Crash that injured teen cyclist near Muirlands Middle School reignites father’s request for improved safety
The city of San Diego aims to reassess the area for ‘quick-build improvements.’
For more than a year, La Jolla resident Shawn Richardson has been volunteering at Muirlands Middle School’s afternoon student pickup times to make sure drivers don’t double park or park in red zones or bike lanes.
When parked cars limit views or block a bike lane, bicyclists are forced to ride in the flow of vehicle traffic, which is often speedy heading down adjacent Nautilus Street.
“The big problem is, when no one is out here, people will double park up and down the street,” Richardson said. “I witnessed a lot out here while trying to manage the situation. I’m happy to say I kept a lot of kids from getting hit” by telling drivers to move.
Richardson said he’s witnessed enough near misses from bicyclists needing to maneuver around cars that for the past year he has pleaded with San Diego city offices about getting the bike lanes on both lanes of Nautilus Street painted green to bring better awareness to the presence of cyclists in the area and instruct drivers not to park there.
San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, said his office recently had the bike lanes restriped and that he requested an additional assessment of the area to see what else could be done.
“I am grateful city operations responded to my request to restripe the Nautilus Avenue bike lanes” before the start of this school year Aug. 22, LaCava said. “That was the right interim step, but given the congestion before and after school, we must continue to do better.”
Collision near campus
Sometimes the simple mix of vehicles and bicycles in the same location can pose a critical danger. But given that Richardson’s goal is to prevent crashes involving students, he didn’t imagine that such an accident would happen to his own child.
However, on Sept. 5, his 14-year-old son was riding his electric bicycle to school in a marked bike lane when he and a car collided amid heavy traffic. He suffered broken bones in his hand and foot that may require surgery, and the e-bike was broken in half.
La Jolla crime and public safety news
The driver of the car was heading east on Nautilus Street and stopped to make a left turn northbound onto Via Valverde, according to San Diego police Capt. Erwin Manansala.
“The driver was waved through and proceeded to make a left turn … [and] did not see the cyclist as they were making the turn and the cyclist collided into the side of the vehicle,” Manansala said.
Richardson said the experience was traumatic. “Thankfully he is not hurt worse, because it was really scary when he was getting CT scans on his head and neck,” he said.
“The student that was struck is a poignant reminder of how we all need to work together to make routes to school safe,” LaCava said. “My heart goes out to him and his family.
“As the next step, I requested [that the] Traffic Division reassess this segment for quick-build improvements.”
Presence of bicycles
Richardson’s son is one of hundreds of students who ride their bikes to Muirlands Middle School — as evidenced by the approximately 250 bicycles kept in the school bike locker every day. The most direct way to access the bike locker is through the front of the school on Nautilus.
“A lot of people don’t realize that if those kids weren’t on bikes, they would likely be getting dropped off in cars and the traffic would be much worse,” Richardson said. “That would add hundreds of vehicles to what is already a crazy situation.”
To help control the flow of traffic, the school puts out portable signs instructing drivers not to park in red zones and to proceed to loading zones to drop off and pick up their children. Pickup is often more congested because “kids want to get out of school as soon as the bell rings” and parents often arrive early to get a close pickup spot, Richardson said.
To help educate students and parents, Muirlands Principal Jeff Luna holds an assembly at the beginning of each school year and in-class discussions about bicycle safety. The school also requires any student who rides a bicycle, an e-bike or a scooter to campus to wear a helmet. Notices to parents often include bicycle safety tips, Luna said.
“It’s two-pronged — it’s the parents and people in vehicles being aware and also the kids and those on scooters and bikes being aware of their surroundings,” he said. “We want to make sure they are safe. We’re trying to hit both of those groups to make sure they are as safe as possible. The safety of children is of the utmost importance.”
Though collisions involving students don’t happen often, “it’s a concern” whenever it does, he said. “We all need to be aware and we need to share those common areas appropriately.”
“The student that was struck is a poignant reminder of how we all need to work together to make routes to school safe. ... Given the congestion before and after school, we must continue to do better.”
— San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava
Green bike lanes
In light of the accident, Richardson’s desire for safer and more clearly defined bike lanes has been reinvigorated.
“It’s a really scary situation. I normally ride with my sons to school [his other son attends nearby La Jolla High School],” he said. He recommends that parents whose children ride bicycles to school ride with them so the parents can see firsthand the conditions that students must navigate to get to campus.
In his experience, he said, a green-painted bike lane creates more awareness for drivers that “this is not where I’m supposed to be driving or parking or hanging out. With the increased visibility, it would keep the double parking from happening and keep kids on bikes out of the vehicle lane.” ◆