Cyclist dies after fall on Sand Hill Road

Accidents may prompt change in speed limit on one portion of roadway

Deborah Johnson, the 51-year-old Palo Alto woman who was hospitalized Sunday, July 22, after falling off her bike that afternoon on Sand Hill Road, died Tuesday, July 24, according to the Santa Clara County Coroner's Office.

In response to recent serious bike accidents along the 55 mph portion of Sand Hill Road between Interstate 280 and Whiskey Hill Road, the county is planning steps to make that part of the road safer.

Ms. Johnson, who was wearing a helmet and riding with friends, hit her head in the fall that occurred west of Branner Drive in Menlo Park while the group was heading east on Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park police said.

Police are investigating the incident. The Santa Clara County Coroner's Office will not release information to the public about the cause of Ms. Johnson's death until after the autopsy is complete, a spokeswoman said.

Drivers and cyclists may notice that the bike-lane stripes are whiter along the 55 mph portion of Sand Hill Road, which San Mateo County maintains.

The new paint is part of an effort under way in the Public Works Division to make the road safer, said Lisa Ekers, the road operations manager. More signs are coming, she said, along with new paint for the lettering and images inside the bike lanes on the pavement.

A lower speed limit may be in the cards for that section of road. Public Works is collaborating with the California Highway Patrol and the Sheriff's Office, which are working with the traffic court, Ms. Ekers said.

"The county is open to and is looking into adjusting the speed limit," she said. "The difficulty is having something that is enforceable in court."

Speed limits are governed by a state law that determines a legal limit as the speed of 85 percent of the traffic, she said. A driver can successfully fight a speeding ticket if the limit runs afoul of the 85th percentile rule.

While a road's "natural" limit is affected by its physical characteristics -- the number of curves, driveways and side streets, for example -- heavy bicycle use may also be a factor, Ms. Ekers said.

The 55 mph section of Sand Hill Road "has a pretty good opportunity" for a lower limit, she said, given the high volume of cyclists and the "blatant disregard" for lane lines that some drivers have shown.

The process of change is "frustratingly slow," she added. "Some of the road's users, especially the bicyclists, will probably be frustrated by the pace."

Asked if the county is looking at pavement elements like chevrons that would vibrate wheels and deliver a warning to motorists and cyclists when they cross the bike-lane stripe, Ms. Ekers replied: "The reality is that no amount of noise or paint is going to keep some drivers in their lane. They just want to go faster."


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