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Editorial: More must be done for safety on El Camino

Original post made on Jul 29, 2014

The death last week of 32-year-old pedestrian Shahriar Rahimzadeh, who was struck by a car and killed while crossing El Camino Real in Atherton at Almandral Avenue, near his home, has thrust the issue of pedestrian and bicyclist safety on that major thoroughfare onto center stage, once again.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, July 29, 2014, 9:51 AM

Comments (24)

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Posted by Mike Keenly
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jul 29, 2014 at 9:57 am

Until something more substantial is done, Atherton police patrols should be increased along this section of El Camino. I drive this section regularly, and don't see the same level of patrolling as compared to only a few years ago.

For pedestrians walking along this section of El Camino, I suggest walking against traffic, not with it, so that one can better react to vehicle movements.


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Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jul 29, 2014 at 11:32 am

Atherton / Caltrans should install roadway-embedded flashing lights which are activated by a pedestrian pushing a button. As somebody that crosses a busy street several times a day using such a crosswalk, I believe they make crossing far safer.


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Posted by Mark Siegel
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 29, 2014 at 12:11 pm

It's not a complete solution by any way but Caltrans should place clusters of small speed bumps and traffic control signs for at least the southbound El Camino Real lanes beginning at Fifth Avenue. These were put in place during the construction of the new span of the Bay Bridge and were effective. Southbound traffic on El Camino Real in that area often reaches 50mph. The bend in the road approaching Almendral Avenue combined with the low sun in the faces of drivers in the morning and the intermittent high contrast shade cast by adjacent trees in the afternoon make it all the more dangerous when vehicles are speeding.


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Posted by Jordi Argente
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 29, 2014 at 12:52 pm

Agree with the comment "Atherton / Caltrans should install roadway-embedded flashing lights which are activated by a pedestrian pushing a button". I take it further: ...pedestrian activated TRAFFIC lights that STOP THE TRAFFIC when pedestrians cross and can be seen from a distance, especially at night or when dark in winter months.

We definitively DO NOT need more police giving tickets; while police presence is useful, there is too much of this already. Atherton's police is for its citizens personas and property protection not Caltrans traffic control. This death did not occur because of speed; neither did the previous ones.

Some more lighting on El Camino would also help in winter months when it gets dark while people are still out and about.


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Posted by Downtowner
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 29, 2014 at 1:03 pm

I agree with Jordi Argente. ECR needs pedestrian-activated traffic signals, not roadway embedded flashers.

Poles with the standard 3-color signals & push buttons are the best way to improve safety for pedestrians & cyclists trying to cross El Camino, especially in Atherton. Signals at 5th Ave, Atherton Ave, & Encinal don't provide enough opportunities for safe crossings.


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Posted by EasyDoesIt
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 29, 2014 at 1:10 pm

Here's an idea that costs next to nothing, and can be implemented almost immediately: place a short pole on either side of the intersection and equip them with day-glo orange flags like those used for crossing the street by Draegers.

The issue was not speeding, but rather not taking a cue from the two stopped cars and doing likewise, even though the driver could not yet see what they had stopped for.
But if pedestrians held on high one of these bright orange flags as they crossed El Camino, all drivers would see the flag and know that someone was crossing the street.


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Posted by Ruth W.
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Jul 29, 2014 at 1:15 pm

My comment doesn't address the crossings in Atherton, but central Menlo Park cries out for a Pedestrian bridge to link the shopping and restaurants near Cafe Barrone and Keplers to the downtown area. It would be a much safer crossing, and perhaps ease parking.


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Posted by Pedestrian
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 29, 2014 at 1:22 pm

Speaking to both the safe crossing and the speeding issue, what about using the Pelican/Puffin Crossing design that is in use in the UK and elsewhere? (Check wikipedia if you aren't familiar with it.)

The idea is that it is safer for pedestrians if traffic is forced to come to a complete stop, but once they are clear of the crossing, the light changes so it doesn't hold up traffic for too long. As a bonus, the lights can be configured so that the red light kicks in with or without pedestrians if speeding vehicles are detected, which provides a calming effect.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 29, 2014 at 1:40 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Street level flashing lights on a multi-lane highway are a very bad idea. The "yellow flashing" pavement markers do NOT work on a multi-lane highway. Drivers approaching such markers on a multi-lane highway have their view of the crosswalk blocked by vehicles in adjacent lanes. The law requires drivers to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk BUT that means they must first see the pedestrian. Flashing yellow means caution and does not require a driver to stop.

Here is the vehicle code:
21457. Whenever an illuminated flashing red or yellow light is used
in a traffic signal or with a traffic sign, it shall require
obedience by drivers as follows:
(a) Flashing red (stop signal): When a red lens is illuminated
with rapid intermittent flashes, a driver shall stop at a clearly
marked limit line, but if none, before entering the crosswalk on the
near side of the intersection, or if none, then at the point nearest
the intersecting roadway where the driver has a view of approaching
traffic on the intersecting roadway before entering it, and the
driver may proceed subject to the rules applicable after making a
stop at a stop sign.
(b) Flashing yellow (caution signal): When a yellow lens is
illuminated with rapid intermittent flashes, a driver may proceed
through the intersection or past the signal only with caution."


Therefore the only way to actually protect pedestrian crosswalks on a multi-lane highway is with traffic signals that use a red light to require drivers to STOP.

Flashing yellow light create a totally false sense of security for both pedestrians and drivers.


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Posted by EasyDoesIt
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 29, 2014 at 2:49 pm

Peter, what do you think of the idea, at least as a temporary measure, of using the orange flags as in my earlier post; such flags are used at the corner of Menlo Ave. and University Dr. by Draegers.

If the pedestrian holds the flag up at arms length on high, all drivers should be able to see it, and would know to stop for the person crossing the road.
I think this is worth a try, especially as it would be quick to implement, and as speed is not the main issue; the visibility of the pedestrian is.


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Posted by Donald
a resident of another community
on Jul 29, 2014 at 3:01 pm

Pedestrian Hybrid Beacons (Web Link )are a good tool for this location. They are the US equivalent of the puffin mentioned above. When activated by a pedestrian there is a sequence of yellow and red lights on poles hanging over the road, but the lights are otherwise dark (i.e. no green). They are more visible than in-pavement lights on a multi-lane roadway.

The big problem is not finding the technology for a solution, it is getting Atherton and Caltrans to actually implement it.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 29, 2014 at 3:07 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I think that on a multi-lane highway flags suffer from the same problem as flashing yellow lights - by the time a motorist traveling at 35 mph+ in a lane next to a stopped car sees the flag it may well be late for that car to stop.

The fact is that if we have 2 or 3 more pedestrian accident on ECR in a short time frame then suddenly the electeds and the appointeds will get their act together instead of going on vacation. Too bad that only more carnage will get them to act.


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Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jul 29, 2014 at 3:31 pm

Peter, I am not sure if you are responding to my comment when you say that "The "yellow flashing" pavement markers do NOT work on a multi-lane highway."

The crosswalk design that I am talking about absolutely does work, because there are flashing lights embedded all across the width of the roadway. It's visible from each lane because there are multiple lights in each lane.


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Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 29, 2014 at 4:05 pm

John, I have seen the flashing lights on Middlefield Rd between 5th Ave and Costco. There are 4 lanes -- 2 each direction. I've witnessed cars stop in one lane but not the other. Middlefield can be a busy street and gets much worse at night with people trying to cross not to drivers on their phones, etc.

Using the same type of lights on ECR would be even less effective because of the speed of traffic and drivers unaccustomed to people trying to cross. At this section of ECR, it's 6 lanes. Flags may work at Draegers because it's an intersection; but isn't always effective on Ravenswood Ave. by the Library.

The best solution in stopping traffic is a 3 light traffic light.


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Posted by JC
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 29, 2014 at 8:28 pm

I agree that a proper traffic light is what is really required, but in the meantime, please remember that pedestrians always have right of way when they are in crosswalks (including unmarked, implied crosswalks at intersections). No matter how ill-conceived the placements are, and whatever flashing lights and flags may or may not be there, this remains the case.

In other words, it is up to all of us to verify that pedestrians are NOT in the crossing before driving through, rather than to assume there aren't any because the guy in the lane next to us is blocking the view, or it's dark, or the lights aren't flashing, or whatever.

(And please get off that cellphone and pay attention ....)


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 29, 2014 at 8:51 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"pedestrians always have right of way when they are in crosswalks"

You are dead right - unfortunately having the right of way does not mean that you are invulnerable.


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Posted by End of discussion
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 29, 2014 at 11:56 pm

There already is a plan for El Camino Real concocted by elitists and mass transit agencies looking for money. It is called the GRAND BOULEVARD INITIATIVE. End of discussion.


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Posted by Manlo Punk
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 30, 2014 at 7:34 am

"The town and Caltrans cannot be faulted for doing nothing."
REALLY?
Not to sound like a broken record, but you are talking about a human life here! Two if you count the person who has to live with this terrible occurrence. A town that considered, or did summon the FBI over some graffiti?! REALLY, cannot be faulted for doing nothing?!

A town that doesn't want sidewalks et al, because it will take away from their rural setting? Last time I saw a rural community the very modest homes were surrounded by green fields, livestock and tractors! Not mansions and Masserati's!
Give us a break, man up, and protect the people that live in that rural community!


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 30, 2014 at 7:44 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Davis states - "
The crosswalk design that I am talking about absolutely does work, because there are flashing lights embedded all across the width of the roadway. It's visible from each lane because there are multiple lights in each lane."

As both Bob and I have posted street level flashing lights on a multi-lane highway are a very bad idea. The "yellow flashing" pavement markers do NOT work on a multi-lane highway. Drivers approaching such markers on a multi-lane highway have their view of the crosswalk blocked by vehicles in adjacent lanes. The law requires drivers to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk BUT that means they must first see the pedestrian. Flashing yellow means caution and does not require a driver to stop.

Therefore the only way to actually protect pedestrian crosswalks on a multi-lane highway is with traffic signals that use a red light to require drivers to STOP.

Flashing yellow light create a totally false sense of security for both pedestrians and drivers.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 30, 2014 at 9:51 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I would like to summarize my recommendations having researched the vehicle code, what is done elsewhere on ECR and how other communities deal with pedestrian and bicycle access and safety:

1 - Add 2 pedestrian activated overhead traffic lights (with emergency vehicle preemption devices) at Almendral and at Watkins,

2 - synchronize all of the traffic lights on ECR from Highway 84 to the Palo Alto border at the 35 mph speed limit,

3 - narrow the six lanes to 11 ft each but keep 6 lanes from Highway 84 to the Palo Alto border,
Highway Design Manual "For conventional State highways with posted speeds less than or equal to 40 miles per hour and AADTT (truck volume) less than 250 per lane that are in urban, city or town centers (rural main streets), the minimum lane width shall be 11 feet."

4 - use the space gained from the narrowed lanes plus the existing unused right of way to create a protected bicycle path on both sides of ECR.
Highway Design Manual "Class II bikeways (bike lanes), for the preferential use of bicycles, may be established within the roadbed and shall be located immediately adjacent to a traffic lane as allowed in this manual. The minimum Class II bike lane width shall be 4 feet"

Note: My personal preference is to NOT encourage bicycles on ECR unless they can be safely separated from other traffic, i.e. a Class I bikeway as specified in the Highway Design Manual: "1003.1 Class I Bikeways (Bike Paths) Class I bikeways (bike paths) are facilities with exclusive right of way, with cross flows by vehicles minimized. Class I bikeways, unless adjacent to an adequate pedestrian facility, (see Index 1001.3(n)) are for the exclusive use of bicycles and pedestrians, therefore any facility serving pedestrians must meet accessibility requirements."

Unfortunately the current ECR right of way is not wide enough to accommodate a Class I bikeway/sidewalk and there are very few parallel routes to ECR in the Atherton area that offer a good bicycle alternative).

5 - Have these changes in place within 12 months at the latest.


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Posted by Downtowner
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 30, 2014 at 1:13 pm

@ Joseph E Davis - The in-road flashing lights you describe were used on Middlefield Road, RC in the crosswalk from the main library to City Hall. They went across 4 traffic lanes, in ground, activated by sensors which detected a waiting pedestrian.

After a few months, they were deactivated. As a resident, you may want to call RC & find out why.

@ Easy Does It - MP used (or maybe still does when they haven't been stolen) orange flags on Ravenswood parallel to Alma, from Axis to the library. Most of the time the holders are empty. People either keep them as they walk or, if every pedestrian goes in the same direction, there are no flags left on one side & several on the other. Same at Draeger's. Is someone supposed to check & keep flag holders filled?

Every time I see a particular blue-haired dear charging into Santa Cruz Ave carrying her orange flag ahead of her like a jousting knight, I'm pretty sure I know where she got it. I have also seen stroller-pushers hand the flags to the tot in the stroller as well as the kid old enough to walk & not replace either flag when they get to the other side. Free toys for kids? This usually happens on Ravenswood about the time families head to the ibrary for story hour.


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Posted by Menlo Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 30, 2014 at 9:52 pm

I am not sure where we all got off on the topic of Renaissance flags at each intersection, but I not sure that knights waving flags will get a pedestrian across the street. Would you leave the flags in a bucket at intersections like umbrellas for a rainy day? We had an older sitter who would drive down to the lights at Menlo college rather than attempt the left onto ECR in traffic. So waving flags probably will not stop the traffic for a walker. Also, plenty of people cannot even get across the crosswalks at Fifth Avenue with the traffic light, in time to make the light, vehicles are just too aggressive. In the meantime telling bicycles not to use ECR is like telling water not to run, there is a whole group of people who use ECR to bicycle to work. Check out the line where Fair Oaks lane meets ECR, its about three inches wide. When can an agreement be made to get Caltrans to at least restripe giving cyclist and pedestrians more feet away from speeding vehicles?


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Posted by Valparaiso resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 31, 2014 at 4:06 am

Flags and flashers are useless on a 6 lane highway. Traffic lights are the only way to stop fatalities.

Personally, a law that eliminates pedestrian crossings on 6 lane roads would get my support. I would never cross that far on foot without a traffic light, nor allow my kids. Suicide mission.

And as to the galacial speed of the town and cal trans process, I have to say Realy?!?!? 4-5 years from fatalities to installed anything is so rediculous to inspire complete lack of faith in govt. And some of these people get huge pensions for life? Why? We live in Silicon Valley where new products are invented weekly, and businesses start, takeoff or fail in a heart beat and yet it takes 5 years for govt action?


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Posted by pogo
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 31, 2014 at 8:47 am

pogo is a registered user.

I agree with Mr. Carpenter's suggestions.

The most recent post said "Traffic lights are the only way to stop fatalities." If some of the reports are accurate, I'm not sure anything could have stopped the most recent tragedy.

Nothing will STOP fatalities. But a pedestrian activated crossing with traffic lights can REDUCE them.


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