The 33-year-old Philadelphian was killed in traffic while leading a group ride in Cherry Hill in late October. Her family and fellow bicyclists say her death might have been prevented with better road design.
By Matt Skoufalos | November 14, 2023
In late October, a fatal traffic collision in Cherry Hill claimed the life of Andrea Gonzalez, a 33-year-old urban planner and transit equity advocate who dedicated her personal and professional life to reducing barriers of access in communities across the Philadelphia metro area.
A little after 12 noon on October 21, Gonzalez was leading a group ride along Kresson Road at Oakley Avenue, in the area of Cherry Hill High School East.
Cherry Hill Police Chief Robert Kempf said that Gonzalez collided with another cyclist, which knocked her directly into the path of a van.
Paramedics were called, and Gonzalez was transported to Virtua Marlton, where she was pronounced dead shortly thereafter.
The driver, who has not been charged, remained at the scene after the crash, Kempf said, and the incident was captured on surveillance video. Detectives will assess all contributing factors, from environmental conditions to vehicle speed, in the course of their investigation, which remains ongoing.
Kresson Road is a county road that is fairly wide and heavily traveled. Despite the volume of traffic normally seen there, however, the chief pointed out that the same path Gonzalez was following is part of the annual Cherry Hill Bike MS: City to Shore ride.
Kempf said he couldn’t recall other bicycle crashes in the area.
“It is a heavily traveled road, but it’s not one that’s super-tight,” the chief said. “I want to encourage our motorists to be mindful of pedestrians and bicyclists in the town. Share the roadway, and be careful overall.”
Kempf said the traffic calming police unit “does everything we can,” including working to prevent speeding and emphasizing the importance of sharing the roadway with bike lanes.
However, in the case of Gonzalez’s crash, he said, “it doesn’t appear to be environmental other than truly a tragic accident.”
‘She cared so much about her community’
A master’s-degreed urban planner, Andrea Gonzalez was born in the United States, and raised in Mexico. As an adult, her studies took her from Buffalo to Philadelphia, where she worked in housing and economic development.
Her younger sister, Michelle Gonzalez, said that although Andrea moved to the states “to seek an education, to seek a brighter future… that didn’t take her Mexican identity from her.”
“She’s a U.S. citizen, but she so identified with her Mexican roots, her Mexican culture,” Michelle Gonzalez said. “She was awesome; she was cheerful. She was so friendly, and she always looked at the brighter side of things.”
View this post on Instagram
Andrea was also “very confident, straightforward, and concise when it came to doing her job,” her sister said. She was a firm advocate for equity in housing and transportation, and her interest in cycling stemmed from her work, particularly in Spanish-speaking communities.
“I think her passion for biking stemmed from her interest in social planning and development,” Michelle Gonzalez said. “She advocated for everyone to have access to the things that they needed.”
Andrea became a dedicated user of the Philadelphia bike share program, Indego, because she didn’t have a car for her first few years in the city, but she also worked to demystify the service for people who might not otherwise have used it.
“Some people can only get certain types of jobs based on how far those jobs are from where they live,” Michelle Gonzalez said. “In these economic groups, people can’t afford cars, but what people can afford is having a bike.
“Indego was her means of transport, so as a professional in the public development and city planning group, she understood that people needed to have access to safe transport.”
Within that community of cycling, Andrea also found friends. She was a member of The Big Heat cycling team and Radical Adventure Riders (RAR), groups that focus on gender inclusivity and racial equity in transportation.
Michelle Gonzalez said her sister loved cooking; she and her fiancée, Jake Mandell, would try out recipes from the New York Times cooking section. Andrea also was a fan of all kinds of music, including pop, reggae, reggaetón, and rock n’ roll.
“My sister was so caring,” Michelle Gonzalez said. “She cared about me and her family, but she also cared so much about her community, and about Philadelphia. She cared so much for people to have fair opportunities and some sort of equity.”
‘Her story needs to be told’
John Boyle, Research Director for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, remembered Andrea Gonzalez as “a really amazing person” whose passions for bicycling and equity issues ran through all the work she did, both professionally and as a volunteer.
Boyle first met Andrea Gonzalez as a community liaison to the Bicycle Coalition, where she leveraged her fluency in Spanish and English to engage residents on bicycle safety, infrastructure needs, and inclusivity efforts.
“[Andrea] was very well-known and very popular,” Boyle said. “She was a big advocate of housing and equity.
“It’s one of those stories that you would see of someone who’s made a success of themselves, really excelling in her field, and then having her life cut short,” he said.
Neither was she an inexperienced cyclist, he said. Gonzalez led many rides with diverse groups of riders, and was passionate about encouraging bicyclists of all ability levels and backgrounds “to go out there and ride,” Boyle said.
He said her loss “was the worst news that we’ve dealt with in my professional career.
“We have been in a lot of crashes in this organization as bicyclists,” Boyle said. “People have gotten seriously injured, but we’ve never lost anyone,”
The fact that Gonzalez was engaged to be married only made her death more tragic.
“The problem is, you can do everything right, and you can still die on our roads because we do not design our roads to be safe for people to travel,” Boyle said.
“Her story needs to be told. People traveling on our roads do make mistakes, and the penalty for mistakes shouldn’t be death.”
Boyle said Andrea Gonzalez’s death should shine a greater light on the need for bicycle and pedestrian accommodations in urban and suburban roadway design, as well as for improved interactions with drivers in traffic.
Through November 14, Camden County has sustained 33 fatalities in 33 traffic crashes in 2023, with seven pedestrian deaths and four cyclist deaths, including that of Andrea Gonzalez.
Boyle argued that she may have fared better on a road that featured protected bike lanes or slower speed limits, or among drivers taught to yield at least four feet of clearance to cyclists.
The governments of both Cherry Hill and Camden County, which oversees Kresson Road, have adopted Complete Streets traffic policies, which are meant to consider the safety and accessibility of local roadways for pedestrians and bicyclists as well as vehicle traffic.
In the area of Cherry Hill East, speeds on Kresson Road are limited to 25 miles per hour, but they’re 40 miles per hour from Brace to Evesham Roads, and 35 miles per hour from Haddonfield-Berlin Road to Brace Road.
“I think there needs to be a roadway design, or at least an audit in the area, and the county needs to put in protected bike lanes,” Boyle said.
Michelle Gonzalez said that in Andrea’s absence, she hopes that her sister’s life inspires other cyclists to champion the causes she valued so dearly in her work.
“I hope that people don’t stop biking because of this, and that drivers understand the responsibility we have to give bikers four feet of distance when we’re passing,” she said. “I hope that people are demanding of our representatives and our leaders to invest in infrastructure.”
The Big Heat cycling team is hosting a memorial ride in Andrea Gonzalez’s honor on November 25. Details are here.
Please support NJ Pen with a subscription. Get e-mails, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.