Atherton repeatedly asked Caltrans to make El Camino crossings safer


For years, Atherton has been asking the California Department of Transportation to make crossing El Camino Real, which Caltrans controls because it is a state highway, safer for bicyclists and pedestrians, adding pressure as more and more deaths and serious injuries occur.

Here is a timeline:


After Chris Chandler died in 2010, followed a little more than two weeks later by the death of Honofre Mendoza, 55, as he was crossing El Camino, the town contacted Caltrans and asked it to "identify any factors ... that need to be addressed in order to improve traffic safety," according to an Oct. 18, 2010 Almanac story.

Both deaths took place months after a jury had found Caltrans 50 percent at fault in a 2006 collision that left a 17-year-old girl in a coma after she was hit by a car in an El Camino crosswalk in Millbrae. Caltrans eventually paid her family $8 million.

Attorneys in that case argued that Caltrans knew that marked crosswalks not protected by lights or stop signs were dangerous, but did nothing.


In 2012, after two women were hit and seriously injured by a speeding car in the same crosswalk where Mr. Chandler had been killed, Atherton tried again.

On Oct. 1, 2012, then-Mayor Bill Widmer wrote to Caltrans director Malcolm Dougherty, insisting "that improved safety measures (be) taken on Atherton's El Camino corridor."

"Your traffic and safety engineers can best tell you what is necessary to establish safe passage over six lanes of traffic," Mayor Widmer wrote. "I can tell you the urgency, and it is immediate."

Caltrans' response was to offer to pay for part of a traffic signal at Selby Lane. The state agency said it also had plans to install a pedestrian-activated light at an Atherton crosswalk some time in 2017-18.

Unhappy with the response, Atherton officials tried recruiting help from state and federal politicians and their staffs, including Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-Menlo Park), state Assemblyman Rich Gordon (D-Menlo Park) and state Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), to see if they could pressure Caltrans.

Emails were exchanged, meetings were held, and Atherton unsuccessfully applied for a grant in April 2103 to study reducing the number of lanes on El Camino.


In July 2014 another pedestrian, 32-year-old Atherton resident Shahriar Rahimzadeh, was fatally injured crossing El Camino at Almendral Avenue.

In September and October of 2014, Atherton unsuccessfully applied for two more grants to study ways to improve safety on El Camino Real.

Late that year, Caltrans announced a plan to install 17 pedestrian activated crosswalk lights in San Mateo County, with two planned in Atherton, at Isabella and Alejandra avenues. Work would start in 2016 and was scheduled for completion in 2017. (The attorneys for Mr. Chandler say Caltrans officials testified at the trial that it has 29 marked and unprotected crosswalks on El Camino in San Mateo County.)

In January 2015, Atherton asked "if we could take over the (Atherton crossing light) projects to expedite their work," City Manager George Rodericks said. Caltrans said it would not speed things up because the projects would still have to go through their design and approval process, Mr. Rodericks said.

In February 2015, the town decided "to strike out on its own," Mr. Rodericks said, offering to pay for and install a pedestrian-activated crossing light at Almendral Avenue. The Menlo Park Fire Protection District agreed to split the cost. Caltrans agreed, and said it would help expedite the project. Caltrans will own and maintain the light once it is operating.


In June 2015, 86-year-old Emiko Chen of Menlo Park was killed in the El Camino crosswalk at Alejandra Avenue, where a Caltrans pedestrian activated crossing light is planned.


The light for the Almendral Avenue crossing light, which cost the town and the fire district about $350,000, was scheduled to be turned on Aug. 1, 2016. It was delayed at the last moment when Pacific Gas & Electric couldn't get power to the light on time, Mr. Rodericks said.

El Camino

State Highway 82, El Camino Real, runs from San Francisco to San Jose. Atherton's 1.6 miles carry more than 30,000 cars a day, the town says, with one stoplight and five marked crosswalks. Most of the Atherton stretch is six lanes wide, with turning lanes adding a seventh lane in some places.

Related stories:

Jury: Caltrans 90% responsible for Atherton crosswalk fatality

Political leaders call for Caltrans to act on El Camino hazards

Jan Chandler: The verdict doesn't bring Chris back

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4 people like this
Posted by Susan
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Aug 3, 2016 at 6:31 am

It's astonishing to see how much Caltrans has been dragging their feet on this especially as the settlements they are paying to families of victims could easy pay for many pedestrian activated lighted crosswalks.

This is a sign of gross incompetence. Heads at the top of Caltrans beaureacracy should roll. Would love to know who's running that show and whether they have sat down with families of the victims. Bravo to Atherton officials for trying so hard to fight this stupidity and come up with some results for residents.

7 people like this
Posted by My2Bits
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Aug 3, 2016 at 10:36 am

And yet, despite these tragic accidents, we see people speeding, lane surfing and running the red at Atherton Avenue every day. True, visibility is bad and there is no shoulder for pedestrians. Crossing 6 lanes on foot is treacherous! AND people drive as if they are on the freeway, racing to make the lights and failing to stop at crosswalks when other vehicles obstruct the view. The Alejandra intersection is a nightmare too. We will pound on Caltrans - but in the meantime we all can drive more carefully.

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

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