News

Cyclist dies after fall on Sand Hill Road

Accidents may prompt change in speed limit on one portion of roadway

Deborah Johnson, the 51-year-old Palo Alto woman who was hospitalized Sunday, July 22, after falling off her bike that afternoon on Sand Hill Road, died Tuesday, July 24, according to the Santa Clara County Coroner's Office.

In response to recent serious bike accidents along the 55 mph portion of Sand Hill Road between Interstate 280 and Whiskey Hill Road, the county is planning steps to make that part of the road safer.

Johnson was wearing a helmet and riding with friends when she fell and hit her head just west of Branner Drive in Menlo Park while the group was heading east on Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park police said.

Police are investigating the incident. The Santa Clara County Coroner's Office will not release information about the cause of Johnson's death until after an autopsy, a spokeswoman said.

A recent repainting of the bicycle-lane stripes is part of an effort to make the road safer, according to Lisa Ekers, road operations manager with the San Mateo County Public Works Department, which maintains the 55-mph stretch of Sand Hill Road.

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More signs are coming, along with new paint for the lettering and images inside the bike lanes on the pavement, she said.

Public Works is collaborating with the California Highway Patrol and the Sheriff's Office, which are working with the traffic court, Ekers said.

"The county is open to and is looking into adjusting the speed limit," she said. "The difficulty is having something that is enforceable in court."

Speed limits are governed by a state law that determines a legal limit as the speed of 85 percent of the traffic, she said. A driver can successfully fight a speeding ticket if the limit runs afoul of the 85th percentile rule.

While a road's "natural" limit is affected by its physical characteristics -- the number of curves, driveways and side streets, for example -- heavy bicycle use may also be a factor, Ekers said.

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The 55-mph section of Sand Hill Road "has a pretty good opportunity" for a lower limit, she said, given the high volume of cyclists and the "blatant disregard" for lane lines that some drivers have shown.

The process of change is "frustratingly slow," she added. "Some of the road's users, especially the bicyclists, will probably be frustrated by the pace."

Asked if the county is looking at pavement elements such as chevrons that would vibrate wheels and deliver a warning to motorists and cyclists when they cross the bike-lane stripe, Ekers was skeptical.

"The reality is that no amount of noise or paint is going to keep some drivers in their lane. They just want to go faster," she said.

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Cyclist dies after fall on Sand Hill Road

Accidents may prompt change in speed limit on one portion of roadway

by David Boyce / Almanac

Uploaded: Mon, Jul 30, 2007, 4:46 pm

Deborah Johnson, the 51-year-old Palo Alto woman who was hospitalized Sunday, July 22, after falling off her bike that afternoon on Sand Hill Road, died Tuesday, July 24, according to the Santa Clara County Coroner's Office.

In response to recent serious bike accidents along the 55 mph portion of Sand Hill Road between Interstate 280 and Whiskey Hill Road, the county is planning steps to make that part of the road safer.

Johnson was wearing a helmet and riding with friends when she fell and hit her head just west of Branner Drive in Menlo Park while the group was heading east on Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park police said.

Police are investigating the incident. The Santa Clara County Coroner's Office will not release information about the cause of Johnson's death until after an autopsy, a spokeswoman said.

A recent repainting of the bicycle-lane stripes is part of an effort to make the road safer, according to Lisa Ekers, road operations manager with the San Mateo County Public Works Department, which maintains the 55-mph stretch of Sand Hill Road.

More signs are coming, along with new paint for the lettering and images inside the bike lanes on the pavement, she said.

Public Works is collaborating with the California Highway Patrol and the Sheriff's Office, which are working with the traffic court, Ekers said.

"The county is open to and is looking into adjusting the speed limit," she said. "The difficulty is having something that is enforceable in court."

Speed limits are governed by a state law that determines a legal limit as the speed of 85 percent of the traffic, she said. A driver can successfully fight a speeding ticket if the limit runs afoul of the 85th percentile rule.

While a road's "natural" limit is affected by its physical characteristics -- the number of curves, driveways and side streets, for example -- heavy bicycle use may also be a factor, Ekers said.

The 55-mph section of Sand Hill Road "has a pretty good opportunity" for a lower limit, she said, given the high volume of cyclists and the "blatant disregard" for lane lines that some drivers have shown.

The process of change is "frustratingly slow," she added. "Some of the road's users, especially the bicyclists, will probably be frustrated by the pace."

Asked if the county is looking at pavement elements such as chevrons that would vibrate wheels and deliver a warning to motorists and cyclists when they cross the bike-lane stripe, Ekers was skeptical.

"The reality is that no amount of noise or paint is going to keep some drivers in their lane. They just want to go faster," she said.

Comments

Matt Raschke
Santa Rita (Los Altos)
on Jul 31, 2007 at 1:01 pm
Matt Raschke, Santa Rita (Los Altos)
on Jul 31, 2007 at 1:01 pm

"the speed of 85 percent of the traffic"

I wonder if bikes are considered in the speed study measurement? Bikes are treated as vehicles and subject to the same rules of the road. If so, the 85th percentile speed should go down somewhat after a new traffic study.


Dan
another community
on Aug 1, 2007 at 5:54 am
Dan, another community
on Aug 1, 2007 at 5:54 am

The state code, definitions section, specifies factors which can be included in the "traffic survey" used to determine speed limits. "Bicyclist and pedestrian safety", the last element in the list, was recently added. The code is as follows:

627. (a) "Engineering and traffic survey," as used in this code,
means a survey of highway and traffic conditions in accordance with
methods determined by the Department of Transportation for use by
state and local authorities.
(b) An engineering and traffic survey shall include, among other
requirements deemed necessary by the department, consideration of all
of the following:
(1) Prevailing speeds as determined by traffic engineering
measurements.
(2) Accident records.
(3) Highway, traffic, and roadside conditions not readily apparent
to the driver.
(c) When conducting an engineering and traffic survey, local
authorities, in addition to the factors set forth in paragraphs (1)
to (3), inclusive, of subdivision (b) may consider all of the
following:
(1) Residential density, if any of the following conditions exist
on the particular portion of highway and the property contiguous
thereto, other than a business district:
(A) Upon one side of the highway, within a distance of a quarter
of a mile, the contiguous property fronting thereon is occupied by 13
or more separate dwelling houses or business structures.
(B) Upon both sides of the highway, collectively, within a
distance of a quarter of a mile, the contiguous property fronting
thereon is occupied by 16 or more separate dwelling houses or
business structures.
(C) The portion of highway is longer than one-quarter of a mile
but has the ratio of separate dwelling houses or business structures
to the length of the highway described in either subparagraph (A) or
(B).
(2) Pedestrian and bicyclist safety.

The article is misleading, I feel.


Teddie
Old Palo Alto
on Aug 1, 2007 at 10:11 pm
Teddie, Old Palo Alto
on Aug 1, 2007 at 10:11 pm

Am I missing something here? What does the 55 mph speed limit have to do with this tragic accident?


Citizen A
Woodside
on Aug 1, 2007 at 11:57 pm
Citizen A, Woodside
on Aug 1, 2007 at 11:57 pm

That's right the 55mph speed limit has nothing to do with either fatality. With all due respects to the families of these people, I'll keep it short and say that one fatality was due a cyclist falling off of her bike. The other fatality was due to the cyclist making a U-turn in the road and being hit by a car going 35mph.


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