Paving a Path for Safer Roads

Raven E. Marshall, EcoNews Intern

Humboldt County is known for many things but unfortunately it seems it has seen a concentration of pedestrian and biking injuries and fatalities leaving many guessing as to why.

Dangerous by Design 

“Over the past decade (2010-2019), the number of people struck and killed by drivers nationwide while walking increased by an astonishing 45 percent.” – Steve Davis, Dangerous By Design

Jenn Mariposa Garcia, June 2021. Source:

In January 2022, Jennnifer Mariposa Garcia was struck by a driver while walking with her child in a designated crosswalk and later died as a result of her injuries. The reverberations of this loss were felt throughout the community. Alana Nicklas, a friend of Jenn, describes first hearing about her friend’s accident as jarring. 

“It was incredibly shocking.” says Nicklas. “Someone is injured in an accident and you’re trying to rationalize what happened. Was somebody speeding? Were they going off the road? Was she crossing in a weird area? You’re thinking all of these things trying to figure out how this could happen, because when something dramatic happens you really want those answers, and then sometimes the answer is she was in the designated crosswalk.” 

Data from the California Office of Traffic Safety compiles information from 2019 showing Humboldt County as ranking second highest in California for the quantity of crashes involving pedestrians compared to several counties with similar populations. 

Colin Fiske, Executive Director for Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities (CRTP), a nonprofit organization, believes traffic collisions are a preventable problem. CRTP works around the clock to educate and advocate for local projects that improve and envision the future of traffic safety locally. 

CRTP recently published a report, Elephants in the Road, that details three urgent actions for the county to take in creating safer transportation. The three actions consist of transportation and climate, the crisis of traffic violence, and the autonomous vehicle revolution. Included in the report are a multitude of strategies to tackle each issue outlined. The full report can be found at

Emily Sinkhorn works as the Environmental Services Director for the City of Arcata, which is dedicated to the maintenance of roads, trails, parks and critical infrastructure. Sinkhorn says that a lack of funding plays a key role in the lack of projects that would improve local transit.

Before A Collision

“The people that are being killed on the road, it’s not a burden that is born equitably across the population,” says Fiske.

Systemic inequities propel many steps in motion before there is ever a collision. Low-income people, people with disabilities, senior citizens, and houseless people are among the most at risk for traffic tragedies (although there is a significant lack of data collection locally to say definitively). However, according to data from the Center for Disease Control, the largest population with traffic-related deaths is overwhelming Native American peoples within tribal lands. 

Some of the factors that contribute to the lack of data locally on collision reports on reservations and rancherias is likely in part due to the complex or lack of coordination between law enforcement agencies over jurisdictional lines. A general lack of trust in law enforcement by community members could be another contributing factor in the lack of reporting collisions, suggests Sinkhorn.

After A Collision

When police arrive on the scene of a collision, as a part of their reporting process there is typically a mandate to assign blame for the crash, usually to a singular party. In the case of pedestrians and cyclists who have far less protection when in a crash compared to drivers who have more protection while in their cars, the drivers usually become the first ones to describe what happened and how it happened. This process can contribute to a sense of victim-blaming, whether it’s an inadvertent consequence or not. 

Much of the current data on collisions relies on these police reports and the ones that don’t are relying on self-reported data. These forms of data collection on the issue of traffic collisions are a little off at best, and should be read with that understanding.

We Can’t Afford To Wait

“The longer that we wait the more people die, frankly,” says Fiske.

Though the issues at hand have a sense of urgency, the agencies which come together to see projects completed is ultimately a slow-working machine to which a variety of factors contribute. Some local transit projects have been in the making for over 20 years, such as the Humboldt Bay Trail. Though generally it takes several years for projects to come to fruition. At this time it appears that traffic safety may be finally taken seriously by local governments. 

The Arcata City Council has named walkability, bike, and pedestrian safety among many other issues as priority projects for the year 2023. There are numerous plans to begin to improve transit systems throughout the county. One of the projects being the Annie and Mary Trail which will connect parts of Arcata together by creating safer bike paths from areas like the Giuntoli neighborhood, a notoriously unfriendly area to pedestrians and cyclists, to Cal Poly Humboldt. These projects seek to improve community transportation to create a safer community that is biker and walker friendly.

Moving Forward

Access to safe transportation is vital to communities, and quite literally brings us all together. Traffic safety and transportation modalities have throughlines in public health, climate change mitigation and are a key element to a flourishing community.

Efforts such as advocating to elected officials to prioritize safe walking and biking, adhering to rules of the road, and utilizing alternative options to driving go a long way in creating a safer community suggests Sinkhorn.

Though Humboldt County is one less friend, dancer, mother and partner, it is clear Jenn’s memory lives on in the community. Nicklas recently helped sort through some of Jenn’s jewelry when she noticed what she describes as “love” notes attached to some of the pieces. Many of the notes were written by friends, and given to Jenn as gifts. 

“It’s beautiful to see and it’s also just so obvious that there’s so many people out there missing her right now.” says Nicklas.

I am Sicangu Lakota and Ihanktonwan Nakota/Dakota and though I am far from my peoples homelands I still feel at home in my birthplace of Humboldt County. I am currently making my life in the San Francisco, Bay Area. Storytelling is my passion and I believe it can be a tool for advocacy especially by prioritizing Queer, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color voices in media.