Residents in the city’s Washington neighborhood are once again calling for better pedestrian safety measures after a prominent member of their community was hit by a car in the area earlier this month.
David McGill-Soriano, 25, was steps away from his home when he was hit while crossing Pacific Avenue at 16th Street shortly before midnight on Saturday, Feb. 4. A neighbor called the police after seeing McGill-Soriano down in the road, and he was transported to the hospital with non-life-threatening but significant injuries to his leg and abrasions all over his body.
The collision came a little over a week before McGill-Soriano was slated to receive a city award in recognition of his service to the community.
From his hospital room last week, McGill-Soriano said he had no recollection of the event leading up to or after the crash. He’ll likely need a year to fully heal from his injuries, he said, which include a fractured tibia.
The intersection at Pacific Avenue and 16th Street has been the location of multiple car accidents in recent years, and residents are desperate for change, especially since the location is across the street from Washington Middle School, and hundreds of students walk through the area every day.
Calls from community members were reignited last year, when a babysitter was struck by a car in the same intersection as she was walking the kids she takes care of to school one morning. Residents staged a protest in the area at the time to urge city officials to install a traffic signal.
Later that year, two children were also hit in the area. On Aug. 20, at around 5:49 p.m., a 6-year-old boy was hit by a car near Pine Avenue and 15th Street, and six days later, a 9-year-old boy and a 19-year-old woman were injured after being hit by a car on 16th Street and Locust Avenue at around 6:57 p.m., according to the Long Beach Police Department.
“How many pedestrian accidents or deaths have to happen before the Police Department and the city actually do something?“ Jesus Esparza said after hearing about the collision. Esparza is the president of the Washington Neighborhood Association and has been a leader in the community’s efforts to promote pedestrian safety. He often sets up signs on Pine Avenue advising cars to slow down as they drive down the road.
In 2022, the city saw 45 traffic deaths, and of those, 27 were pedestrians, meaning pedestrian deaths accounted for 60% of overall traffic fatalities last year.
According to the LBPD, many cases in 2022 involved a pedestrian breaking the law by walking into lanes of traffic or walking outside of a marked crosswalk.
The Public Works Department, however, pointed to drivers going too fast as a major contributing factor.
That has been a major problem on Pacific Avenue, McGill-Soriano said, especially on 16th Street, where cars often speed through the crosswalk.
The city currently has an $8.3 million project in the works, called the Pacific Avenue Cycle Track, for the high-injury corridor that stretches from Ocean Boulevard to Pacific Coast Highway; construction is set to begin in 2024 and will hopefully be completed by 2025. It will reduce the volume and speed of traffic by installing shorter pedestrian crossings, a separated bikeway and bus islands, and shortening Pacific Avenue from five lanes to three.
Community members, however, say that there must be a short-term solution to protect residents in the meantime.
“It’s a great project, but it’s going to take a long time,” said McGill-Soriano. “The problem is immediate, and there hasn’t been anything to tackle it.”
In April, Councilmember Mary Zendejas, who represents District 1, told the Post that she would “advocate for our residents to ensure necessary traffic calming measures are implemented—prioritizing school zones.” She did not respond to multiple requests for comment last week about the most recent crash or what, if any, short-term solutions residents can expect in the future.
Washington neighborhood residents said that despite the lack of urgency, they will continue to make sure their voices are heard.
At last week’s City Council meeting, McGill-Soriano’s mother, Celia McGill, accepted the city’s Peacemaker Award on behalf of her son and through tears explained that he could not be there in person because he was still in the hospital.
McGill-Soriano was one of four people presented with the Peacemaker Award by District 6 Councilmember Suely Saro, which recognizes and celebrates community leaders in the city who spread the message of peace and unity in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. McGill-Soriano was recognized for his extensive work helping gang-impacted youth through a basketball academy he created called Books & Buckets.
Growing up in the Washington neighborhood, McGill-Soriano saw firsthand how gang culture and violence affected close friends, and he created the program to steer youth away from violence. While he has helped over 100 kids through the program and raised over $300,000 for youth development, he said he continues to see issues related to poverty, crime and a lack of safe infrastructure.
“He hopes that this award can show other young people that they have the power to make a neighborhood better,” his mother said on his behalf last week. “Young people, you are the future. You can change the world for better.”
McGill-Soriano has since been released from the hospital and is home recovering, according to his mother.