds above 40 mph. There is some sidewalk, but much of the strips where people walk, on both sides of 54th Street, were dirt track that the city did not maintain.
"The community was galvanized to make something right out of such a terrible wrong," said Anastasia Brewster, active transportation manager of the City Heights Community Development Corporation. "We had folks from all segments of the community work on this and we are going to keep working on projects that make our streets safer."
For Maria Cortez, who has worked for more than two decades on getting kids to school safely, the teen's death is haunting.
"It's a shame it takes a life to get things done here," Cortez said. "It shouldn't cost a life. I don't want to see another child die."
Councilwoman Marti Emerald pushed the approval through the city process, Cortez said.
"These new sidewalks will make it safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and our kids on skateboards," Emerald said. "We need more safe lanes to keep people and cars separate. Hopefully, that will come."
City employees began working on the stretch of road in June and should wrap up in the next few weeks, according to city spokesman Bill Harris. The project will cost about $150,000, he said.