Police to monitor roads, crosswalks near schools

Palo Alto police mount 'Operation Safe Passage' during 'Walk & Roll' week

City of Palo Alto police plan a crackdown on traffic violators in all local school zones during peak commute hours next week (Oct. 3-7), as part of "Operation Safe Passage," a public-safety awareness program mounted in conjunction with Santa Clara County law enforcement agencies, the police department announced Thursday.

Officers will strictly enforce traffic violations by both motorists and students. The police department participates in the program three times each year in order to increase the safety of students commuting to and from school.

The monitoring is being undertaken along with the school district's 'Palo Alto Walks and Rolls' week, which encourages students and their parents to leave their cars at home and instead walk or bicycle to school.

Police will be citing violators who:

• Fail to stop for school buses with flashing stoplights

• Speed

• Fail to yield to pedestrians

• Jaywalk

• Are juvenile bicyclists without required helmets or are not properly wearing them

• Violate seat belt and child restraint seat laws

• Use a cell phone or text

• Fail to stop at a stop sign

More than 6,400 Palo Alto Unified School District students are also expected to take part in Palo Alto Walks and Rolls. The annual event is organized by the Palo Alto PTAs, City of Palo Alto and the school district, which formed "Safe Routes to Schools."

The event works to improve student safety during commutes to school and encourages use of more healthful and "green" transportation.

Operation Safe Passage also comes on the heels of the accident Wednesday that killed 6-year-old East Palo Alto resident Sioreli Torres Zamora. Sioreli was fatally struck by a car in a crosswalk on Bay Road in East Palo Alto while walking to school with her mother and two siblings.

The driver was East Palo Alto teacher, Alisha Whiteparker, who was on her way to work at Costano Elementary School.

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Like this comment
Posted by Calvin Li
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 29, 2011 at 7:06 pm

Having encountered these officers the past few days as a student bicyclist, I must complain that they appear to be cracking down more on student bicyclists than student drivers, who are far more reckless, dangerous, and worthy of police attention.

—Calvin Li, Gunn '13

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Posted by reckless drivers
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 29, 2011 at 7:49 pm

Bicyclists are easy pickings because they are moving so slowly. If a car runs a stop sign or speeds down a road, then the cop has to give chase and that can make a dangerous situation even worse. What the cops need to do is video record the reckless driving around schools, then bust the drivers later at their homes or offices. The videos should be adequate proof in court.

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Posted by reckless drivers
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 29, 2011 at 7:52 pm

P.S. In my experience, the most dangerous drivers are the parents, not the students. Parents make all kinds of illegal maneuvers when they try to weave through traffic to drop off their kids in no stopping zones, then speed off without looking for pedestrians or other cars.

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Posted by Calvin Li
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 29, 2011 at 8:13 pm

re: reckless drivers

Perhaps my experience is different, but I think it the student drivers. I have in the three years I've been at Gunn seen student drivers speeding past 50 mi/h, driving without licenses, driving other students on a provisional license (against the law), and generally driving aggressively. None of these, I will note, are subject to police action whatsoever, while student bikers are harassed by police regardless of whether they are biking safely or not *.

* Story: during Operation Safe Passage last year, 3 (or 5, neither me nor my friends can recall) motorcycle-riding officers were stationed on the corner of Maybell and Georgia. They were rounding up all bikers who turned from Georgia (coming out of Gunn) and threatening to cite them for failing to stop at the stop sign. The catch? The officers could not, from their position, see the intersection they claimed bikers were failing to stop at.

I am strongly of the opinion that rogue student drivers (and, I will concede, parent drivers) are far more a danger to the public safety than bicyclists without helmets (not that I support biking without helmets; if anything, I may be among the strongest proponents of helmet-wearing at Gunn). Yet it is the bikers that receive police attention, rather ironic seeing that one of the purposes of Operation Safe Passage is promoting bike riding.

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Posted by JLS parent
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 29, 2011 at 9:17 pm

As usual, they have no intention of addressing the most dangerous violations, namely that the sidewalks are constantly blocked by cars and trash cans, forcing the kids to walk in the roadway on the way to and from school.

Safe passage? No such thing here in Midtown.

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Posted by local parent
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Sep 29, 2011 at 11:03 pm

Calvin and all above,
I think the police are cracking down because, since the high school starts later this year (which as a parent I fully support), unfortunately means the start time of the high school now conflicts with the start time of the elementary and middle schools. It's too bad the start time wasn't moved another 10 or 15 minutes later.

The traffic to Gunn used to be mostly clear by the time the elementary school started. Now BOTH drivers and bicyclists through the neighborhood pose dangers to pedestrians, especially very little pedestrians. At best, families from the neighborhood are being discouraged from walking to school now, at worst, it's dangerous.

Since this year began, I have seen a lot of bikes going through the neighborhood (which again, I support), but I have never once seen any of the bikes stop at a stop sign, including when I have been right in the middle of intersections, crossing with children -- the bikes simply blew through the intersections like no one was there. At least twice the bikes were traveling fast enough that a collision could have been very serious, in one case the bicyclist literally brushed by me (so close I had to stop), going fast and accelerating.

You may not think you are dangerous on your bike, but many of your fellow students are riding bikes in packs, talking to each other and not watching where they are going. There are cases of bikes causing injuries or fatalities (either to the bike rider or the pedestrian) from collisions with pedestrians. Certainly bike collisions with cars never favor the bikes.

I have been in the intersection crossing, when a pack of bikes came up, seemed to slow (not slow enough to be called a rolling stop), appeared to look at us while we were crossing, and then proceeded to just flow around me and the kids while we were right in the middle of the street.

I appreciate the effort the police are making, but it doesn't seem to be affecting behavior when they are not there to give tickets. I also feel like high school students need to be a part of the solution so that this doesn't become something that pits the students against the community, and it doesn't take someone getting hurt before it gets dealt with.

I do think the police should be vigilant about the drivers, too. (There ought to be a law that drivers who text lose their licenses, period.)

JLS parent, we have more the problem that ever since the time change, the high school students will even ride up on the sidewalk (usually taking up the street, too), making it really difficult and scary for the little ones.

I really, really think there should be a crossing guard at Maybelle and Donald if the start time for the high school is to be permanent. There's no money of course -- perhaps the high school students would be willing to figure out how to volunteer and train as crossing guards, or fundraise, or even help write grants, in order to be part of the solution. We really have great kids in this community, I would really hate to see this turn into an ongoing conflict or worse.

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Posted by another parent
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 29, 2011 at 11:08 pm

I hear the police are giving a lot of warnings but haven't been cracking down like they could, hoping the bicyclists will get the hint. I don't think they are. I haven't seen any one stop either.

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Posted by Nils Nullum
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 29, 2011 at 11:35 pm

Gunn students would not support the addition of a crossing guard, especially considering the reputation of the Juana Briones crossing guard (who is, I will freely admit, exceptionally useful, but not exactly well liked).

The problem of bikers not stopping at stop signs is not limited to high schoolers, and has a few justifications behind it (although this is certainly no defense of the practice). The majority, taking a cynical view, would be vehemently against any enforcement of traffic laws at all (and indeed, already are).

As a side-note, cars squeezing into busy bicycle lanes (yet another consequence of the coincidence of start times) are viewed with about as much distaste as bicyclists on sidewalks are. Neither cars nor bicyclists can claim the moral high ground.

I will close by concurring that the police presence has little effect other than fomenting a general distaste for, intolerance of, and frustration about the police force. It is certainly not providing a safe passage.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 30, 2011 at 8:06 am

One of the reason student bikers don't stop at stop signs is because since they started elementary school, they have seen crossing guards wave them through or even stop traffic for them at stop signs.

Crossing guards are to stop traffic including bikes. If a bicyclist wants to cross against a crossing guard, they need to dismount and push the bike across so that they are a pedestrian.

If crossing guards did their job properly and made sure that cyclists stopped for them, it would be a great start.

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Posted by Reality
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 30, 2011 at 8:31 am

Some people are better at driving a car and some people are worse. Some people are better at riding a bike and others are worse.

It shouldn't matter if someone is driving for the first time or is a professional race car driver or police officer. What matter is that people are driving safely. There are some people completely capable of carrying on a conversation on their cell phone while driving safely. Unfortunately, there are many people who cannot seem to drive safely even with no distractions at all. If someone looks like they are driving unsafely, they should be stopped.

Likewise, there are plenty of people who can safely cross intersections on a bicycle without coming to a complete stop. Unfortunately, many don't seem to be capable of this. Bikers can see & hear better than car drivers and due to their quietness, manual propulsion operation and relatively slow speed. They should be able to go through intersections without coming to a full stop IFF the intersection is clear. A very big problem, it seems to me, is that many of these kids travel in groups where they appear to be more interested in talking with each other than watching what is going on around them. They sometimes put themselves and others in a lot of danger.

Car drivers need to watch out all the time but particularly when there are many pedestrians & bicyclists. Get off your phone, make sure you are signaling properly. Slow down. Use the clearer streets when possible.

We are all in this together, folks. I think the police are doing a relatively good job ticketing both drivers and riders. I think we can all help them by setting a good example and reminding others to do so as well.

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Posted by KAH
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 30, 2011 at 10:15 am

They need to cite drivers who stop in the intersection and in crosswalks when the light turns red. That's been a huge problem this week. The crossing guards don't let the kids cross (which is good), but then the kids are delayed to school because the drivers are in a hurry.

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Posted by another concerned parent
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 30, 2011 at 10:18 am

very happy to see the police manage this as a coordinated campaign. I wrote in to the police department recently about the intersection at Greer and Oregon expressway. Cars driving straight and taking turns at the same time, all while kids are riding/walking to/from school. Very scary and everyone is so impatient.

We all need to take a deep breath and think if it's really worth it to rush anywhere given the possibility of a tragic consequence. I got a speeding ticket last year while dropping off my stepkids in Los Altos (40 in a 25 zone), and I completely deserved it. I thanked the officer for the reminder, paid my ticket, and I'm thankful that I didn't cause an accident.

On another note, is it just me or are there more cyclists riding around without helmets, weaving in and out of traffic? They are CRAZY.

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Posted by Saddened long-time resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 30, 2011 at 10:22 am

Can the PA Police make themselves useful by helping keep kids safe on their walk to school, instead of handing out tickets to indigent panhandlers who are not hurting anyone. The priorities in this town make me sick.

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Posted by Richard
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 30, 2011 at 10:51 am

The number one priority of the PAPD in the morning is to keep the school commutes safe, and this has been the case for many years. Operation Safe Passage has also been going on for years as a county-wide event organized by the CHP, annually or twice a year. Palo Alto does a much better job of traffic enforcement than other communities in our area because we have a traffic team specifically dedicated to that job. Most police departments use patrol officers, but traffic enforcement is not their top priority. Still, there is too much traffic and not enough cops, and that is only going to continue.

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Posted by Appreciative Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 30, 2011 at 10:55 am

The crossing guard at Terman is Excellent. He is extremely upbeat. He instructs all the kids to get off the bicycles and walk. He also instructs the parents on following driving rules such as no Right on Red when kids are present etc.

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Posted by Saddened long-time resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 30, 2011 at 11:28 am

Ditto that on Michael, Terman's crossing guard. He is an unsung hero who has earned the respect of kids, parents and even drivers (!) on Arastradero. I hope his pay reflects his responsibility and excellent service, but I doubt it somehow.

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Posted by Cindy
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 30, 2011 at 12:04 pm

I would really love to see the students who are on bikes, primarily those going to and from Gunn, stop running the stop signs at Laguna and Los Robles. Even with careful drivers, I'm afraid one of these days one of them is going to get hit because they didn't stop at the stop signs at this intersection. And for that matter, I've seen plenty of cars not stop at the stop signs at this particular intersection either. Please police this intersection!!

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 30, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Please drive extra slow on Georgia Ave. Gunn kids exiting on bikes onto Georgia do not even stop - I make sure to drive about 20 mph or less in that area and I've still had kids on bikes almost hit me. The morning is just as dangerous with packs traveling right through the intersection of Donald and Georgia without stopping - or even looking. It is unfortunate that they have the elementary and high schools starting at similar times.

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Posted by Thank you , PAPD
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 30, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Thank you PAPD for giving special attention to school commute routes during school commute times. You do a great job and I, for one, am very grateful. I have seen officers ticketing scofflaws driving autos and bikes.

Let's all share the road safely. Follow vehicle code and watch out for each other, giving consideration road users.

We citizens can make all this energy given to ticketing less necessary by simply obeying the law.

Like this comment
Posted by george
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 30, 2011 at 4:32 pm

Nils Nullum. I quote your last paragraph "....general distaste for, intolerance of, and frustration about the police force." Can you cite instances that cause you to use such pejorative comments about a group that is trying to keep the community safe?

With hundreds of bicyclists and cars in the mornings passing through >20 school intersections, there are not enough officers to monitor every intersection and catch everyone who flouts the law. But they can try to educate small groups at a time and eventually get all to cooperate on improving safety. Perhaps Michael can tutor the other crossing guards on how he handles his job. This would make make the officer's task much easier.

Unfortunately too many people resent the police because they have the power to enforce the law. Yet they are simply trying to do the job they are paid for. Would you have them be "good guys" and let everyone ignore laws which are meant to improve everyone's safety?

We are the problem; we must be the solution.

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Posted by David Pepperdine
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 30, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Charleston Rd. outside Hoover has got to be the WORST!
Not saying this is due to a certain ethnic group or anything :).

Like this comment
Posted by joka
a resident of Southgate
on Sep 30, 2011 at 4:46 pm

but cops definitely target minorities. white folks texting all over the place while driving down boulevards. many near misses are spotted all the time.

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Posted by Annoyed
a resident of another community
on Sep 30, 2011 at 9:27 pm

Calvin Li...don't be bitter about the ticket you got while on your bicycle. I have a hard time believing you are 13 or there was another Calvin Li who went to Gunn a few years ago. And...what class did you go to to estimate the speed of a vehicle? And as far as your provisional and unlicensed drivers, give the police your crystal ball so they can tell who they are.

Operation Safe passage works. Like it or not. If bicyclists are more aware while they are riding, and obeying the law, they will have a better chance of avoiding that car or pedestrian that is not payibg attention.

One child who's life is saved because they were made to wear their helmet is worth all of the belly aching that is going on here. What if it is your child, or your life?

And cut the outdated belief that it is racially motivated. The numbers are public information. Go get them or shut up.

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Posted by parent
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Sep 30, 2011 at 10:49 pm

Barron Park parent,
I think there should be a crossing guard at one of those intersections, Georgia and Donald or Donald and Maybell. The other day we finally gave up and drove the car a few blocks just to get past the former, it's gotten so hard to get to school.

If the high school students were thinking about the danger and problems they posed to the community especially the little kids and everyone out that time of day (and themselves), they wouldn't be behaving that way. But I believe in our students, and I believe if some of them understood, they could be a part of the solution. I think any solution the kids come up with would be better because they would be trying to solve the problems themselves rather than being ticketed regularly and looking bad to the community.

I would hate to see this turn into an ongoing conflict where the high school students appear selfish and self-centered. I think we have extraordinary high school students in this community who are capable of solving this problem for themselves and the community. I hope there are some who will consider putting some effort into putting a crossing guard at one of those Donald intersections (or maybe a better solution).

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Posted by daniel
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 1, 2011 at 6:15 am

From my observation and experience, the greatest danger in school zones are drivers, often parents themselves, who text and talk on their cell phones while surrounded by students biking and walking to school. This habit, epidemic actually, also leads to red light and stop sign running. I believe that cops are reluctant to tackle this problem since it's much easier to ticket a panhandler or a minority driving a jalopy than a generally well off person driving a luxury car.

Like this comment
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 2, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Is it legal for kids to ride bikes on sidewalks, or not? I'm not clear. My daughter and I almost get run over almost every day on our way to Escondido after we cross El Camino. Are the bike riding kids supposed to be yelling at us to get out of their way? I've seen a bit of recklessness on scooters as well.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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