The sun was shining that winter evening I saw my daughter almost get hit by a car.
I had driven to pick up her up in a part of town highly frequented by pedestrians, bikes and many children and families. She had her bicycle with her: She would bike home and I would drive.
Arianne Teherani. Courtesy photo.
Then, suddenly, another car swerved around us. It was going at full speed, well above the 25 miles an hour limit, and it missed hitting my daughter — still in the crosswalk — by a hair.
Thank goodness my daughter was unharmed. But a few days later, at a crosswalk 100 feet from the one she'd been at, a pedestrian was hit by a car and collapsed.
Sadly, such unfortunate incidents seem to abound in Palo Alto, a town where walking and biking are almost a religion whose value our children are taught early on. Three school children we know personally were hit by cars, one of them was seriously injured. Our neighbor's child was hit by a pickup truck biking back from school — it plowed through our neighborhood at full speed, hit the child and took off, leaving the injured child alone.
After my daughter's experience, I did my due diligence. I followed the car that almost hit her, copied down the license plate number and called the police to report the incident. They took down the information but said there wasn't "much" they could do. Since the car hadn't hit my daughter, they considered the incident a "minor traffic infarction," not least because I had no evidence.
The police also told me that bad driving is "extremely common" in Palo Alto these days: Their list of bad driving reports was long and increasing every day.
Undaunted, though, I spent the following days visiting every single business in the neighborhood where my daughter had been riding and tried to locate witnesses who saw the incident. Several kind and helpful people were eager to help. Some pulled their video footage, others asked customers and employees if they'd seen anything. Many followed back up with me via email or phone.
I was surprised to learn that more than half of the people I spoke with said they, too, had their safety jeopardized at the crosswalk or knew of someone who had.
It is a shame that the police dismiss so many of these incidents as simply a consequence of "bad driving." Palo Alto prides itself on being a bike safe city and thousands of our children bike or walk to school daily. Each day, over 100,000 people drive in and out of Palo Alto for work, but though Palo Alto's transportation division is working on changes to a limited number of bicycling and pedestrian corridors on larger streets, it's not enough.
These new measures will force cars to slow down on larger streets, but what about the smaller residential and business streets? Why are the key crosswalks, especially small-street ones in business districts, not monitored with video cameras? Why is it that concerned parents have to independently search for video footage to prove their child's safety was jeopardized? And why are the police doing nothing about the growing list of "bad drivers?"
I have taught my children to be cautious, but I don't feel safe letting them walk and bike around our neighborhood after one of them, through no fault of her own, was almost hit by a car. There are no police or city systems in place to protect my child, and the onus of proving my child was almost hit by a car fell squarely on me.
Our schools promote "Walk and Roll" days, and there are citywide events encouraging biking. Do the schools and parents who organize these events realize that the police list of bad drivers is lengthy and so many children on bikes are not safe in our city?
Protecting children and adults who walk and bike should be a primary effort of the police department and the city -- a concerted effort requiring active, ongoing communication and collaboration with families and residents. Traffic-safety planners must work with the police department and families to create a visible and streamlined process for child safety on all Palo Alto streets.
The police department must proactively monitor all areas and publish all bad driving incidents for residents and schools to see. Parents should have a right to know which streets pose safety threats to their children, and they shouldn't be responsible for proving dangers facing their children.
Arianne Teherani has been a resident of Palo Alto for almost 20 years. She has been involved in local and district school efforts for the city. She can be reached at email@example.com.