After hearing of the verdict assigning the California Department of Transportation most of the blame for a 2010 death in a crosswalk on El Camino Real in Atherton, local political leaders have vowed to work to make sure Caltrans gives priority to improving El Camino's safety.
Here's what three of them have to say:
State Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) said he finds the history of Caltrans' lack of action on safety problems on El Camino "very troubling." The state transportation agency is a massive bureaucracy when it needs to be more like a "nimble Silicon Valley enterprise," he said. "This bureaucracy is just shameful in this day and age."
"To me, it gets down to prioritization and making safety a significant issue," he said. "We haven't seen that."
Budget and procedures manuals shouldn't take precedence, he said. "Safety needs to pre-empt those things," Sen. Hill said.
He vowed to work for a change.
"I think it's important for me as a legislator to ask the questions and get actively involved in trying to change the culture" in Caltrans, he said.
Multi-million-dollar jury verdicts are "not money well spent," he said. "You can excuse it once, but you can't excuse it twice, multiple times."
Sen. Hill said that he will work with state Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose), the chair of the Transportation and Housing Committee, to hold hearings or take other actions to change the Caltrans culture. "I'm hoping that we can see quicker action," he said.
The problem, Sen. Hill said, goes far beyond Atherton. "If you look statewide, how many other locations around the state are of a similar nature?" he said.
Caltrans, he says, seems to be acting as if deaths and serious injuries on its roads are "the cost of doing business." "They're acting like we see in some corporations," Sen. Hill said.
"If this is the cost of doing business, that is unacceptable," he said.
"Caltrans has been very slow to react up and down the Peninsula," Atherton Councilman Bill Widmer said. "There have been problems in almost every city."
"The state needs to find a way to make El Camino safer and they need to be able to react a little faster when their own studies show" the need for safety improvements, Mr. Widmer said.
"The state and their processes put people at risk," he said. "It's our residents' lives that are at risk."
"A way for them to react faster or give more options is really what is needed."
Mr. Widmer crossed Atherton's stretch of El Camino multiple times on foot while campaigning for re-election in 2012, when a major part of his platform was improving safety on El Camino.
"I'd look and there's no cars, you'd think 'Hey, I can make it,'" he said. "You'd just barely make it. It's scary."
"I can imagine if someone has mobility issues, or isn't paying attention," it's even more dangerous, he said.
Dealing with Caltrans, he said, is "very frustrating, especially when we're talking about the number of years that it's been going on."
Like Mr. Widmer, Atherton Cityman Mike Lempres also campaigned on the issue of improving the safety of the state highway. It is still a priority for him, and for the town, he said.
"People have been hurt and people have been killed," he said. "It may be that it takes something like this (jury verdict) to get the full attention of Caltrans and others."
"Hopefully we can get it to where El Camino is a safer street for pedestrians and bicyclists," he said. "Right now it is dominated by automobiles."
Mr. Lempres said he used to walk in some of Atherton's unprotected El Camino crosswalks while walking his dog, but "I stopped doing it because it doesn't feel safe." Now, he said, he goes out of his way to go to the nearest stoplight "because it's just not worth it."
He, too, expressed frustration, calling El Camino "the biggest safety issue in our town and we essentially have no control over it."