news MCBC Response to Novato Boulevard Death

MCBC was saddened to hear of a collision on Tuesday, January 16, in which Cassandra Lemon-Mullins, 56, of Novato, was struck and killed while walking across Novato Boulevard. If yearly averages from 2006-16 continue, Lemon-Mullins will be one of 21 people killed or severely injured while walking or bicycling on Marin streets this year [1].

Write-ups and dialogue surrounding collisions involving people on foot or bike often focus on human error, rather than the conditions that encourage the behavior. Reports on Lemon-Mullins’ death were quick to point out that she “was not in a crosswalk” and that there was “no evidence the driver was speeding.” And, while Novato Police Department’s investigation is still ongoing, a wealth of data tells us that the frequency and severity of collisions like this one are much greater on high-speed roadways like Novato Boulevard.

As we mourn the loss of another community member, MCBC calls on Marin’s elected officials and agency staff to acknowledge the role of dangerous road design on the frequency and severity of these tragic incidents. The bottom line is that we can do better. Many of these collisions–and the likelihood that they will claim or seriously alter a human life–are preventable.

Cassandra Lemon-Mullins died crossing a stretch of roadway in which crosswalks are nearly three football fields apart. She did what any reasonable person would have done, and crossed outside of a crosswalk.

And, while the person behind the wheel may not have been speeding, Lemon-Mullins was not likely to survive when hit. That’s because the posted speed limit is 40 MPH, a speed at which the average adult victim has about a one in two chance of surviving. Had the car been going 30 MPH, her odds would have improved to 80 percent, and at 25 MPH, 88 percent.

When hit by a car travelling 40 MPH, the average adult has a 55 percent survival rate. At 30 MPH, four in five survive. Source:

Lowering the speed limit would not make a difference unless the roadway’s design was also adjusted to calm traffic. This stretch of Novato Boulevard is a wide, open invitation to drive fast and without caution. Its freeway-like design is completely inappropriate for the context. People live here. Children walk and bike to school here. 

To make matters worse, the five lanes aren’t warranted by existing traffic volumes. If the road were narrowed to three lanes, it would be able to accommodate over 20,000 vehicles per day without backups. It currently sees just over 15,000 daily.

That excess space could go to much better uses, like widened sidewalks, street trees, and improved bike lanes. By narrowing the roadway, people would drive slower. Sightlines would be improved. Crossing distances would be shortened.

Novato Boulevard would be a much safer, more welcoming roadway.

  1. Data from the California Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System (SWITRS) accessed via the Transportation Injury Mapping System (TIMS), Safe Transportation Research and Education Center, University of California, Berkeley. 2018.

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