Death of cyclist who fell on Sand Hill Road ruled 'accidental' | December 19, 2007 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - December 19, 2007

Death of cyclist who fell on Sand Hill Road ruled 'accidental'

• Lower speed limits coming soon for two unincorporated arterials.

by David Boyce

Deborah Johnson, the 51-year-old Palo Alto bicyclist who died July 24 in Stanford Hospital after falling off her bike in Menlo Park two days earlier, died accidentally, according to a spokeswoman for the Santa Clara County coroner's office.

The cause of death was blunt force injuries to the head and trunk, the spokeswoman said. Ms. Johnson, who was wearing a helmet and riding with friends, hit her head in the fall, Menlo Park police said.

The incident occurred on Sand Hill Road west of Branner Drive in Menlo Park while the group of cyclists was heading east.

About a mile west of that spot on Sand Hill Road and on Alpine Road, lower speed limits will be going into effect in January following a recent decision by the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors.

New speed limits

Ms. Johnson's accident is one of five major accidents involving bicyclists on the Sand Hill/Portola/Alpine Road cycling loop over the past 12 months.

The current 55 mph limit on Sand Hill between Whiskey Hill Road and Interstate 280 will drop to 50 mph in January, in part because of the high volume of cyclists in that area, said Lisa Ekers, the county's road operations manager.

The county supervisors on Dec. 4 also approved a 40 mph limit, down from 45 mph, on Alpine Road between La Cuesta Drive in Ladera and Junipero Serra Boulevard in Menlo Park.

Several accidents

In December 2006, Menlo Park resident and bicycle racer MaryAnn Levenson, 48, suffered severe injuries to her head, neck, spine, ribs, airway, pelvis, arms, legs and feet when an allegedly drunken driver in a pickup truck struck her and dragged her about 35 feet.

In May, Portola Valley resident and former Altera Corp. chief executive Rodney Smith, 67, died at the side of the road after his bicycle was struck by a car near the crest of the hill between Interstate 280 and Whiskey Hill Road.

A few days later in May, cyclist Debra Weil, 51, of Menlo Park survived a severe collision with a car at the intersection of Sand Hill and Portola roads, but with major injuries to her face and arms.

On June 30 on Alpine Road near Golden Oak Drive, a 50-year-old cyclist from Pacifica suffered a fractured skull and facial trauma after colliding with the passenger-side rear view mirror of a Cadillac driven by a 91-year-old resident of Portola Valley. The cyclist had moved out into the traffic lane in a passing maneuver, a San Mateo County deputy sheriff said.


Posted by Dr. Greg Wright, a resident of another community
on Dec 31, 2007 at 6:00 am

Motorists need to slow down and expect cyclists on the roads. They have every right to the roads that motorists have. Cyclists need to ride single file and obey the same traffic rules as motorists. How tough is that to do, really?

Posted by John Doe, a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Jan 18, 2008 at 12:02 pm

The PV Loop is becoming quite a problem since I used to ride it years ago. The amt of bike traffic has increased many fold. While most riders do follow the rules of the road, many do not. Many times while driving the area I have had cyclists ride down the middle of the lane, thus blocking traffic. They often refuse to move over. As a cyclist myself I do understand that the rate of flats goes way up on the "other" side of the white line, but I'd rather save my life than save my tires. It is necessary for all cyclists to "stay to the right". Then there is the problem of the large groups of cyclists. Packs of 30 or more bikes riding en mass. They can take the entire width of the lane. This type of riding behavior is very offensive to motorists and gives all riders a bad name. I just pray the day never comes when one of our older residents (with slow reactions) plows into one of these large groups and ends many lives in one pass. We all have to work together to stay alive. Ride safe and obey the traffic laws.

Posted by Richard, a resident of another community
on Jan 19, 2008 at 4:37 pm

I generallly agree with Dr. Wright and John Doe, but there are still some problems. Obeying the traffic rules is harder than it may seem since most drivers and bicyclists don't really know what they are, and many of them are mistaken in their beliefs. John Doe recommends that bicyclists stay to the far right at ALL times, which is actually not safe and not required by law. There was a bicyclist killed in Portola Valley a few years ago at the intersection of Westridge and Portola Road (the westen end of Westridge). An elderly woman driver didn't see him and turned left from Portola onto Westridge in front of him. I saw him regularly, and he always kept to the far right and in this case it made it hard for the driver to see him.
When approaching an intersection like this the law (CVC 21202 a 4) allows bicyclists to leave the right edge of the road to protect their safety. There are three things that can be avoided by doing this: 1) A driver overtakes from behind and turns right in front of you, cutting you off. By moving to the left you make it clear that you are going straight and deter the "right hook", encouraging the driver to merge to the right behind you and turn from the right edge of the road as the law requires. 2) Many drivers coming from your right at intersections don't stop where they are required (behind the limit line or crosswalk) and stick the nose of their car into the intersection before they turn to look for traffic. By moving to the left you ensure that you will have some room between yourself and these cars, and when the drivers do turn to look in the middle of the lane for cars, you will be right where they are looking. 3) Drivers may turn left across in front of you, as happened at Westridge and Portola. You are more visible to drivers, who are primarily looking in the middle of the lane for cars, if you leave the right edge of the road. You also have more options for emergency maneuvers if you are in the middle of the lane instead of up against the edge of the road.
Of course bicyclists should generally stay to the right to avoid delaying automobile traffic, but when approaching intersections and driveways with limited visibility it is safe, legal and prudent to move to the left. I only wish that more drivers and bicyclists (and law enforcement officers) understood that, expected it and tolerated it.

Posted by Citizen A, a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Jan 19, 2008 at 5:26 pm

100% agree with Greg Wright and John Doe.

And I would add law enforcement needs to be equally applied to bike riders and have them ticketed.

Basic issue: there are too many bike riders in the PV and Woodside loop. Please go to a less congested area. Which will be safer for all.

Posted by horse rider, a resident of Woodside: other
on Feb 16, 2008 at 7:48 pm

Another woman was hit today on sandhill between whiskey Hill and 280, she was bleeding and face down not moving ;-( 2/16/08

Posted by chico, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Feb 19, 2008 at 3:57 pm

re: accident on 2/16/08 this may be of interest.

Web Link

Posted by Alexis, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Oct 8, 2008 at 8:33 am

To Citizen A, I might suggest the opposite: there are too many car drivers on the PV/Woodside loop. Cars can drive anywhere, even on roads not friendly to bikes, so they should go somewhere else.

...Sound silly? You sound silly too when you say there are too many bikes. I have rarely even experienced congestion in the bike lane on these roads. There are lots of cyclists, not "too many". This is one of the nicest loops for riders in the area.

The key is patience and safe, legal behavior from both parties. Duh.