News


Correction in identification of driver killed by train in Menlo Park

 

The Santa Clara County coroner's office has corrected the identification of the woman who was killed when a train struck the SUV she was driving at the Ravenswood Avenue rail crossing in Menlo Park on Monday, Feb. 23.

She is identified as Jahyun Jennifer Koo, 35, of Palo Alto.

In an earlier story, based on information from Caltrain and the San Mateo County Transit Police, the woman's name had been transposed, with her first name given as her last name. Also her city of residence was incorrectly given as East Palo Alto.

● Earlier story: Woman dies after train strikes SUV in Menlo Park.

Dave Boyce

Comments

16 people like this
Posted by Sunday driver
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Feb 25, 2015 at 12:32 pm

Have you ever been halfway across the tracks when the bells start making noise and the gates descend? It's terrifying, and really hard to make rational decisions when you're undergoing sensory overload. If this woman was boxed in, as reports suggest, she didn't have a lot of options in any case.


12 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 25, 2015 at 12:48 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Hopefully the investigation of this tragic accident will give us specific insights as to how her death could have been avoided - and how to prevent future deaths.


32 people like this
Posted by Don't stop on the tracks
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 25, 2015 at 12:49 pm

No, I have never been halfway across the tracks when the bells start ringing and the gates go down.

I don't attempt to cross the tracks until I am sure there is room to get across without fouling the crossing. I look both ways before crossing, too. Don't you?

It's simple. Don't stop on the tracks.


5 people like this
Posted by Mike Keenly
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 25, 2015 at 12:54 pm

This was a tragic loss of life that didn't need to happen. Unfortunately, some decisions can have deadly consequences, and this was one of them.

Eyewitness reports indicate that the SUV was not actually "boxed-in". The SUV was in the rightmost lane, and the lane to the left was clear. The only vehicle behind the SUV was on the opposite side of the crossing gate and not directly behind the SUV, but in the leftmost lane.


2 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Feb 25, 2015 at 1:41 pm

Robert is a registered user.

I hate to 'grave-dance' and I mean this with all respect to Ms.Jahy; but I think all of us have been near the tracks and thought - should I just go. I am not sure this is what happened here, but it does give me (and hopefully you) the time to wonder if I do what would happen.......
Again I do not not have all the details. but I can tell you this...as a first responder in a different life, this is one of the wort things a person can see. In almost all circumstances, the person was simply trying to get where they needed in a given time frame.


14 people like this
Posted by SteveN
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Feb 25, 2015 at 1:44 pm

As was previously posted NEVER stop on the tracks. Most of us don't realize how fast a situation like this develops. A train travelling 80 mph (as this one was) can cover a mile in 45 seconds. It is on top of you before you have much time to consider options. If anybody ever finds themselves in this situation either go forward or backward and break the gate. It's better than losing your life. Very sad.


8 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 25, 2015 at 1:54 pm

Brian is a registered user.

This is a very sad situation and my condolences go out to Ms. Jahyun's family. for the rest of us hopefully we remember this the next time we are thinking "the traffic will move soon, I can pull up on the tracks for a few seconds until it gets moving..." If we do maybe something positive can come from such a tragic accident.


5 people like this
Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 25, 2015 at 2:22 pm

SteveC is a registered user.

This is a very sad situation, Condolences to the family.


4 people like this
Posted by Jack Ringham
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 25, 2015 at 2:29 pm

The Fair Oaks Lane crossing in Atherton has gate controls designed to prevent getting "boxed in". The way it is supposed to work is with sensors
that detect if a vehicle has passed the first gate, the exit gate won't go down until the vehicle has gone through, Of course this won't prevent blocking if the exit is blocked by another vehicle, which may have been the case with this tragedy.

I don't know if the Ravenswood crossing has this system or how many other Caltrain crossings have it. It should cost far less than grade separations and could save lives. However it does not relieve drivers of the responsibility to be vigilant and never stop on the tracks.


2 people like this
Posted by wouldah couldah shouldah
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 25, 2015 at 2:42 pm

"It should cost far less than grade separations and COULD save lives."

It clearly would not improve traffic flow, reduce noise and improve quality of life, as separations provide.

But it COULD save lives.

It COULD.

That's good enough, isn't it? Save some money?

COULD?

Maybe?

Might?

Possibly?

Fingers crossed?


20 people like this
Posted by Menlo park Native
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 25, 2015 at 2:45 pm

I'm sorry but I disagree with your comments about never getting stuck on the tracks. My husband and I were driving , the light was green the cars are going forward. A tourist stopped in the middle of the road for no reason whatsoever trapped us on the tracks. I don't think this is discussing someone's intelligence or how fast the reaction times over. There are just so many cars on the road it's very difficult even with two people in the car. This is not a competition of who is a better driver. It's just very sad and I hope it doesn't happen again. That intersection is so difficult is much worse than it was 50 years ago.


10 people like this
Posted by Jess
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 25, 2015 at 2:45 pm

So about this whole "boxed in" topic. I'm pretty sure I'd step on the gas and take that gate out if that thing came down and the train was coming. I am so sorry for this poor girl who lost her life, I can't even imagine, so tragic.

I am confused on how this happens. When the arms come down and I'm stopped at the crossing it's usually a good 15-30 seconds (maybe longer?) before the train flies by? If these come down and you are boxed in there I feel that would be enough time for me to say "yeah, I better get the FRRRRRRRRACK outta here, no?" If not breaking the gate, jumping out of the car and running like hell?

I know it's not a lot of time to think, but when that train is coming at you. . just move. GO! Anywhere.


11 people like this
Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Feb 25, 2015 at 3:17 pm

My condolences to the family of Jennifer Koo Jahyun


9 people like this
Posted by Downtowner
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 25, 2015 at 3:18 pm

I'm so sorry for this woman & her family. Gates at some crossings do come down very fast & she may have felt trapped & not known which track was in use.

There was a similar fatal accident a couple of years ago @ Whipple, in Redwood City. An emergency vehicle, siren blaring, was racing on Whipple while rush-hour drivers pulled to the side of the road between El Camino & Arguello as best they could. With a lane "cleared" for the emergency vehicle, suddeny RR bells rang & the gates came down, fast. One man, completely blocked in by other cars, was killed because he coudn't get out of the way.

Exactly how did San Carlos & Belmont manage to get funds for grade separation? Redwood City separated Jefferson & 5th Aves. Palo Alto's University, Embarcadero, and Oregon separated grades many decades ago.

Is grade separation expensive now? Very! Safer & also beneficial for crosstown traffic flow? Absolutely! The Menlo Ave/Ravenswood & Valpo/Glenwood traffic is horrible. And horribly dangerous.


4 people like this
Posted by Language Matters
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 25, 2015 at 3:32 pm

How does the Almanac know it's an "accident"? That implies that nothing could have been done to prevent it. What if a driver had made a decision to consume alcohol beforehand? What if he/she were violating the hands-free law and texting instead of looking at the traffic ahead? How about if a driver had their license revoked and got behind the wheel anyway. What's accidental about any of those?

At a minimum, until more is known, news agencies should use neutral terms like "collision" or "incident".


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 25, 2015 at 3:42 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Airplanes, buses, cars and trains have "accidents" all the time and they are properly described described as such.

Only AFTER an "accident" investigation is completed can the cause of the accident be determined.


4 people like this
Posted by Boardermom
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Feb 25, 2015 at 3:43 pm

"Experts" say some people freeze in an emergency and some very calmly do what they need to do. The key to survival is to not freeze. So very sorry for this family's loss.


10 people like this
Posted by Menlo Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 25, 2015 at 3:50 pm

I don't think any of us is in a position to speculate as to what we MIGHT do if we found ourselves in a similar position. All I know for sure is that a young mother lost her life and that is an absolute tragedy. My heart goes out to the woman and her family.

Hopefully we can come up with a solution. People like to say "Oh, well just don't stop on the tracks". But if you have had any experience with this intersection, then you know it is not that easy. It can be quite chaotic and difficult to gauge when to venture across the tracks. People change lanes and pedestrians appear causing traffic to suddenly stop.

RIP <3


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 25, 2015 at 4:06 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"But if you have had any experience with this intersection, then you know it is not that easy."

I have a lot of experience with that intersection (having gone through it more than 4000 times)and that experience has taught be to expect that the people in front of me may stop for unknown reasons and people around may change lanes unexpectedly. Driving safely is, by definition, not easy. The correct response to such circumstances is to be more careful and more aware. If I am "caught" on the tracks it is my fault; being the driver means that you are the one responsible for your actions.

We all regret this loss of life but this accident should make people more aware and more careful and help them to understand that driving safely is not easy.


10 people like this
Posted by lessons learned
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Feb 25, 2015 at 4:22 pm

lessons learned is a registered user.

Visibility down the tracks is extremely limited in both directions until you are actually ON the tracks. Looking both ways before crossing doesn't help one iota. There is no way you can tell if a train is a mile away before you start to cross.

When a train is approaching and the gates first start to come down, there are almost always vehicles on the tracks; those vehicles usually clear the tracks as quickly as possible. I have crossed that intersection at least 10,000 times and never been caught on the tracks, but I know the intersection well and don't consider my success a sign of intellectual or moral superiority.

It's a dangerous crossing. That whole stretch of Ravenswood deserves immediate attention, as Ravenswood@Alma and Ravenswood@Laurel are also difficult to navigate, especially for anyone unfamiliar with the area. Sorry, Atherton residents, these are public streets, and no IQ test is required to drive on them!


8 people like this
Posted by Ravenswood Underpass
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 25, 2015 at 4:30 pm

It takes courage for the MP City Council members and mayor to do something about this underpass fix and solution for the Ravenswood and Oak Grove railroad crossings. It is so obvious a permanent fix is long past due and money is always cited as the reason. Well, wake up MP residents. Facebook just bought their 3rd and 4th parcels/campuses as well as their 2nd campus and employee housing (on Haven Ave) under construction now, Arrillaga wants to (over-)build his 4-story mega-developments along El Camino Real/MP, new VC investors just bought the Sunset Magazine HQ's, SRI wants to build a massive new MP campus, and many other parcels that will be built along El Camino thoroughfare. Try driving down El Camino at rush hour on weekday. It's hell. I see daily cars stuck and sitting on the tracks. With that combo the added Cal-train high-speed (79 mph) express trains at rush hour and you have a combo for more disasters! It's clear with the building booms the money is there NOW. The Council men/women and mayor don't have the courage to get the underpasses rebuilt. The residents of MP deserve some benefit for all these mega-developments that most certainly will be built. Make it happen. I am tired of the lame duck council men/women who claim to be representing the interests of the residents. A story came out today that Ohtaki has connections/ties to the new prospective Pollock hotel being considered for El Camino. This makes me sick to know nothing is being done to improve traffic, safety, and quality of life for residents. Vote these lame ducks and bums out of the Council!


3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 25, 2015 at 4:31 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"these are public streets, and no IQ test is required to drive on them!"

Wrong - Here is what the California DMV Handbook says ( and to get a driver's license you have to demonstrate knowledge of the material in this handbook):
• Look in both directions and listen for trains. Many crossings have multiple tracks; so, be ready to stop before crossing, if necessary. Cross railroad tracks only at des- ignated crossings and only when it is safe to do so.
• Expect a train on any track at any time traveling in either direction. If you need to stop after crossing the tracks, wait until you can completely cross the tracks before proceeding. Make sure your vehicle clears the tracks before you stop.
• Never stop on the railroad tracks. Remember that a train cannot stop quickly or swerve out of the way. If you are on the tracks, you risk injury or death.
• Watch for vehicles that mus tstop before they cross train tracks. These vehicles include buses, school buses, and trucks trans- porting hazardous loads.
• Remember that flashing red lights mean STOP! Stop at least 15 feet, but not more than 50 feet, from the nearest track when the crossing devices are active or a person warns you a train is coming. Stop if you see a train com- ing or you hear the whistle, horn, or bell of an approaching train.
• Do not go under lowering gates or around lowered gates. Flashing red lights indicate you must stop and wait. Do not proceed over the crossing until the red lights stop flashing, even if the gate rises. "

What is not clear about these words?


2 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 25, 2015 at 4:44 pm

Brian is a registered user.

I have also crossed the tracks at that intersection untold thousands of times and only one one or two occasions have I ended up stopped on the tracks. Not my fault for it happened and the first thing I did was check for trains and figure out how I was going to get off the tracks. you can see far enough down the tracks in either direction to give yourself a minute to react.

We do not need a grade separation to prevent people from breaking the traffic law. If you get stuck on the tracks get off.


5 people like this
Posted by DON'T STOP ON THE TRACKS
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 25, 2015 at 4:46 pm

The solution is DO NOT STOP ON THE TRACKS why is this so hard to understand. People have forgotten that rules are made to protect us in this case save your life.

We do not need underpasses or overpasses we need common sense stop wasting taxpayers money we already have a solution THE SOLID WHITE LINES THAT TELLS YOU TO STOP BEHIND IT!!!!
DON'T TAKE CHANCES WITH YOUR LIFE OR OTHERS
Don't assume you have time never race against a train you will always loose. There is nothing so important that you need to get to, that is worth loosing your life over. Life is precious don't gamble stay alive reschedule your apt. or whatever is causing you to race.

I am very sorry for the loss of this young mother's life I pray that God will calm her family's heart and grant them courage and strength much needed at a moment such as this.


8 people like this
Posted by lessons learned
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Feb 25, 2015 at 4:57 pm

lessons learned is a registered user.

I can't post photos here, but take a moment to visit Google Earth and walk up to this intersection. Because of trees and buildings, visibility down the tracks is extremely limited until you are ON them. Heading eastbound on Ravenswood, you cannot see more than a few yards because of the landscaping.

Oh, wait, PC tells us we're supposed to listen for trains. Exactly how do you propose doing that? Should we all stop our cars, get out, and put our ears to the ground before proceeding across the tracks?

I have my windows open and the radio off when I'm approaching the tracks, and the first sign of a train approaching is the sounding of the bells. [part removed] but without the bells and then the gates, most of us wouldn't be able to tell that a train was about to zip by. We can't hear it, and we can't see it.


1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 25, 2015 at 5:01 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The trains are required to sound their horns as they approach this intersection.

If you can't hear the train horns then you are either deaf or wearing ,illegally, headphones.


5 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 25, 2015 at 5:20 pm

Brian is a registered user.

"Because of trees and buildings, visibility down the tracks is extremely limited until you are ON them. Heading eastbound on Ravenswood, you cannot see more than a few yards because of the landscaping."

I agree completely which is all the more reason to NOT PULL ONTO THE TRACKS UNTIL YOU CAN GET ALL THE WAY ACROSS. If people follow the law they will be fine, if they follow the law and use just a little common sense they will be even better. I am sure there is room for improvements that can help the traffic flow better but in most cases people ignore the existing laws (turning left onto Alma during peak hours, stopping on the tracks, etc.) and making news ones that get ignored won't help.


7 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 25, 2015 at 5:23 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

This isn't that complicated. Don't stop on the tracks. Don't try to cross until you're sure you can. If for some strange reason you find yourself on the tracks with the gate coming down, punch it. The arms are designed to break away. If there is a car in front of you it will be driven forward. At that speed injuries will be minimal. Certainly far less than death which is a certainty if you stay on the tracks.

Prevention is primary. If you are approaching this intersection, put down the phone and PAY ATTENTION. LOOK AHEAD.

Really, this isn't brain surgery.


11 people like this
Posted by Aaron
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 25, 2015 at 5:29 pm

Aaron is a registered user.

My condolences to the family of the deceased.

Being a more recent transplant to the area (moved here in 2008 from the East Coast), let me give a bit of perspective about this intersection from the viewpoint of a newcomer to the area. I come from New England, the land of terrible weather, rotary (roundabout) intersections, and super-aggressive drivers. Suffice it to say that after living in Boston for 17 years, I'd done a lot of driving on confusing roads/streets. When we moved out to California, I remember going through this intersection the first time as we came to Menlo Park to look at apartments. If you are a tourist, or new to the area, it's very confusing.

The westbound lanes split only after the tracks. There's a sign, just after the tracks, that graphically shows the lane split but it's not placed well in advance of the lane split...it's placed AT the lane split. So if you're studying it to figure out where to go, it's already a bit late to switch lanes. I remember the first few times I went through this intersection, I was baffled and somewhat surprised to find myself in the correct lane. I'm sure those first few times, I cut people off switching lanes as well. Not everybody is aware that CalTrain is an extremely ACTIVE rail corridor. Newcomers and tourists certainly might not be aware of this. As the city sees more hotel space and housing being built up, surely more and more people will be confronted with the confusing mess that is this intersection, and we will see more accidents.

It also doesn't help that the street name switches when it crosses ECR. It's not a big deal for anybody who is using a navigation system or knows the area, but it's just added confusion for someone new to the area trying to figure out where to go (do I need to turn onto Menlo Ave? or...?)


14 people like this
Posted by lessons learned
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Feb 25, 2015 at 5:48 pm

lessons learned is a registered user.

The trains used to blast their horns all the way through Menlo Park, but after a while, enough people complained about the nonstop rush hour cacophany and the engineers stopped leaning on the horns. Similarly, the gates used to be down much longer, but that clogged traffic on El Camino and even onto Middlefield, so was not a viable solution. Now you hear and see the bells and gate a few seconds before you actually hear the train.

Those of you who keep spouting "just stay off the tracks" don't seem to get it. There is going to be a lot more traffic in this area with all the El Camino development. Any driver knows not to stop on train tracks, but it's very possible for someone unfamiliar with the area -- and we're going to be seeing more of them -- not to notice the tracks given everything else that's going on in that immediate area.

Too, there's the problem, as noted by many, with lane confusion. And with people and cars jumping in to take the vacant spaces on the far side of the tracks, seemingly oblivious to cars crossing the tracks.

I am very careful with these tracks. I am hyper-vigilant. But I sure don't expect all drivers who breeze through town to realize that they are crossing a Very Dangerous Intersection. Maybe we need some oversized skull & crossbone signs to get everyone's attention?


21 people like this
Posted by Gern
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 25, 2015 at 6:01 pm

Gern is a registered user.

"If you can't hear the train horns then you are either deaf or wearing ,illegally, headphones."

Like many of you, I've driven through the Ravenswood crossing hundreds or thousands of times, typically with one or more windows open. I never wear earphones or earbuds while driving and if I do listen to music it is typically quiet classical, courtesy of KDFC on my car radio. And yet the only time I hear the train horns before seeing the crossing alarms is when the train is pulling out of the Menlo Park Station, when it is very close and moving at slow speed.

The bullet trains are completely different in that I don't think I've ever heard their horns until well after seeing the crossing alarms activated. This could be due to a combination of factors including the distance of the train at that moment, the ambient noise surrounding the crossing, noise caused by other vehicles accelerating, honking their horns, etc., the many obstructions between my car and the train ( larger cars or trucks, tall buildings and trees), or a combination of these and other things. Driving with windows closed, as seemingly half of all drivers do regardless of weather, would only exacerbate the problem. So, yes, anecdotally it is rather easy to see and hear the crossing alarms before seeing or hearing a bullet train, to agree with the point made by @lesson learned.

And, to Brian and the others who are railing against the need for grade separations based solely on the Libertarian personal responsibility angle, there's also the mounting traffic flow issue to contend with. Once Stanford and Greenheart have their way with El Camino Real, to say nothing of Stanford Hospital's development plans as well as John Arrillaga's aspirations in Palo Alto, Menlo Park will absolutely need better vehicular movement through (or under) the Ravenswood crossing, something only afforded by grade separation far as I can tell.

Gern


5 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Feb 25, 2015 at 6:16 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Gern - I feel ya re KDFC!


1 person likes this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 25, 2015 at 6:21 pm

Brian is a registered user.

Gern,

My point is that people need to take responsibility for their own safety. Stopping on the tracks, aside from being extremely dangerous, is also illegal. In the thousands of times I have been in that intersection it has only happened to me a couple times. I also rarely seen it and given the number of accidents that happen I would say this is not a chronic problem. The crossing gates give ample warning to get moving of if truly blocked in to get out and away from your car.

Having lived in many countries around the world the US is the only one that treats it residents as if they can't take care of themselves and tries to protect them when breaking the law and/or ignoring common sense.


1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 25, 2015 at 6:59 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The trains are required by law to sound their horns:
"Under the Train Horn Rule (49 CFR Part 222), locomotive engineers must begin to sound train horns at least 15 seconds, and no more than 20 seconds, in advance of all public grade crossings.

If a train is traveling faster than 60 mph, engineers will not sound the horn until it is within ¼ mile of the crossing, even if the advance warning is less than 15 seconds.

There is a "good faith" exception for locations where engineers can’t precisely estimate their arrival at a crossing and begin to sound the horn no more than 25 seconds before arriving at the crossing.

Train horns must be sounded in a standardized pattern of 2 long, 1 short and 1 long blasts. The pattern must be repeated or prolonged until the lead locomotive or lead cab car occupies the grade crossing. The rule does not stipulate the durations of long and short blasts.

The maximum volume level for the train horn is 110 decibels which is a new requirement. The minimum sound level remains 96 decibels."

If you cannot hear 96 decibels then you probably should not be driving a car.


9 people like this
Posted by Catherine McMillan
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 25, 2015 at 7:57 pm

On the occasion of the sheer tragedy of this event, everyone is rightfully talking about how dangerous this particular crossing is. Some are talking about savvy commuting cyclists using Alma (doesn't it depend on where they're commuting to?). I'm thinking of my 16-year-old son who bikes to school day in, day out, in daytime and at night after sports practice because we work full-time and want him to be independent and street-smart and he doesn't need to use a car to clog up MP's streets when we live about 1.5 miles from his school. I truly don't know how many students or staff bike to M-A (presumably a few hundreds since the school has about 2,000 students) but if you bike from Central Menlo, Ladera, Sharon Heights, Ravenswood is the only option. Having to zigzag all the way to Oak Grove such as he had to do for 36 hours over the past few days is not realistic in the long run. It's hard to imagine a scenario where a bike would find itself in a situation remotely similar, but I would urge the community to think of the hundreds of high-schoolers who must use those roads. Bikes predominantly use Ravenswood and Ringwood. Ravenswood is a menace and I shudder every day as cars try to manage the dreaded funnel (heading east on Ravenswood).


13 people like this
Posted by JMIR
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 25, 2015 at 8:42 pm

JMIR is a registered user.

I commented on this yesterday but because there is so much lane changing between the tracks and ECR, it is very common for drivers to get boxed in (by the car in front of them, not a gate) even if there was space on the other side when they start crossing. We need signs about the lane setup at the ECR intersection before the tracks and lane changes should not be allowed right after.

Peter Carpenter: I think the point about the horn is not that the other poster doesn't hear it, It's that the horn happens after the gate starts to close. So it's not giving drivers any extra time.

I cross that intersection twice daily as well and certainly would not rely on looking for trains or hearing them. The gate is usually the first information I have that a train is coming.


4 people like this
Posted by Agree with Some
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 25, 2015 at 8:51 pm

I'm sorry,

if you are getting stuck on the tracks, you are just not paying attention, following the person in front of you too closely, and are a danger to yourselves and others.

Condolences again to the victims family.


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 25, 2015 at 9:02 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The first information you should have is never stop on the tracks!

If you never stop on the tracks then you do not need to worry about if a train is coming.


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Posted by CrossTown Commuter
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 25, 2015 at 9:42 pm

Just double-checked via Google Streetview, the train crossing gates prevent a car from getting to the tracks. (two gates come down towards each other on the Burgess side to stop west bound traffic and two gates come down towards each other on the ECR side to stop est bound traffic) The train crossing gates don't actually box a car in -- the gate would be ab obstacle if trying to back-up off of the tracks.

We know the car was on the southbound track (the track closer to ECR) and that the car was heading west towards ECR.

Has anyone seen an eye witness account that the traffic was backed up to the edge of the tracks? Caltrain stated in the first hours that the car was blocked in by traffic, but did a witness report this? Was the car in the north of the two lanes? or the south of the two lanes?


2 people like this
Posted by Mike Keenly
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 25, 2015 at 9:56 pm

CrossTown Commuter, per an eyewitness account, the SUV was in the north (right) of the two lanes blocked only in front by another vehicle. The south (left) of the two lanes had space available to move into. The only vehicle behind the SUV was on the other side of the crossing gate and in the south (left) lane in the "keep clear" area, in effect, kitty-corner to the SUV.


10 people like this
Posted by JMIR
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 26, 2015 at 12:27 pm

JMIR is a registered user.

Agree with some: It appears you were responding to me with this:
"if you are getting stuck on the tracks, you are just not paying attention, following the person in front of you too closely, and are a danger to yourselves and others."

Perhaps you did not understand the sequence of events I described. I occasionally am forced to stop on the tracks and I am paying attention. Perhaps you could do the same and read the entire post you are responding to.

1. I wait on one side of the tracks until there is room on the other side, not following closely behind anyone.
2. I begin to cross the tracks
3. Someone else from a different lane pulls into the space that I waited to open
4. Often this happens when there is congestion so that after cutting me off, I am stuck

I find it very stressful when this happens, especially when there are children in my car and it happens when I follow all of the rules of train crossings and when I am paying attention. It may not be a scenario that all travelers of this intersection experience. It does happen occasionally but so far only when I take the right lane and travel during peak times. So I understand if other MP drivers haven't seen this problem themselves (perhaps the "just follow the rules" camp turns left on ECR). But several people here have complained about this and several responding posters don't seem to believe it happens and just keep drilling on the idea that stopping on the tracks is always avoidable.

A simple solution would be to not allow lane changes right after the tracks.



3 people like this
Posted by Gern
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 26, 2015 at 12:35 pm

Gern is a registered user.

"If you cannot hear 96 decibels then you probably should not be driving a car."

Coincidentally, I was riding my bike home from work yesterday and at about 6:45pm I crossed the Caltrain ROW on Maple Street in Redwood City, heading west. I was adjacent to the crossing arm when the lights and bells suddenly activated, so I cleared the ROW quickly then began counting the seconds until I heard the first blast from a train horn: somewhere between 10-12, it turned out. So, despite what the law states round the use of train horns, in practice it's quite easy to be alerted to a train's presence by the crossing alarms long before one hears a horn, if that was ever a point of contention in this forum.

Gern


15 people like this
Posted by Ashamed
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 26, 2015 at 12:52 pm

I am ashamed of all of you superior beings wagging fingers about stopping on RR tracks. Are you that disassociated with reality? No one inches onto RR tracks. At this particular crossing you can be driving along alertly with forward moving traffic and suddenly find yourself jamming on your breaks because someone unexpectedly steps into the crosswalk, stopping cars ahead of you. You can't predict that or see it coming, even if you were to stop before you cross the tracks and back up traffic onto El Camino blocking that intersection in the process. My deepest sympathy to this 35-year-old who does not deserve your pious humiliation.


10 people like this
Posted by AlanMiller
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 26, 2015 at 1:18 pm

I'm with JMIR:
1. I wait on one side of the tracks until there is room on the other side, not following closely behind anyone.
2. I begin to cross the tracks
3. Someone else from a different lane pulls into the space THAT I WAITED TO OPEN
4. Often this happens when there is congestion so that after cutting me off, I am stuck

... it is a natural consequence of high density populations (and in our case, increasing population density) that humans compete more and more intensely with each other in everyday situations. Like taking advantage of open spaces in traffic, even if it puts other people in mortal danger. Leaving safe spaces in traffic is becoming a vanishing habit - I even see sheriff deputies sitting on top of the "KEEP CLEAR" pavement signs at intersections. Perhaps this is because we keep experiencing other people taking advantage of us when we attempt to drive safely?

We will continue to experience fatalities of this kind. Perhaps new technologies can mitigate the frequency, but few are willing to hand over the tax money or loss of freedom that usually accompany such technologies.


7 people like this
Posted by EasyDoesIt
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 26, 2015 at 1:24 pm

This is the most dangerous intersection I've ever encountered anywhere.
I never "stop on the tracks", but over the last 30 years, I've had several close calls at this intersection, and when I tried to get the city's attention as to the danger, I was given the old bromide: Don't stop on the tracks.

What some people seem not to understand, is that things can change lightning quick at that intersection.
I've seen a pedestrian walking up towards Laurel, suddenly turn around and start across the street, stopping an entire line of cars that thought they could traverse the intersection. Then the gates can come down and trap a car on the tracks.
No one intentionally "stops" on the tracks--but everyone has to cross the tracks, and you can get stuck if the car in front of you suddenly stops. In other words, traffic can be moving along normally, and suddenly get backed up. You can't predict this.

The easiest fix, and one the City Council should implement now, is to close that intersection to pedestrians and bicyclists, and redirect them to Laurel. Yes, it is a little less convenient, but eminently safer for all concerned.


2 people like this
Posted by SenioraCit
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 26, 2015 at 1:31 pm

The features of the Ravenswood/Alma intersection and railroad crossing are, combined, an accident waiting to happen 24/7, but especially during the busy morning and afternoon/early evening hours. Trains, traffic, bicyclists, pedestrians, kids on skateboards, people making turns from either side of Alma onto Ravenswood. traffic coming onto Ravenswood from the parking lot on the southwest side of the tracks and from Merrill St. on the northwest side, heavy traffic backed up from cars turning off El Camino onto Ravenswood, etc. -- not to mention drivers speeding, texting and talking on cell phones -- are the mix that make the intersection and track crossing a nightmare for drivers, walkers and bikers alike. And then there are the honkers who are furious if the car in front of them waits until the car that has just crossed the tracks moves forward.


4 people like this
Posted by Downtownrt
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 26, 2015 at 1:37 pm

Grade separation is very expensive - no argument there. Does anyone thing traffic is diminishing through & across MP? Be honest, did you not notice the increase in traffic crossing ECR when Hillview became the only middle school in town? Do you really think that increasing the # of local housing units won't make traffic even worse?

For those who insist that grade separtation is too expensive & that there is absolutely no reason why an attentive driver will EVER get cought on the tracks, I propose working with CalTrain & other authorites to increase the interval between the gate closures & train passing. Maybe change the whole schedule so that Bullet trains must stop in towns without separation & can only bls along at 79 mph where there's no auto crossing. Athertonians could get back their stop.

Also, the trains don't have identical whistle volumes. There are a couple of particularly loud ones I hear from home & others which I can barely discern as the track noise is as loud as the horns. I understand what all the previously cited data mandates & I dare anyone to prove that all engineers abide by the regs perfectly 100% of the time.


1 person likes this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 26, 2015 at 1:40 pm

Brian is a registered user.

Gern,

I am interested in your data. You said from the time the arms stopped it was 10 to 12 seconds before you heard a train whistle, is that right? How long between the lights flashing and the arms starting to come down until the train arrived as the crossing? Was this an express train?


3 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 26, 2015 at 1:46 pm

Brian is a registered user.

Ashamed,

Sorry you feel that way. there is a great deal of sympathy for the victim expressed on this and many other discussion boards. This discussion is not about the accident but how to prevent future ones and how far the city needs to go to prevent it. Myself and several others believe that it is more a case of following the law and common sense and not stopping on the tracks. I would go further to say that if you do stop on the tracks (your fault or not) you need to be hyper-aware of the crossing gates and actively looking for trains while at the same time doing everything you can to get off the tracks quickly (move lanes, back up pull onto the sidewalk, etc.) Last resort is to get out of your vehicle and away as quickly as possible. If people did this there would not be a need for grade separation.


1 person likes this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Feb 26, 2015 at 1:59 pm

Reality Check is a registered user.

Since nobody's quoted the law, here it is:

CVC § 22526(d) A driver of a vehicle shall not enter a railroad or rail transit crossing, notwithstanding any official traffic control device or signal indication to proceed, UNLESS THERE IS SUFFICIENT SPACE ON THE OTHER SIDE of the railroad or rail transit crossing to accommodate the vehicle driven and any railway vehicle, including, but not limited to, a train, trolley, or city transit vehicle.

Also, whether you can see down the tracks (or even hear anything at all) is irrelevant. I was born & raised in MP, and have walked, ridden and driven the Ravenswood grade crossing more than I care to try to estimate (let alone calculate) -- but if you cannot have the situational awareness and control of your vehicle to avoid being "forced" to stop on the tracks, you shouldn't be driving at all.

The second point is that gates are _designed_ to give (or break) away -- so they can NEVER prevent a vehicle from moving off a crossing. Whenever a motorist finds their vehicle is (illegally!) blocking any part of an oncoming train's path when the gates activate (minimum 20-second warning) -- there is almost ALWAYS a way to get the vehicle clear: either by backing (through the gate, if necessary) or by pushing forward (into another vehicle, if necessary) or by backing a little and driving off to the left or right and clear of the tracks (the rest of the crossing area is almost always clear to do so!) ... and failing all of that -- there is always plenty of time to exit the vehicle and move away and upstream of the impact (to avoid any flying debris).


4 people like this
Posted by Sad
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 26, 2015 at 2:00 pm

JMR: Cars making a right turn from Alma (train station side) towards ECR will need to change lanes when turning left on ECR and cars turing left from Alma (Burgess Park side) towards ECR will need to change lanes if turning right on ECR. Also, Ravenswood is two lanes before the tracks and then changes to three (I think) after crossing the tracks: two lanes for left turns only and one lane to go straight. I can't remember if there is also a 4th lane for right turns. In any case, when transitioning from two lanes to three or four, lane changes will occur.

I do agree that Alma/Ravenswood is a very poorly designed and dangerous intersection - even for extra safe drivers, and the only way it will be safe is to underground or elevate the train.




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Posted by Sad
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 26, 2015 at 2:06 pm

I meant to respond to JMIR (not JMR)


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 26, 2015 at 2:42 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

This Topic is a news report on an accidental death - it is not an obituary.

The best tribute to the deceased (by those of us who did not know her or her family) is to ensure that we understand the cause of this tragic death and to do everything that we can to prevent another death like this one.


6 people like this
Posted by Mike Alexander
a resident of another community
on Feb 26, 2015 at 3:51 pm

How terrible. What really happened may never be known. The car might have broken down, and the driver frozen in panic. It might have been suicide. I don't think people should assume to know.

That said, the intersection is a bad one. The City should hire the best experts to design and install interim improvements. Traffic and warning lights, controls, and sensors could be added that would calm the intersection, improving safety. To do nothing is irresponsible. Ultimately, the grades should be separated.


1 person likes this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 26, 2015 at 4:16 pm

Brian is a registered user.

Hmmm,

I didn't say I determined the topic, I said what the topic had become. Read the messages above and disagree that what I said is accurate.


3 people like this
Posted by Aaron
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 26, 2015 at 4:34 pm

Aaron is a registered user.

Brian - here's the thing: We have the law, and we have common sense. I think we all agree that those are the basics. Yet in the past few months, we've seen two cars hit by trains at this crossing, one of those a fatality. The laws and common sense are not enough...we need a safer crossing.

The question is how much more should we do? It's easy to cite common sense on what to do in this situation as you sit in a comfortable chair and type on your computer keyboard. It's a whole other thing when you're in the situation and have only a few seconds to act. Many people panic and freeze. Why are you so opposed to further safety measures like traffic lights coordinated to the train traffic, or a no left turn barrier to block left turns at Alma, or moving the pedestrian crosswalk to Noel Drive, or investing in grade separations? Do a cost effectiveness analysis and compare the cost per accident averted against the cost of modifications. I think you'll find that when you account for all costs, it's well worth modifying the crossing to make it safer. When accidents continue to happen at this crossing (at least 3 in the last couple of years), we're not doing enough. With a grade separation, we could have zero accidents at this crossing, FOREVER. Zero accidents and zero fatalities forever are infinitely better than what we have right now.


1 person likes this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 26, 2015 at 4:50 pm

Brian is a registered user.

Aaron,

I don't oppose evaluating the intersection and making improvements. My point alo along is that a grade seperation is not necessary if people follow the law and common sense. You want to talk about cost benefit analysis? (before people jump on my I am taking a purely clinical approach to this so don't get on my case for being insensitive) I have not looked at the accidents but here would be my assumption, cost of grade separation would probably be in the 10's of millions. You site 3 accidents in the last "couple years", to my knowledge only one fatality at this intersection in my memory (20 years or more?) I am not counting pedestrians of bicycles(suicide or other). From a cost approach an accident probably costs the city and Caltrain 10 to $20 thousand in damage. The car damage is the responsibility of the driver/insured. I don't know if anyone has successfully sued the city or Caltrain over that intersection, it seems to me that would be hard as they were violating the law by being on the tracks. So setting that a side the cost is say 15 - 20 million (purely a guess) and the benefit is that is would save maybe $25,000 in damage a year.

as for your comment about sitting on a comfortable chair in an office, you don't know me, what I do or what I have experienced. I have been in stressful situations where the wrong move would result in my death, I have had to make snap decisions where the wrong one would result in my death. One of the reason that when I dive, as when I ride a motorcycle, I pay attention and plan "what if". oh, and my chair really is not that comfortable...


4 people like this
Posted by Sad
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 26, 2015 at 5:09 pm

When I went to Paly back in the late 70's I used to park in the Paly parking lot on Churchill, close to Alma. During rush hour it was almost impossible to make a left turn towards Alma. I wondered why stop sighs were not installed so that Paly students could safely turn left and was told that since the pkg lot was so close to Alma and the RR tracks a stop sign on Churchill would cause traffic to back up and potentially trap drivers on the tracks. It made sense to me and I believe there are still no stop signs at that location on Churchil.

Why then are stops permitted for left turns and a pedestrian crossing in the Alma/Ravenswood intersection heading east just after the RR crossing, causing delays, traffic backups and potentially traffic stopping on the RR tracks. It just doesn't make sense.


8 people like this
Posted by Ashamed
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 26, 2015 at 5:17 pm

[part removed. Please comment on the topic, not other posters.]

It's hard to imagine lesser drivers out there who panic when they're suddenly boxed in unexpectedly on a railroad track. We should contact the California DMV and insist that they train every driver to pass emergency Abandon-Vehicle techniques for outrunning a train going 79 MILES AN HOUR THROUGH A HIGH-TRAFFIC RESIDENTIAL NEIGHBORHOOD.

[part removed.] If the cost of elevating the tracks is too expensive, elevate the two pedestrian crossings. Or enact a law that trains must not exceed 20 miles an hour when crossing residential intersections. The one thing we can't do is blame the victim and leave things the way they are.


3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 26, 2015 at 5:22 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Ashamed - [part removed.] the ONLY way to immediately reduce the chances of another tragedy just like this is to better inform and educate drivers. This was a preventable accident. You may not like that simple truth but I challenge you to refute it with facts.


14 people like this
Posted by CCB
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 26, 2015 at 5:39 pm

I drove across the tracks twice this morning on Ravenswood and each time consciously braked before crossing, waiting for the car in front of me to move at least a car's length ahead before I crossed. I didn't see anyone else doing anything remotely so defensive–everyone was following the flow, if not actively tailgating, hoping to make it through a light.

Not sure where all the "I-never-cross-the-tracks-without-waiting-and-anyone-who-does-wins-the-Darwin-award" crowd were at those moments but that method of driving is definitely not the norm, at least not during rush hour (which is when accidents are most likely to happen, due to the confluence of many trains, many more cars, and long lines of people hoping to get through the light.)

I'm not saying that it *shouldn't* be the norm, just that this could have happened to anyone I saw today. One doesn't have to be egregiously negligent (cell phone etc.) to be on autopilot when driving. Let's fix the intersection.

Brian, I don't think the only benefit of grade separation is preventing horrible accidents. I'd love to be able to bike or walk from our neighborhood to the other side of El Camino without going a mile out of my way in either direction.


3 people like this
Posted by pogo
a resident of Woodside: other
on Feb 26, 2015 at 5:41 pm

pogo is a registered user.

This is a horribly tragic accident and I wish to express my heartfelt condolences to this family.

One of the first lessons we learn is to never stop on train tracks. Never. If there isn't sufficient room for me to safely advance my car, I stay put.

That said, this is a particularly dangerous and poorly designed crossing. I find the principal problem is pedestrians who use the crosswalk without realizing the impact they are having on cars crossing the tracks. I would suggest that the crosswalk be relocated immediately and signage posted to warn drivers to stay off the tracks.


3 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 26, 2015 at 5:44 pm

Brian is a registered user.

[please comment on the topic, not other posters.]


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 26, 2015 at 5:49 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"None of us are going to get any changes made at this dangerous crossing unless we do a lot more than make online comments."

Correct - so please contribute to outcomes rather than attacking others.

In my case I have already had face-to-face conversations with two City Council members and those conversations were enriched by this online exchange.

So become a contributor rather than an attacker.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 26, 2015 at 5:56 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"None of us are going to get any changes made at this dangerous crossing unless we do a lot more than make online comments."

Only those who do not have the courage to speak up.


5 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Feb 26, 2015 at 5:58 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

[Please discuss the topic, not other posters.]


1 person likes this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 26, 2015 at 6:06 pm

Brian is a registered user.

If you have read my posts on this topic, I have been responding to others who immediately jump to the solution of "have the city fix the problem" not "take some personal responsibility". I have a great deal of sympathy for this woman and her family and I am very happy that the child who might normally occupy the child seat was not there when this happened. But this topic long ago strayed from the fact a person died, others immediately started advocating the city fix the problem. I personally feel that the city does not need to fix a problem that people can solve by following existing laws, and using some common sense. Maybe have agreed and many have disagreed, but I have kept this conversation civil and not resorted to labeling or name calling (did you really say "Call a spade a spade"?).

I like many here on both side have speculated on what happened but I have NEVER said this was not a tragedy. [part removed.]


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 26, 2015 at 6:07 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

This is a "thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion" only as long as everyone participates.

Make a contributions instead of attacking other posters.


5 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Feb 26, 2015 at 6:21 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

[Please discuss the topic instead of other posters.]


1 person likes this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 26, 2015 at 6:47 pm

Brian is a registered user.

Hmmm,

[part removed. Please comment on the topic, not other posters.]
This discussion moved away from the tragedy to talk about "Fixing the problem". Maybe you should start reading from the first comment.

How on earth did I "Pick on the victim of a violent death"? The only time I brought up the victim was to offer my condolences. My comments on this discussion and others were a rebuttal to the people who immediately chimed in with "grade separation" and "The city needs to fix this". [part removed.]

I have said before and I will say it again. The best way to avoid this kind of tragedy is follow the law and use common sense. Don't proceed until there is room on the other side and if you do find yourself stopped on the tracks, get of quickly even if that means onto the sidewalk. That is my position before and nothing has changed.


1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 26, 2015 at 6:58 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Please contribute your opinions and facts so that this will remain a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion.

Please don't continue to attack other posters who are trying to support a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion.


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Posted by No Easy Solutions
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 26, 2015 at 7:21 pm

Didn't read the entire thread after it degenerated into attacks, name calling, etc. So not sure if someone already mentioned this, but want to point out an interesting article on LinkedIn about measuring Caltrain's horns.

Web Link

To summarize, Caltrain is sounding their horns 2 to 3 seconds before the crossing and not between 15 to 20 seconds as stated by regulation. In addition, they are sounding their horn 10dB less than min. regulation of 96dB. This experiment was conducted at the Palo Alto California Station, so assuming this result applies to their entire operation.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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