News

Atherton works to reduce pedestrian risks on El Camino Real

Long before the July 23 fatal accident on El Camino that took the life of 32-year-old Atherton resident Shahriar Rahimzadeh , the town of Atherton had been looking at ways to improve its 1.6-mile section of El Camino Real.

In fact, Atherton has been meeting with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), which has ultimate control over the roadway because it is a state highway, for more than 18 months.

Talks began after an accident on El Camino in September 2012, when two women in a crosswalk at Isabella Avenue were struck and badly injured. That accident was two years to the day after a 62-year-old bicyclist was struck and killed in the same crosswalk.

Town officials say that since 2007 there have have been six serious incidents, three of them fatal, involving bicycles or pedestrians on El Camino Real. Four of the victims were in crosswalks.

The meetings with Caltrans have had some results. Caltrans has agreed to put two pedestrian-activated stoplights, called pedestrian hybrid beacons, at the El Camino intersections of Isabella Avenue and Alejandra Avenue. However, the work is not scheduled to be started until August 2016, according to Caltrans spokeswoman Gidget Navarro.

City officials seem even more pessimistic, with Community Services Director Michael Kashiwagi stating in a recent report that "construction is scheduled to begin in late 2016. Therefore, it is anticipated that the pedestrian hybrid signals within Atherton will be under construction in 2017."

Town officials are working to move up the installation date.

"They need to be installed now," said Councilman Rick DeGolia. "In my opinion it simply isn't safe for any pedestrian, cyclist or vehicle to cross six lanes of state highway without a traffic light."

Councilman Bill Widmer, who said that he started the talks with Caltrans and other state officials when he was mayor in 2012, said he has been trying to get the state to agree to let Atherton advance the money to pay for the signals so they could go in sooner. The state would then pay Atherton back when it had the money budgeted, he said.

Mr. Widmer said he has spoken with state Senator Jerry Hill and has a meeting scheduled with Assemblyman Rich Gordon as well as county officials. "My goal is to get everybody coordinated," he said. "I'm trying to get things organized to get it going."

Caltrans has done some work to increase safety at five intersections within Atherton, adding signs and pavement markings at: Selby Lane, Stockbridge Avenue, Almendral Avenue, Isabella Avenue and Alejandra Avenue. The town has also cut and removed vegetation along El Camino to improve visibility

Atherton is also considering major changes along El Camino Real, including cutting the roadway to two lanes in each direction through the town and adding dedicated bike and pedestrian lanes and paths.

The town's budget for 2014-2015 includes funding for the preliminary studies that would be needed to move ahead with those changes. The town has promised to meet with all the other jurisdictions that would be affected by a slimmed-down El Camino Real, including Menlo Park, Redwood City, San Mateo County and the Menlo Park Fire Protection District.

The town's Bicycle Pedestrian Master Plan, now in the final stages of approval, shows how El Camino Real could be completely transformed with fewer motorized vehicle lanes, additional crosswalks and separated bicycle and pedestrian lanes.

There is strong support on the Atherton Council for the changes on El Camino.

"I disagree that we should make ECR faster for cars," said Councilwoman Elizabeth Lewis. "I want to make it safer for bikes and pedestrian travel, to take cars off of ECR."

Councilman Rick DeGolia agreed. "In my opinion, there needs to be one bike lane on at least one side of ECR and there should be at least a pedestrian lane on the other side," he said.

Councilman Bill Widmer said working with Caltrans has been frustrating. "Two years have passed and we're back almost exactly where we were before," he said. "Even if we get something tomorrow, it's a hollow victory." However, he said, "I don't think we're being ignored."

-

How to contact Caltrans: Atherton and the rest of the Bay Area are in the California Department of Transportation's District 4. To contact the district you can send mail to Caltrans District 4, P.O. Box 23660, Oakland, CA 94623-0660, or go to its website.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 7, 2014 at 12:27 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

""I want to make it safer for bikes and pedestrian travel, to take cars off of ECR."

This is a crazy idea - where does Lewis think those cars are going to go?

Do the words "cut through" and Alameda and Middlefield come to mind?

ECR is a designated Primary Response Route for the Fire District and, under the State Fire Code, the Fire District would have to approve any reduction in the number of lanes on ECR. I doubt that the Fire District would approve such a change.

Here is my proposal:
Having researched the vehicle code, what is done elsewhere on ECR and how other communities deal with pedestrian and bicycle access and safety I would like to summarize my recommendations:

1 - Add 2 pedestrian activated overhead traffic lights (with emergency vehicle preemption devices) at Almendral and at Watkins,

2 - synchronize all of the traffic lights on ECR from Highway 84 to the Palo Alto border at the 35 mph speed limit,

3 - narrow the six lanes to 11 ft each but keep 6 lanes from Highway 84 to the Palo Alto border,
Highway Design Manual "For conventional State highways with posted speeds less than or equal to 40 miles per hour and AADTT (truck volume) less than 250 per lane that are in urban, city or town centers (rural main streets), the minimum lane width shall be 11 feet."

4 - use the space gained from the narrowed lanes plus the existing unused right of way to create a protected bicycle path on both sides of ECR.
Highway Design Manual "Class II bikeways (bike lanes), for the preferential use of bicycles, may be established within the roadbed and shall be located immediately adjacent to a traffic lane as allowed in this manual. The minimum Class II bike lane width shall be 4 feet"

Note: My personal preference is to NOT encourage bicycles on ECR unless they can be safely separated from other traffic, i.e. a Class I bikeway as specified in the Highway Design Manual: "1003.1 Class I Bikeways (Bike Paths) Class I bikeways (bike paths) are facilities with exclusive right of way, with cross flows by vehicles minimized. Class I bikeways, unless adjacent to an adequate pedestrian facility, (see Index 1001.3(n)) are for the exclusive use of bicycles and pedestrians, therefore any facility serving pedestrians must meet accessibility requirements."

Unfortunately the current ECR right of way is not wide enough to accommodate a Class I bikeway/sidewalk and there are very few parallel routes to ECR in the Atherton area that offer a good bicycle alternative).

5 - Have these changes in place within 12 months at the latest.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jim
a resident of another community
on Aug 7, 2014 at 12:29 pm

Having commuted this corridor for the past 8 years, cutting to two lanes will make the bottleneck back up into Redwood city as it does now when it narrows to two lanes in Menlo Park. A solution and revenue source would be simple enforcement of the 35 mph limit. Few drive that slow now. Slower cars stop sooner.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by EasyDoesIt
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 7, 2014 at 12:29 pm

Councilwoman Elizabeth Lewis wants to "take cars off of El Camino Real", the main thoroughfare for the entire Peninsula, essential for emergency vehicles as well as for Peninsula residents going about their business.

Elections are coming up. Athertonians might want to take Ms. Lewis off their City Council.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Concerned-
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 7, 2014 at 12:33 pm

Interesting that this article would begin on the defensive-
One could be thankful these issues HAVE been in the talks about improving the safety for those traveling through the Town of Atherton on El Camino Real.
However, how high does the death and injury toll have to go before anything effective is in place?
The present improvements/conditions on this stretch of El Camino Real have proven not so effective.
On Crane Street in Menlo Park and on University Ave @ the Menlo Park Presbyterian Church are flashing cross walk lights --Perhaps at the very least this can be considered for immediate installation. Could be a beginning point.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 7, 2014 at 12:39 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"On Crane Street in Menlo Park and on University Ave @ the Menlo Park Presbyterian Church are flashing cross walk lights --Perhaps at the very least this can be considered for immediate installation. "

Such lights on a multilane highway are not only ineffective , they are dangerous. Approaching motorist on a multilane highway may see the flashing lights but may not see the pedestrian because their line of sight is obscured by vehicles in the other lanes. And since flashing yellow means caution not stop those motorists often drive through such intersections. Go watch the flashing light installations on Middlefield north of 5th and you will see this happen all the time.
The only way to protect pedestrians on ECR is having full stop red traffic signals.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Aug 7, 2014 at 12:40 pm

Peter: Thanks for putting a thoughtful and practical proposal forward --- one that has maximum impact, minimum costs and a short implementation timeline.

Those thinking that El Camino traffic should be reduced or eliminated are not thinking about real solutions. These are political responses to a real-life problem.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Concerned-
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 7, 2014 at 12:53 pm

Thank you Peter Carpenter for enlightening us on the topic of where the flashing crosswalks can be effective. Hopefully this will help with needed placement of street lights.
Sooner than later- we'll see.

"Such lights on a multilane highway are not only ineffective , they are dangerous. Approaching motorist on a multilane highway may see the flashing lights but may not see the pedestrian because their line of sight is obscured by vehicles in the other lanes. And since flashing yellow means caution not stop those motorists often drive through such intersections. Go watch the flashing light installations on Middlefield north of 5th and you will see this happen all the time.
The only way to protect pedestrians on ECR is having full stop red traffic signals."


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jordi Argente
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Aug 7, 2014 at 1:16 pm

I use this section of El Camino several times a day as I live nearby -and have to endure police sirens and crash noises on El Camino all the time, daily. My conclusion is that the only EFFECTIVE way to stop traffic when pedestrians want to cross is to have "pedestrian-activated stoplights -pedestrian hybrid beacons"; three better than the two currently planned, and ASAP. This solution will still not protect pedestrians/bikers travelling on El Camino, which requires dedicated lanes, width permitting while keeping six (perhaps narrower) lanes.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Donald
a resident of another community
on Aug 7, 2014 at 1:57 pm

As I posted elsewhere, pedestrian hybrid beacons rather than red-yellow-green stoplights are the correct solution to this problem, and pre-emption by emergency vehicles is not needed for them. On-street parking should be eliminated everywhere along El Camino, with the extra width used for buffered bike lanes.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 7, 2014 at 2:18 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" pre-emption by emergency vehicles is not needed for them."

On the contrary it would be foolish to allow a pedestrian to delay a fire engine's response by 1-2 minutes just be pushing a button. A Code 3 response, lights and sirens, is meant to bring ALL traffic including pedestrian traffic to a stop for a reason - to ensure a prompt response to an emergency.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 7, 2014 at 2:28 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Here is the law on EVERYONE including pedestrians yielding to emergency vehicles:

"V C Section 21806 Authorized Emergency Vehicles

Authorized Emergency Vehicles

21806. Upon the immediate approach of an authorized emergency vehicle which is sounding a siren and which has at least one lighted lamp exhibiting red light that is visible, under normal atmospheric conditions, from a distance of 1,000 feet to the front of the vehicle, the surrounding traffic shall, except as otherwise directed by a traffic officer, do the following:

(a) (1) Except as required under paragraph (2), the driver of every other vehicle shall yield the right-of-way and shall immediately drive to the right-hand edge or curb of the highway, clear of any intersection, and thereupon shall stop and remain stopped until the authorized emergency vehicle has passed.

(2) A person driving a vehicle in an exclusive or preferential use lane shall exit that lane immediately upon determining that the exit can be accomplished with reasonable safety.

(b) The operator of every street car shall immediately stop the street car, clear of any intersection, and remain stopped until the authorized emergency vehicle has passed.

(c) ALL PEDESTRIANS upon the highway shall proceed to the nearest curb or place of safety and remain there until the authorized emergency vehicle has passed."


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Louise68
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 7, 2014 at 2:57 pm

[Portion removed. Please don't speculate on what may have happened.]

And I agree completely with Peter Carpenter about how very dangerous those flashing lights embedded in the pavement are. They are far worse than having nothing.

And getting rid of one lane in each direction of ECR would be very bad. Just where do proponents of this idea expect motor vehicles to go? Those vehicles will not just vanish into thin air, but will, instead, drive into local neighborhoods, and cause gridlock on Middlefield and the Alameda.

And those "High-Intensity Activated Crosswalk" signals may sound like a good idea, but are very confusing when they are dark. I believe the Vehicle Code requires all vehicles to STOP when a traffic signal is dark, and only proceed when it is safe. I think dark traffic signals are to be treated as STOP signs. How are drivers supposed to tell the difference between those "High-Intensity Activated Crosswalk" signals when those are dark and a regular traffic signal that is out? Drivers should NOT be educated to ignore dark traffic signals!

Install complete regular traffic signals -- or do nothing.

[Portion removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 7, 2014 at 3:07 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Here are the details on the planned pedestrian beacons:

Web Link

Louise is correct regarding the current law of a 'dark' signal:

"VC Section 21800:
(d) (1) The driver of any vehicle approaching an intersection which has official traffic control signals that are inoperative shall stop at the intersection, and may proceed with caution when it is safe to do so."

It is not clear how the DMV will reconcile this section with the designed 'dark' signals of the planned pedestrian beacons.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Donald
a resident of another community
on Aug 7, 2014 at 4:09 pm

Pedestrian hybrid beacons are not used at intersections, only at mid-block crossings, so there is no conflict with CVC 21800.

Since these signals are dark until activated by a pedestrian, and cannot be pre-empted once they give the crossing signal, there is only a tiny time window in which pre-emption could have any effect: that between the push of the button and the start of the crossing phase. This is likely to add up to only a handful of seconds a day, unlikely to be worth the effort of adding pre-emption, but it could be added if cost is no object.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 7, 2014 at 4:14 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

It takes time for a person, particularly an elderly person, to cross a six lane highway.
The Vehicle Code REQUIRES ALL PEDESTRIANS upon the highway shall proceed to the nearest curb or place of safety and remain there until the authorized emergency vehicle has passed." A person in the crosswalk when preemption occurred would simply proceed to the NEAREST CURB.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Donald
a resident of another community
on Aug 7, 2014 at 7:00 pm

Peter, that is not pre-emption, that is what is required normally. Pre-emption is when the approaching emergency vehicle REQUESTS a green and the controller holds a green or calls for a green after going through the yellow cycle for cross traffic. It does not produce an instant green light. For a pedestrian beacon it would not instantly terminate the walk phase, but would inhibit the initiation of a new walk phase. Pedestrians would be required to obey the law you cite in any case.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 7, 2014 at 7:44 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"The 2003 Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) defines traffic signal preemption as "the transfer of normal operation of a traffic control signal to a special control mode of operation" (1). Preemptive control is designed and operated to give the most important classes of vehicles the right of way at and through a signal. This right of way is usually achived with a green indication on the approach of the vehicle requesting preemption. Preemptive control may be given to trains, boats, emergency vehicles, and light rail transit. It is commonly used for fire engines because the size of their vehicles makes them less able to move through traffic without the aid of preemption. Signal preemption controls the movement of traffic that is of greater importance than general vehicle and pedestrian traffic. Preemptive control is necessary to avoid collisions (e.g., trains versus automobiles) and/or give right of way to vehicles in an emergency situation (e.g., fire engines responding to an emergency).

Preemption interrupts normal signal operations to transfer right of way to the direction of an approaching emergency vehicle, but a green indication is not always guaranteed immediately after preemption is requested. The MUTCD states that the shortening or omission of any pedestrian walk interval and/or pedestrian change interval shall be permitted."


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Give it a rest
a resident of another community
on Aug 8, 2014 at 7:24 am

That's just what the other guy said


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Agnes Brydges
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 8, 2014 at 11:40 am

It is a laudable ambition to try to make El Camino Real safer for pedestrians and bicyclists crossing from one side to the other. More traffic lights might be one solution. But other cities have multiple traffic lights on El Camino Real and there are still a great number of pedestrian fatalities. As a senior who has lived here since the 1940's and who has crossed El Camino on foot countless times, I can just offer what works for me and keeps me safe......and that is to be very, very careful not to cross unless the traffic is clear. I also make eye contact with drivers before starting to cross. If it appears they are not seeing me and not slowing down for me to cross, I wait. I watch carefully, as though my life depended upon it, before crossing. My condolences to those who've been hurt or killed crossing E.C.R., but truly, one must be very careful and alert, no matter whether this is a light, or just a crosswalk.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Mike Keenly
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Aug 8, 2014 at 12:27 pm

@Agnes, thanks for your thoughtful post.

No matter what is done to make this section of El Camino safer, pedestrians need to be highly aware of their surroundings and cross the street only when they are confident it is prudent to do so.

Additionally, automobile drivers need to obey the laws, concentrate solely on their driving, and not be involved in other distractions that make their behavior less safe for everyone.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Concerned---
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 8, 2014 at 12:58 pm

Agnes---
To comment on my experience with crossing the street in downtown Menlo Park... I've been here all my life- I too make sure the driver sees me before I cross any street- but I also make sure as a driver I make eye contact with the pedestrian---

It is amazing and very curious the behavior of pedestrians and drivers who either just walk across the street while on their phone etc, assuming they don't need to be sure they are seen/visible to the driver and the driver who just assumes after a quick stop it is safe to just proceed through the crosswalk! And this is on a street with many stops and lower speed limit.

Unfortunately,,, these behaviors may never change. :(
So be alert, be careful drivers and pedestrians ---life is short enough


 +   Like this comment
Posted by matt from the block
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Aug 9, 2014 at 1:27 pm

matt from the block is a registered user.

Even if we went back to horse and buggy, there would still be pedestrian deaths. maybe this was just an unfortunate accident? they do happen.

It's just unrealistic to think that more and more restrictions and signs and bells and whistles will totally eliminate accidents. it wont


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