Bike rider killed in Long Beach last night; victim may have run a red light

Maybe it was the cold that kept less committed cyclists of the streets.

Whatever the reason, Southern California had suffered just one cycling fatality since the first of the year, compared to four this time last year.

Unfortunately, that unusual combination of good luck and — hopefully — safer streets came to an end last night, as a 50-year old bicyclist was killed while riding in Long Beach.

According to the Press-Telegram, the Long Beach resident, who has not been publicly identified, was riding west on Atherton Street at 7:17 pm when she allegedly ran the red light and was struck by a green 2002 Honda Odyssey headed south on Bellflower Blvd. The 19-year old driver stopped at the scene and attempted to render aid; unfortunately, the victim died of her injuries at a local hospital four hours after she was struck.

The Long Beach Post reports the driver was released at the scene, and no charges are pending.

What none of the stories answer is whether anyone other than the driver witnessed the collision. Reports that the rider ran a red light should be taken with a grain of salt unless it can be confirmed by independent witnesses. It’s a common problem in investigating bicycle collisions that police often only get one side of the story when the victim is unable to speak for him or herself.

A satellite view reveals a wide, complicated intersection that required the rider to cross 10 lanes of traffic get to the other side. It’s entirely possible that she started out with a green light, which may have turned red before she could get all the way across.

It seems unlikely that anyone would try to blow through the light at such a wide intersection, especially at such a relatively early hour when traffic could have been expected. But it’s always possible that she may have thought she could make it and didn’t see the car that killed her until it was too late.

Anyone with information is urged to call Detective Brian Watt of the Long Beach Police Department’s Accident Investigation unit at 562-570-7355.

This is the second cycling fatality in Southern California this year, and the first in L.A. County; there were 24 bike-related fatalities in the county last year, and 74 in the SoCal region. There were no bicycling deaths in Long Beach last year, following five in the bike-friendly city in 2011.

My deepest sympathy and prayers for the victim and her loved ones.

Update: The Press-Telegram has identified the victim as 50-year old Susan E. Curtis of Long Beach. 

According to the paper, Curtis’ bike was her primary form of transportation, which she used to get to her two part-time jobs, as well as working as a pet sitter and dog walker. She leaves behind a dog and six cats, along with an assortment of other pets, which are now in need of a new home.

Belmont Shore – Naples Patch reports that her friends don’t consider her someone who would run a red light under any circumstances. 

Meanwhile, Opus the Poet, who writes the Witch on a Bicycle blog, crunches the numbers to suggest that Curtis if entered the entered the intersection near the end of the green light, she could have easily failed to make it across the wide 10-lane intersection before the light turned green on Bellflower Blvd. And leaving her stranded and vulnerable in the path of oncoming traffic.

I’m not say that’s what happened, but it’s possible.

And it makes more sense than the idea that a 50-year old safety-conscious woman would intentionally run a red light on such a wide, busy intersection. 


  1. Opus the Poet says:

    Just a quick note, 10 lanes is about 120 feet of traffic to cross with most amber phases being from 4-6 seconds. At a cruise of 12 MPH a cyclist could enter one second before the change from green to amber and still be 2 seconds from making a clear crossing when the light changes to red. If the driver is cruising up to the light with the expectation that light will change (because they can see the amber phase on the crossing lanes) then they could hit the cylist at speed and blame the whole thing on a “red light running” cyclist when the cyclist was just caught by the width of the intersection. And at 10 MPH the math gets even worse, a cyclist could enter just as the light changed to amber and be 4.8 seconds from clearing the intersection when the light changed red, or about 2 1/2 lanes from the end of the intersection. Intersections like this call for some way of detecting a bike in the intersection when the light changes to red and keeping the crossing traffic from getting the green until the bike was clear, or some kind of “count-up” display that showed how fast a vehicle had to be going to clear the intersection before getting caught by the red light, if the number is higher than your current speed then you need to stop. This could function as a kind of floating amber for all vehicles and when the speed needed to clear hit the posted speed limit the light would change to amber and everyone would have to stop.

    And sorry, this went way past a “quick note”.

    • bikinginla says:

      Thanks Opus. I was thinking exactly the same thing, but didn’t have the numbers to back it up. Much appreciated.

  2. John P says:

    It is true that intersection is extremely wide (ironically both streets are considered bike routes, as this is right near CSULB). Being where it is at, I’d assume there had to be at least one witness, as Bellflower usually has a few cars on it at around 7pm.

    Though, if nothing else, maybe Bellflower will finally get a road diet near the school (cars go at least 50MPH in that area, as it is almost like a freeway south of there).

  3. TQ says:

    According to Brian Addison in the Long Beach Post, the rider entered the intersection on a full red light.

    The southbound left turn lanes may have been occupied at the time, blocking an otherwise good line of sight, but even with a clear view, given the typical speeds on Bellflower, I’m not a bit surprised that any motorist, especially an inexperienced teenage motorist, would be unable to engage in appropriate evasive maneuvers.

    If the collision hadn’t occurred at about 7pm when (in my experience) there are usually plenty of cars present to trip the signals, I might suspect the rider had elected to cross against the red after waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting for the light to change. Outside of rush hour, I scootch onto the sidewalk and activate the pedestrian signal; despite the bike infrastructure here, and a fairly bikey university campus nearby, it’s the only way this intersection notices a cyclist.

  4. JD says:

    Only a mile from where I’ve worked and commuted for years, got hit there myself; but was northbound without the benefit of a bike lane or shoulder when an unlicensed driver ran the red light and right crossed me, just inches separate you from LBTA buses and other traffic. It’s a favorite of radar cops on northbound traffic all day long, but southbound speeders never get clocked except during very early morning hours by a dependable east division sergeant, who took my report of an attempted mugging just north of the intersection many years ago. A very dangerous intersection for bicycles and pedestrians also IMHO, our prayers go up for the family and friends of the victim.

  5. GSR says:

    Very sad, she’s actually one of my neighbors, never really talked to her, all I know is that she was in excellent shape (VERY defined 6-pack). I just heard my other neighbors talking about the incident. May she rest in peace.

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