Dozens of Washington neighborhood residents and their children banded together Friday morning to urge city officials to install better protections for pedestrians near Washington Middle School after a woman was injured after being hit by a car crossing the street.
The woman, a babysitter, was struck as she was walking the kids she takes care of to school Wednesday morning, residents said.
“They are afraid and in shock,” said Hermelinda Martinez, of her 14-year-old niece and 12-year-old nephew who were crossing the street on Pacific Avenue and 16th Street with their babysitter Wednesday morning as they do every day on their way to school.
According to the Long Beach Police Department, the driver made a turn and struck the older woman and she, along with the girl, were transported to a local hospital with minor injuries. It is unclear which direction the driver was turning and whether speed was a factor. The driver remained on scene and cooperated with the investigation, the LBPD said.
“My nephew was traumatized and called his mom crying after it happened,” Martinez said. Both of the injured women have since been released from the hospital and are now resting at home, she said.
“I see cars speeding here every single day,” said Marcela Gomez, who organized the event Friday.
“This is not a racetrack, this is our neighborhood,” said Gomez. “We want to feel safe.”
Community members chanted, “We want a traffic signal” and shouted “Slow down” at passing cars. They held up signs that read, “How many more do we have to lose?”
Crashes on that stretch of Pacific Avenue are relatively common, residents said, adding that they fear more pedestrians will be injured or killed if effective traffic calming measures are not installed.
On May 16, 2019, Ricky Gonzales, a 60-year-old homeless man from Long Beach, was killed when a driver failed to yield at the same intersection. After striking Gonzales, the driver left him lying in the street with major traumatic injuries.
A day after police announced Gonzalez’s death, a 44-year-old Long Beach woman was killed in another hit-and-run crash while she was crossing near 25th Street.
A month later, on June 29, 2019, an Uber driver caught on video a white sedan crashing into a couple who were nearly completely across the crosswalk at Burnett Street, a few blocks north. That crash killed 30-year-old Elyssa Negrete and left a Wilmington man in critical condition.
Following those accidents nearly three years ago, Long Beach Police temporarily increased their presence in that area and cited 65 people in one day near the intersection of Pacific Avenue and Burnett Street for speeding, crosswalk violations and distracted driving.
While some residents in the area seem relieved at the increase in traffic enforcement, neighborhood leaders feared that the protections would be short-lived.
The crash Wednesday morning reignited the Washington neighborhood’s urgency to protect pedestrians and call on city officials and Public Works to install a proper stop light at the intersection.
“I cross here three times a day every day with my kids and there’s been two times where I have almost been hit by a car that was speeding through the intersection,” said Martinez whose children go to nearby Roosevelt Elementary School.
Joy Contreras, spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Public Works, said that the intersection in question has “Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons and a yellow continental crosswalk” that were installed in November of 2018. These signals are pedestrian-activated and flash yellow lights, informing drivers that pedestrians are about to cross the street.
While they are aware of the incident that occurred Wednesday, Contreras said that in order to begin the process of installing a proper traffic signal, “the Department of Public works must first conduct data collection and ensure any recommendations abide by Statewide Guidelines.”
The department’s Transportation & Mobility Bureau has begun the process to investigate the existing conditions and collect data that will allow them to determine if the location meets state guidelines. If it does, funding would need to be identified for a traffic signal.
Gomez says she spoke to Councilmember Mary Zendejas, who represents District 1, on Wednesday. Zendejas said she would try to get a crossing guard at the intersection during the morning and afternoon while students are walking to and from school.
“I will advocate for our residents to ensure necessary traffic calming measures are implemented—prioritizing school zones,” Zendejas wrote in a statement to the Post on Friday
“Ensuring my residents can walk safely in our own neighborhoods is of (utmost) priority for me…I will be working collaboratively with our Public Works Department to ensure this matter is addressed so that threats to pedestrian safety are minimized,” she said.