In 2010, Chris Chandler, 62, was killed in an Atherton crosswalk on El Camino Real. Soon after, Atherton began campaigning to get Caltrans to make the state highway safer.
Seven years later, two new pedestrian-activated stoplights, which Caltrans agreed to install in 2012, have recently become operational on El Camino in Atherton, joining a similar light on El Camino at Almendral Avenue that started operating in August 2016.
Motorists may not have noticed the new lights because they remain dark unless activated by a bicyclist or pedestrian.
The two new lights are located over crosswalks at Isabella and Alejandra avenues.
All three crossings are the sites of serious or fatal collisions between cars and pedestrians or bicyclists, with two fatalities occurring after Caltrans had promised to install the new stoplights.
When the three lights are activated by the push of a button at either end of the crosswalk, they at first blink yellow, then steady yellow and then red. Before going dark again, the signals flash red, at which point motorists can proceed after stopping if no one is in the crosswalk.
Pedestrians and bicyclists see a walk/don't walk signal as well as a countdown of seconds remaining for crossing.
Atherton has posted more information about how the lights work on its website.
Atherton has been asking Caltrans to do something to make El Camino safer since Mr. Chandler, a resident of the unincorporated Redwood City neighborhood off Selby Lane, was killed in the Isabella Avenue crosswalk as he was heading to his wife's workplace at Menlo School.
More fatalities and serious injuries followed Mr. Chandler's death, and in 2012 Caltrans agreed to pay for and install two pedestrian-activated stoplights on El Camino at Isabella and Alejandra avenues. At that time Caltrans said it could take five years to complete the projects.
The town tried to speed up the work by working with Caltrans and then by applying political pressure. After yet another fatality, that of 32-year-old Atherton resident Shahriar Rahimzadeh in July 2014, the town of Atherton agreed to pay for an Almendral Avenue light in order to get it done more quickly.
In June 2015, Emiko Chen, 86, of Menlo Park was killed in the crosswalk at Alejandra Avenue.
The Almendral light is owned and maintained by Caltrans, but Atherton and the Menlo Park Fire Protection District split the installation costs.
The fire district can remotely trigger the Almendral light, making it easier for fire vehicles to get in and out of the Almendral Avenue fire station.
Caltrans plans to install similar lights at 11 other crosswalks in San Mateo County. The stoplights are officially known as pedestrian hybrid beacons and also called HAWKs (High-intensity Activated crossWalK beacons).
Caltrans agreed to install the lights after a jury in 2010 found Caltrans to be 50 percent responsible for a collision in a Millbrae crosswalk that left a teenager in a coma. The state agency paid $8 million to her family in that case.
In 2016, a jury found Caltrans 90 percent responsible for Mr. Chandler's death, and ordered it to pay $8.55 million in damages to his family.