Bicycle groups are calling for changes to be made to Pacific Coast Highway after a 36-year-old cyclist was killed Saturday in a collision with a Metropolitan Transit Authority bus. Marisela Echeverria, a Los Angeles resident who was heavily involved in athletic charity events and aspiring to becoming a licensed architect, was declared dead at the scene.
The collision occurred on Pacific Coast Highway near Puerco Canyon Road at approximately 2:25 p.m. Saturday. The bus and the bicyclist were headed eastbound on PCH. While attempting to pass construction vehicles parked on the ocean-side shoulder of PCH, one of Echeverria’s bike tires appears to have gotten caught in the road, causing her to veer in front of the bus, according to Det. Dave Huelsen of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Echeverria, who was wearing a helmet, was dragged under the bus and crushed by a rear wheel. Los Angeles County coroners ruled Echeverria’s death accidental.
“Her tire got trapped or wedged in a crack in the roadway, causing her to either fall or steer the bike to the left into the lane of travel,” Huelsen said.
Huelsen said proximity between the cyclist and the bus did not play a factor in the crash. Surveillance footage from the bus shows that the driver pulled halfway into lane number one to provide Echeverria more space on the road.
“There was plenty of space between her and the bus,” he said.
Per MTA protocol, the bus driver has been taken off of service pending the investigation, MTA spokesman Marc Littman said.
Initial reports indicated that Echeverria’s handlebars may have been forced to the right of the road and scraped the side of a parked vehicle, but Huelsen said that theory has since been refuted.
Susan Cosentino, whose husband owns Cosentino’s Fresh Flower Market, was working at her husband’s shop when the collision occurred in front of the business.
She was one of several people who called 911 in the aftermath of the accident and described the scene as “surreal.”
“It was a tragic accident,” Cosentino said. “Our heart and our prayers go out to the victim, her family and the bus driver. My heart hurts for them.”
After news of Echeverria’s death, the L.A. County Bicycle Coalition issued a statement pointing out the highway’s dangers and a lack of safety for pedestrians and cyclists.
“Outdated road design, inconsistent shoulders, and high motor vehicle speeds are a perilous combination for people walking or riding along the highway,” the coalition wrote. “LACBC calls on all jurisdictions to cooperate in providing a safe, continuous bikeway along the Pacific Coast Highway so that all people can enjoy its scenic beauty.”
The same stretch of highway was the scene of a similarly fatal crash in 2005. Two male cyclists, Scott Bleifer and Stanislav Ionov, were killed in 2005 when a catering truck struck them from behind. Concrete rails installed with a state permit for construction of the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue had blocked off the shoulder, forcing the two men into the right-hand traffic lane.
Traffic Sgt. Philip Brooks acknowledged the dangers cyclists face on PCH and said he supports safety improvements, but is skeptical as to how or when those changes might occur.
“I do advocate modifications to the highway,” Brooks said. “Taking away the wide median and putting in a center barrier—that would give you more space for bike lanes. No one is spending money to make the improvements though.”
The City of Malibu is currently in the design stage of a project to build a bike lane on PCH from Busch Drive to the western city limit. The city is also conducting a PCH Safety Study, via a $375,000 grant from Caltrans, to prioritize safety improvements needed along the highway. However, there is currently no project in the works to specifically improve the stretch on which Echeverria, Ionov and Bleifer died.
Echeverria was heavily involved in charity cycling and triathlon races and was one exam away from becoming a licensed architect, according to her friend Brad Hall. She was training for an upcoming triathlon competition and was known for her work with Ironteam competitions and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s triathlon team.
“As a longtime participant in LLS’s Team In Training program, Marisela was a dedicated volunteer, mentor and fundraiser, and was committed to our mission to find cures for blood cancers and provide help and hope to patients and their families,” the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society said in a statement.
Echeverria’s family and friends are setting up a fund through LLS to honor her memory.
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