Carlsbad declares local emergency after increase in bicycle collisions, fatalities

A cyclist rides on Carlsbad Boulevard just south of Avenida Encinas in 2021.
A cyclist rides north on Carlsbad Boulevard near Encina Avenue.
(Phil Diehl / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Carlsbad declared a state of emergency Tuesday after seeing two bicycle fatalities this month and a huge jump in bicycle collisions over the past two years.

E-bike and bicycle collisions increased from 30 in 2019 to 100 in 2021, according to a city report. The Police Department has recorded 57 bicycle-related incidents so far this year.

A Carlsbad woman, Christine Embree, was killed Aug. 7 when the e-bike she was riding with her 16-month-old daughter was hit by a Toyota 4-Runner near the corner of Basswood Avenue and Valley Street. The child was not seriously injured.

Several members of the Embree family attended the Aug. 16 Carlsbad City Council meeting to ask for more traffic safety measures such as roundabouts, speed bumps and reflectors.

Bob Embree, Christine’s husband, had addressed the council previously to ask the city to do something about speeding in his neighborhood.

“Never in a million years did I think three weeks later my wife would be hit,” said Embree, a firefighter paramedic who described his wife’s fatal injuries in detail. “We have to slow people down. We must manually inconvenience people to slow them down.”

Carlsbad’s declaration allows the city to take immediate action on issues like enforcement or installing new safety devices.

In another incident a man riding a bicycle died Aug. 15 when a motorcycle, apparently chased by a state parks officer for speeding, crashed into him on Carlsbad Boulevard near Palomar Airport Road. Tuesday the San Diego Medical Examiner’s office identified the rider as 68-year-old Solana Beach resident Brad Allen Catcott.

Scenic, coastal Carlsbad Boulevard is one of the most popular bicycle routes in San Diego County. During the week it gets an average 800 daily riders, and up to 2,500 riders per day on summer weekends, according to Tom Frank, Carlsbad’s transportation director and city engineer.

Carlsbad, like many cities, saw a significant increase in bike and e-bike riders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The City Council approved a wide-ranging plan in December 2020 to add and expand sidewalks and bike lanes, while slowing cars on local streets. Some of those projects have been completed, and others are in planning stages.

Tuesday morning Rep. Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano, announced the award of $5 million for a program to build five traffic circles, lighted pedestrian crosswalks and other infrastructure in the downtown Barrio neighborhood over the next two or three years.

Also in the planning stages is a program to realign a section of Carlsbad Boulevard, create more and wider bike lanes, and add as many as four roundabouts to slow traffic between Palomar Airport Road and Island Way, near the border with Encinitas.

“The exponential increase in ridership, especially among young people, has significantly changed how people are using Carlsbad’s roads,” City Manager Scott Chadwick said in a news release Tuesday.

Carlsbad’s City Council approved an ordinance in April requiring riders of e-bikes and other motorized devices to maintain safe speeds, stay off sidewalks, and use other safe practices or face fines of up to $100. Minors have an option of completing an e-bike safety course after their first offense.

“In addition to adding miles of new bike lanes, we’ve passed new laws, promoted awareness and ramped up enforcement,” Chadwick said. “Despite these efforts, we continue to see collisions, including two tragic fatalities within the past 17 days.”

The two Carlsbad fatalities were among four people killed on bicycles countywide the same week. The others were in National City and Escondido, according to the San Diego County Bike Coalition.

In an Aug. 17 letter to the San Diego Association of Governments’ board of directors and the mayors of all four cities, the coalition urged short-term action to prevent further fatalities.

Carlsbad has taken a step in the right direction, said Andy Hanshaw, executive director of the coalition, on Tuesday. “We have more people on bikes than we’ve ever had.”

Cities need to build more roundabouts and bike lanes with physical barriers between cyclists and cars, he said. Vehicles must travel slower in areas where they could encounter cyclists.

“We’ve made progress,” Hanshaw said, but, “We need to give people safer options to move about by bike.”

Carlsbad’s emergency declaration takes effect immediately and will remain in place until the Aug. 30 City Council meeting, when the council will consider whether to ratify it. If ratified, the declaration would then need to be reviewed by the City Council every 60 days until it chooses to end the emergency.

Several San Diego County cities declare a local state of emergency in early 2020 during the advance of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to streamlining local regulations, the declaration helped local agencies obtain state and federal financial aid.


7:40 a.m. Aug. 24, 2022: This story has been updated to add the name released Tuesday of a man killed in a bicycle collision on Carlsbad Boulevard near Palomar Airport Road.