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January 21, 2004

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Publication Date: Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Crosswalk protest: victim mourned Crosswalk protest: victim mourned (January 21, 2004)

By David Boyce

Almanac Staff Writer

When does walking across a street at a crosswalk become an act of protest? When it's done repeatedly for two hours by a group of about 50 people, some holding signs telling drivers to slow down.

Atefeh "Amy" Bijan was struck and killed by a car in a crosswalk at about 11 a.m. January 9 in the crosswalk at Palo Alto Way on Santa Cruz Avenue in West Menlo Park. Friends, family and neighbors of Ms. Bijan took time to remember her on Friday, January 16, by peacefully crossing and recrossing the street between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

"I was very pleased with the way it went," said Ms. Bijan's daughter Sherry, who organized the event with her two sisters. "We just wanted to be here at that moment at the spot where it happened."

Ms. Bijan, 75, was a nurse, women's rights activist and former member of the Iranian parliament who lived at the Menlo Commons retirement community near the crosswalk. Atherton resident Adele Elliot, 83, was driving the car that struck and killed Ms. Bijan, Menlo Park police said. Ms. Elliot has not been cited or charged.

The site of the accident may not be a crosswalk for much longer. San Mateo County governs that section of Santa Cruz Avenue and may remove the crosswalk if the public works budget cannot accommodate the cost to upgrade it with warning lights, county Supervisor Rich Gordon told the Almanac.

"That probably is not a bad idea," said Sherry Bijan, "because you count on this safety net that is not really a safety net."

"There is a crosswalk at either end of the block where there are stoplights," said Mr. Gordon, adding that the rarity of accidents at the Palo Alto Way crosswalk would mitigate against spending money on it.

The subject may come up at a University Heights neighborhood meeting, chaired by Mr. Gordon and Public Works Director Neil Cullen, on upcoming construction at the intersection of Sand Hill Road with Santa Cruz Avenue. The meeting is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, January 21, in the multi-purpose room at La Entrada School at 2200 Sharon Road in Menlo Park.

The crosswalk connects the neighborhood with the Menlo Commons retirement community and a convalescent hospital. The crosswalk spans four lanes of traffic in the middle of a quarter-mile stretch of road between Alameda de las Pulgas and Sand Hill Road that is uninterrupted by traffic lights or stop signs.

A similar crosswalk near Sharon Avenue, about a half-mile away and in Menlo Park's jurisdiction, spans two lanes of traffic in a residential area. When that crosswalk is in use, flashing lights embedded in the pavement warn oncoming drivers. The city paid $35,000 in 1999 to build a similar crosswalk on Crane Street near a convalescent hospital.

The protest on Friday was intended to remind drivers of the state law that requires them to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, said Sherry Bijan.

The protester's message may have been lost on some drivers. California Highway Patrol officers, who had been alerted to the planned action, had been walking with protesters. But a late-arriving CHP officer took to stepping into the crosswalk to stop traffic whenever the group decided to recross the street.

The CHP patrols roadways in unincorporated parts of the county, while the county Sheriff's Office responds to calls from residents, said Christian Oliver, public affairs officer for the CHP.

"I've seen more Highway Patrol here in the last three days than I have in the 12 years I've lived here," said Menlo Commons resident Carol Messard.

During the protest, drivers were generally well-behaved, but five tickets were issued in an hour and a half: two for speeding and three for crosswalk violations, said Sgt. Alex Radich of the Redwood City office. There were violators that were not cited: an Almanac reporter saw two vehicles that did not stop while pedestrians were preparing to cross.

The speed limit there is 35 mph. If an approaching vehicle is traveling at that speed, pedestrians should not even think about crossing unless the vehicle is more than 100 feet from the crosswalk, and then only if the driver indicates a readiness to stop, Sgt. Radich said.
More on the accident

Sherry Bijan told the Almanac that witnesses to the accident told her that a pedestrian and two drivers who had stopped behind the car that struck her mother had chased after the car on foot as it slowly pulled to the side of the road. They reportedly pounded on the car to inform the driver that she had ridden over the body of Ms. Bijan and was dragging her.

The drivers then used a borrowed car jack to lift the car from Ms. Bijan's body, her daughter said she was told. A woman who said she was a medical professional reportedly pulled Ms. Bijan out from under the car and said she felt a faint pulse, her daughter said.

"I want the lady and the gentleman who pulled my mother out from the car to call me so I can thank them," said her daughter, who is listed in the phone book.

She said she was told that the accident occurred at 11:02 a.m. and that emergency help arrived on the scene at 11:14 a.m. Emergency personnel pronounced Ms. Bijan dead.

At least one of the 911 calls was made by a cell phone; such calls go to the CHP rather than local agencies. Response time can be longer because the CHP typically puts the caller on hold while connecting the call to the county's communications center.

Local police departments also respond to emergency calls made to their direct lines, though 911 is always recommended as a first choice. Menlo Park police are investigating this accident because they were first on the scene, said Menlo Park Police Commander Bruce Goitia.

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