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Police: Driver at fault for hitting pedestrians

Original post made on Dec 5, 2012

ATHERTON: The 89-year-old driver of a vehicle that struck and seriously injured two women in an El Camino Real crosswalk on Sept. 30 was speeding and at fault for the accident, an Atherton Police Department investigation has concluded.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, December 5, 2012, 4:16 PM

Comments (22)

Posted by reckless driving is not an accident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 5, 2012 at 4:44 pm

Why does the newspaper call crashes like this "accidents"? Was the driver accidentally driving 50% over the speed limit? Did he accidentaly not see 2 grown women right in front of him? Drivers need to stop treating El Camino Real like a freeway. There are numerous crosswalks, driveways, cross streets, etc. along this road. Slow down and save lives!

Posted by el camino reality
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 5, 2012 at 5:18 pm

While speeding may have been a factor there must be more to the story as these ladies crossed six lanes of traffic. They were stuck in a crosswalk but were there other cars involved and did they stop to let the ladies proceed? It would be helpful if the Almanac reported more than the bare details so that people can understand dangerous interplay between pedestrians, bikes and vehicles. The new medical building nearby will further introduce pedestrians and more cars turning in and leaving Watkins.
This section of El Camino has been repaved and yet to be striped but it looks like there will be no changes in this intersection in spite of Mayor Widmer demanding action from CalTrans.
A parallel accident happened to the north and a full explanation is posted here about a similr crosswalk contruct.
Web Link
So while the cause might be deemed reckless driving the real cause is probably reckless pedestrian crosswalks. There will be more accidents here.

Posted by Donald
a resident of another community
on Dec 5, 2012 at 7:57 pm

The conclusion was not "reckless" driving, which has a very high threshold and extremely serious penalties. It was found that the driver was speeding and at fault for striking pedestrians in a crosswalk. This seems pretty straightforward. Why should we try to blame the victims and make excuses for the guilty? Drivers should slow down, to the speed limit or lower if necessary, and pay attention to others around them. If you are incapable of that then you shouldn't be driving.

Posted by videofan
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Dec 5, 2012 at 9:41 pm

Thank heavens the ladies are OK.
Horrible tradegy. Facts of the matter are that 1) Hello there, YES, it is a highway, state highway 82. 2)When crossing a highway, you better look, then look again and continue to look and not hope someone is going to stop 3) or you might be in the right, but youll be dead right because 4) people are occupied with other things when driving like phones, radios and cigarettes. The safest way to cross is to 5) use the signalized intersections even though 6) it might be a hassle.

Posted by reckless driving is not an accident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 5, 2012 at 11:32 pm

Are the victims OK? The article says they suffered major injuries. Are they fully recovered now or expecting a full recovery?

I recall from the original article that they were not young and walking a mile out of their way may have been physically impossible. Even if they did see the speeding truck heading for them, they may not have had the capability to outrun it. Hopefully they do have enough physical strength to overcome these injuries.

Posted by el camino reality
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 6, 2012 at 5:48 am

It would seem Mayor Widmer and the town might owe us some answers on what CalTrans is doing to improve El Camino. In the following October 1st Almanac article Mayor Widmer sprung into action and was quoted making a number of demands. That was the end of the story as there has been no communication from the town on what they were able to accomplish. Now we learn the fault lay in the drivers speeding.
Mayor Widmer is eager to make videos and write letters to residents regarding political matters but can't do the simple things like communicating about events that concern our safety.

Two pedestrians seriously injured on El Camino
Atherton mayor demands that Caltrans install new safety measures after latest in series of accidents

by Renee Batti
Almanac Staff

Atherton Mayor Bill Widmer has sent a strongly worded message to Caltrans demanding that improved safety measures be put into place on El Camino Real -- the scene of yet another accident that left two pedestrians seriously injured after being struck by a vehicle Sunday (Sept. 30).

Two women were struck at about noon while crossing El Camino at its intersection with Isabella Avenue, according to Sgt. Anthony Kochler of the Atherton Police Department. They were hit by a southbound Chevy Blazer, whose unnamed male driver remained on the scene, Sgt. Kochler said.

The women, who police believe were in the crosswalk, were treated on the scene by fire department paramedics before being taken by ambulance to Stanford Hospital with major injuries, he said. Their conditions are unknown at this time, he said, and the department is still working on identifying one of the victims.

Coincidentally, the accident occurred two years to the day that Christopher Chandler, a 62-year-old Redwood City resident, was struck and killed in the same crosswalk while riding his bicycle across El Camino.

Sgt. Kochler said the driver voluntarily submitted to a blood test for drugs and alcohol. He said that damage to the vehicle indicated that the driver was not speeding, but that police were continuing their investigation of the incident.

This morning, Mayor Widmer sent an email to Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty "to insist that improved safety measures are taken on Atherton's El Camino corridor." With three lanes moving traffic in each direction, that stretch of the state highway "has become the scene of multiple car-pedestrian and car-bicycle accidents, often leading to severe injuries and multiple deaths," he wrote.

"On other streets, pedestrian crossings are made more visible with the use of lighted/blinking signs and in-pavement flashing lights," he continued. "These have been available for years, and yet the state has taken the cheap route (in mitigating Atherton's problem), which is costing our residents dearly.

"Improved crossing on this state road is mandatory!" he wrote. "Traffic lights, flashing crosswalks, or other safer measures are definitely required."

Mr. Widmer noted that he has been discussing the dangerous situation with Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, following another accident that occurred several weeks ago.

"Please acknowledge this note and provide me with your plans and actions so that this serious situation can be quickly rectified," Mayor Widmer said in the email. "The lives of our residents are at stake here. The liability of inaction rests with the state."

This summer, the town of Atherton, a motorist, and several other public agencies were named in a lawsuit filed by the mother of a teenager who was struck while crossing El Camino Real on foot in 2011. Courtney Schrier was struck in the crosswalk at Alejandra Avenue, suffering a broken pelvis and brain injuries.

Posted by Margo McAuliffe
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Dec 6, 2012 at 5:26 pm

There is no reason why a pedestrian activated stop light can't be installed. Get on it, whoever is in charge!

Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 6, 2012 at 6:04 pm

Margo -
ECR is a state highway so it's up to CALTRANS to make the improvement. I wonder what response, if any, they made to Mayor Widmer's request.
Road improvements aside, I don't understand why Atherton hasn't made its own improvements that would protect pedestrians by adding sidewalks and curbs along ECR as have most other towns along the corridor. Vegetation, signs, and power poles crowd the roadway and make it difficult for pedestrians & bikers to travel along the highway and obscure pedestrians and bikers approaching crosswalks from the side of the road.
Street lighting could also be much improved. I drive this route in the early morning before dawn and it's scary how dark this section of ECR is, making it hard to see anyone who's walking or biking along the side of the highway or, heaven forbid, trying to cross. This is not a problem in Menlo Park and north of 5th Avenue in Redwood City where sidewalks and adequate lighting are provided by those communities.

Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 6, 2012 at 6:48 pm


Caltrans is in charge and they don't want to do it. There was a recent news report on the radio regarding a similar situation in Millbrae. Multiple people killed or injured. Caltrans just stonewalls.

Posted by Louise
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 6, 2012 at 10:29 pm

What a terrible thing this accident was! I really hope those women will be OK!

Yes, El Camino in Atherton is very dark after sundown. It is therefore a very dangerous place to walk or bicycle after dark.

Nothing but fully-signaled intersections will ever work to provide truly safe crossing locations for pedestrians or bicyclists in Atherton. Forget those silly flashers embedded in the pavement -- they are impossible to see if there are any vehicles between you and them, and they do not provide adequate warning to slow down before stopping. Plain painted crosswalks are very dangerous places to cross El Camino in Atherton -- and they are all the more dangerous because they seem to be safer than intersections with no crosswalks at all.

Posted by el camino reality
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 7, 2012 at 5:16 am

When marked crosswalks can be more dangerous for pedestrians
Monday, July 19, 2010

By J.G. Preston
A car-pedestrian crash with tragic consequences in suburban San Francisco may bring about safer crosswalks in California, after a San Mateo County jury this month awarded more than $12 million in damages in a civil trial.

Emily Liou
Emily Liou was in a marked crosswalk at an intersection without a traffic signal on State Route 82 (El Camino Real) in Millbrae when she was struck by a southbound car. Liou, who was 17 years old at the time of the crash in 2006, suffered extensive brain damage and is left in a permanent vegetative state. She has required 24-hour care from the time she was placed in the ambulance and will continue to require such care for the rest of her shortened life.
Her attorneys, Richard Schoenberger and Doug Saeltzer, provided evidence that the marked crosswalk, intended to provide more safety for pedestrians, actually left Liou less safe.
“We presented evidence that Caltrans [responsible for the highway] had a dirty little secret,” Schoenberger said. “Namely, Caltrans has known for years that marked crosswalks at uncontrolled intersections are dangerous in general because they give pedestrians a false sense of security. These intersections may be safer without any marked crosswalk. This seems counterintuitive, but statistics, taken from study after study, bear this out.”
Schoenberger and Saeltzer found evidence of knowledge of the dangers of marked crosswalks dating back to a 1972 study commissioned by the city of San Diego. That study, which investigated 400 pedestrian accidents over a five-year period in the 1960s, concluded “approximately twice as many pedestrian accidents [per pedestrian crossing] occur in marked crosswalks as in unmarked crosswalks.” Those results were referenced in a later study, sponsored by Caltrans, conducted by the department of civil engineering at California State University-Chico in 1994. And that study reached the same conclusions: marked crosswalks have a higher frequency of pedestrian accidents than unmarked crosswalks at uncontrolled intersections.
Then in 2002 the Federal Highway Administration (part of the U.S. Department of Transportation) analyzed more data in a report titled “Safety Effects of Marked Versus Unmarked Crosswalks at Uncontrolled Intersections.” That report concluded marked crosswalks should not be used on roadways with four or more lanes and a raised median that see an average of at least 15,000 vehicles a day. At about that same time, Caltrans issued a directive promoting pedestrian protection. The legislature also got involved, passing a vehicle code instructing Caltrans to pay more attention to pedestrian safety issues. (Pedestrians are involved in only 3% of vehicle accidents statewide, but pedestrians account for 22% of fatalities from vehicle accidents.)

The crosswalk where Emily Liou was struck
El Camino Real, in the area where Liou was struck, has six lanes of traffic and a raised median and sees an average of more than 25,000 vehicles a day. “But Caltrans has never once inspected this crosswalk for the purpose of protecting pedestrians,” Schoenberger said. “They simply left it in place rather than removing it or improving it, as it could, for instance, with pedestrian-activated signals. Caltrans merely paid lip service to the idea that pedestrian safety was important.”
Schoenberger and Saeltzer discovered Caltrans had never studied the pedestrian accident rate on any of its roadways. If they had, they would have realized the danger of the crosswalk where Liou was struck, crossing El Camino Real at Ludeman Lane.
Four other pedestrians had been killed or injured in that same crosswalk over the previous ten years, and Caltrans used that as evidence of the crosswalk’s safety. “Their defense was, look at how many cars went through that intersection,” Saeltzer said. “They said there had been 90 million cars. But you can never adequately monitor pedestrian safety if you’re not actually monitoring pedestrians. And Caltrans has never systematically measured pedestrian crossing rates.”
By never doing a study to determine the number of people using the crosswalk who had the potential to be struck, Caltrans was in essence using the wrong denominator to determine the accident rate. So Schoenberger and Saeltzer did the study Caltrans should have done, counting the number of pedestrians using the Ludeman Lane crosswalk.
“We found there were only 70 people crossing there every day,” said Schoenberger. “So it was infrequently used. But over the ten years prior to when Ms. Liou was struck, there had been four pedestrian accidents, including two deaths. We estimate there would have been a total of about 250,000 pedestrian crossings during that time. And four pedestrian injuries out of 250,000 crossings, by traffic engineering standards, is a very high rate.
“We found people working at businesses in the area who told us, ‘I won’t use that crosswalk because it scares the crap out of me.’”

A satellite photo shows three marked crosswalks on El Camino Real, all nearly identical to the one at Ludeman Lane, within one-third of a mile
Indeed, that rate was more than 20 times higher than what had been deemed an unacceptable rate in the Federal Highway Administration’s study. Furthermore, Schoenberger and Saeltzer determined there had been similar pedestrian injury rates at two similar crosswalks on El Camino Real that are within one-third of a mile.
The attorneys also pointed out other problems with the crosswalk at Ludeman Lane. For southbound vehicles, such as the one that hit Liou, the intersection sits at the crest of a hill that makes it not only difficult for drivers to see the intersection but also impossible to see the crosswalk markings. Drivers actually see the traffic light at the next intersection long before they notice the Ludeman Lane intersection, especially at night, when Liou was hit.
After hearing the evidence presented by both sides, the jury awarded $12.2 million in damages, most of which will cover the costs of Liou’s medical care and her lost future income. But the amount Liou will receive will be reduced by 20 percent, the degree to which the jury found her at fault for the accident because she was wearing dark clothing and did not see the vehicle in time to avoid impact.
The driver of the car was determined to be 30 percent at fault even though she was sober at the time of the crash, was driving well below the speed limit and had a clean driving history. After all, California’s vehicle code requires drivers to yield to pedestrians in a marked crosswalk.
But the jury found Caltrans to be 50 percent at fault for the crash, for allowing the dangerous crosswalk to remain in place and not even attempting to study the risk there. “Caltrans had blamed our client and blamed the driver, “Schoenberger said. “They systematically avoided any responsibility for their own crosswalk. The jury didn’t agree.”
This is one of the first times Caltrans has been hit with such a verdict for a pedestrian crash, and Schoenberger believes that will lead to changes. “This will cause them to rethink how they evaluate pedestrian safety,” he said. “They don’t need to remove all marked crosswalks, but they need to study them. If it turns out an intersection isn’t a problem, then it’s okay to let the crosswalk remain. But they’ve got to think about it.”

Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 7, 2012 at 7:12 am

That was 2 1/2 years ago and Caltrans has still done nothing. No studies and nothing to improve pedestrian safety.

Posted by Donald
a resident of another community
on Dec 7, 2012 at 9:36 pm

Caltrans priority is freeways and bridges. Pedestrian safety in the burbs is not a big deal for them. They will not act unless local officials raise a huge public stink that embarrasses them.

Posted by resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 8, 2012 at 7:35 pm

Lots of similar car vs. pedestrian crashes on El Camino in other parts of the county. Caltrans has lost multi-million dollar lawsuits. They still do not care. Web Link

Posted by el camino reality
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 9, 2012 at 10:51 am

Isabella and El Camino: How Many More Accidents Before Caltrans Gets It?
Posted on October 1, 2012 by Mike Danko

Two years ago Chris Chandler was killed by a southbound motorist as he tried to cross El Camino at Isabella in Atherton. After investigating the design of the crosswalk, we filed suit against Caltrans on behalf of Chris' family. We've been arguing in court that the crosswalk is dangerous and that Caltrans should either fix it or remove it before someone else is killed or injured. We've now been litigating the case for a year and half. But Caltrans denies that there is any problem with its crosswalk, and refuses to do anything to make the intersection safe. We're waiting for the court to give us a trial date. Maybe Caltrans will listen to a jury.
This past Sunday, two years to the day that Chris was killed, two pedestrians were struck by a southbound SUV as they tried to cross El Camino at the same intersection in the same crosswalk. Both were seriously injured.
What will it take before Caltrans gets it? Caltrans has known for years that marked crosswalks like the one at Isabella and El Camino are more dangerous than crosswalks with no markings at all. It's Caltrans job to make its roadways relatively safe for pedestrians. Yet, it does nothing to fix the dangerous situation it created.
El Camino is busy. More than 20,000 vehicles per day pass through the intersection at Isabella. If Caltrans is going to paint a crosswalk there, it needs to install devices to warn and slow traffic, or install raised islands in the middle of the roadway where pedestrians can take refuge, or both. Simply painting lines in the road and hoping for the best is inviting disaster. Such a crosswalk provides a false sense of security for pedestrians, inviting them to cross in an area where it is unsafe to do so.
That's been proven in study after study. Here's just one study by the US Department of Transportation, published in 2005. It concludes that, for busy roads such as El Camino at Isabella:
Having a marked crosswalk alone (without other substantial improvements) was associated with a higher pedestrian crash rate (after controlling for other site factors) compared to an unmarked crosswalk. Raised medians provided significantly lower pedestrian crash rates on multilane roads, compared to roads with no raised median."

Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 9, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Caltrans doesn't care about lawsuits. Who is Caltrans? It's the state. The state is us, the taxpayer. Who do you think pays for these huge lawsuit payouts? You and I. Not the people that are actually at fault, those in charge of Caltrans. Until those folks have a personal stake in the safety of pedestrians on state roadways they will continue to have zero interest in remedying the situation.

Posted by el camino reality
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 9, 2012 at 2:30 pm

Menlo Voter has a point. Rather than go through the system at CalTrans why not start at the top. Here is the contact for the Director.
Anyone up for that?

Malcolm Dougherty [email protected]

Posted by el camino reality
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 10, 2012 at 1:24 pm

Accidents ready to happen.....
The Atherton Police Department records for the past four and half years (2008 to present) indicate there have been a total of eleven vehicle, bicycle, pedestrian (or combination of) accidents at or near El Camino Real and Watkins Avenue and Isabella intersection. Nine of these have involved personal injury accidents and there has been one fatality.
Several accidents have been detailed in Country Almanac articles:
Web Link
Web Link

A new problem--- 1906 El Camino Real Building
The building at 1906 El Camino (site of the old Acorn Restaurant) although completed on 2010 has been vacant for some time. It was permitted by Menlo Park as a medical/dental office building and has 45 parking spaces. It appears the building will soon be occupied and considerably add to the traffic volume and congestion either on El Camino Real or Watkins as typically these office visits will be of short duration. When proposed the traffic produced by this building was well documented and considered but Menlo Park went ahead. Other developments to the south of Watkins along El Camino Real planned in the near future will also add to the traffic volume as noted in this article.
Web Link

Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 11, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Interesting that the sidewalk along the east side of ECR ends at Watkins - no more sidewalks on this side of ECR until you get to Loyola Avenue, two blocks south of Fifth Avenue. And of course there are no sidewalks along the whole of the west side of ECR in Atherton, other that a small platform for the SamTrans bus stop near Fifth Avenue.
Why are so many posters lambasting CALTRANS, a state agency with no local concerns, when the local jurisdiction (Atherton) could be making the situation much safer for pedestrians by installing sidewalks along ECR, as all communities north & south have already done. Or at least at the intersections.
Why is Atherton getting a free pass when it comes to public safety?

Posted by Norman
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 11, 2012 at 7:54 pm

Crossing anywhere but where there is a stoplight system on El Camino is nuts. You should either lug yourself down to the next stoplight (and even there you have to start to cross when your light turns green not in the middle of a green light) or petition to have more stoplight intersections on El Camino which the pedestrian can activate with a button.

El Camino has too many lanes and blind spots due to traffic around a river to even be close to being safe. There should be 'no crossing' signs up and down El Camino until the system has been improved and made safe.

Posted by Janet L
a resident of another community
on Dec 12, 2012 at 3:02 pm

The stop lights on El Camino Real in Atherton are 1/2 mile apart: Encinal, Fair Oaks, Fifth. Lugging yourself to the next stoplight can easily be a 10 minute round trip. That's the equivalent of driving to downtown San Carlos from the corner of ECR & Fair Oaks. Do you think that is reasonable expectation?

As for petitioning for better crossing, that's exactly what people are doing. It's unreasonable to expect everyone to hop in a car every time they want to cross El Camino.

Posted by Donald
a resident of another community
on Dec 12, 2012 at 5:55 pm

Look at the other article about the driver in this incident - 89 years old with a disability and a suspended license. El Camino will never be safe if we allow totally incompetent people to continue to drive cars on it. How about some real enforcement in addition to engineering changes? How about tougher licensing and renewal requirements?

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