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What can we learn from the pedestrian death on Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park?

Original post made by Peter Carpenter, Atherton, on Dec 23, 2015

When a tragedy like this occurs there are two very different and equally appropriate responses. The first is to lament the loss of a life and to provide condolences to the family. The second is to learn from the tragedy so that we can try to prevent it from happening again. Mixing the two types of responses creates unnecessary pain and confusion.

The sole purpose of this topic is to discuss what we might learn from this tragic death and how we might prevent future deaths of this type.

Your thoughts?

Comments (32)

6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 23, 2015 at 10:20 am

Society should always learn from mistakes from the past. History tells us that if we don't learn about it, discuss it, try to understand the reasons leading up to an event and see the obvious mistakes that have been made, then history will only repeat itself.

Obviously every time there is an event like this, accidents always have a cause, there is a tendency to want to find someone or something to blame. Just because there is a cause, it isn't necessarily an attempt to lay blame unless someone was actually breaking the law.

At present though it is only speculation, not that speculation is wrong if it is respectful, but we can only speculate and then get warnings from the speculations.

However, I would like to know more of the facts before we can truly learn from this accident.

I would hope that this accident is not repeated but alas, it sounds like so many others that have happened and unless the facts are made known and changes made - changes to behavior, infrastructure and even the law, then in my mind the same thing will happen again and again.

Just because a 50 year old law worked 50 years ago, it doesn't follow that it should not be changed ever. Things have changed a lot in 50 years, but some of our laws have not kept up with changing usages of infrastructure. It is about time that these laws were changed, not city by city or even state by state necessarily, but nationwide.


12 people like this
Posted by Sad
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 23, 2015 at 10:26 am

Drivers not being watchful at right turn signals is a big problem. Install cameras, review footage when a pedestrian complains about being nearly runover, apply stiff tickets. There are also a lot of rash and likely unlicensed drivers on the roads. Maybe they can be pulled over? I.e. have low tolerance for rash driving on inner city roads.


16 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 23, 2015 at 12:22 pm

"What can we learn from the pedestrian death on Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park?"

Nothing that we do not already know in the abstract, until the authorities or a jury reviews the facts and reports their findings.


11 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 23, 2015 at 3:36 pm

Are we ever going to learn the facts? I still do not know what direction the SUV was heading when it hit the pedestrian. Was he driving straight down Sand Hill? Or turning right from Santa Cruz to Sand Hill? Surely the police have asked the driver this, but will this information ever be released to the public? Without some basic facts about what happened, how can we make any changes that will reduce the chance of this happening again?

Personally, I know that many (perhaps most) drivers go way to fast down Sand Hill and many drivers make the right turn from Santa Cruz to Sand Hill too fast and without looking for pedestrians. However, without knowing what happened, can we really suggest safety improvements to this intersection?


5 people like this
Posted by Paly Grad
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Dec 23, 2015 at 4:30 pm

On Oak Grove in Menlo Park there are two crosswalks with flashing lights. One is by the Post Office and one is near the train station. Pedestrians press a button and the lights flash at ground level while the pedestrian crosses the street. I think that helps at those two crosswalks where there is quite a bit of foot traffic and car traffic.


3 people like this
Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 24, 2015 at 4:41 am

How about we learn that we need an actual meaningful road and written test to drive a car, along with regular retests?

For that matter, how about strict liability? The duty of care should lie with the operator of the 2-ton SUV, period.


7 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on Dec 24, 2015 at 6:05 am

MP Resident, "For that matter, how about strict liability? The duty of care should lie with the operator of the 2-ton SUV, period."

This may or may not be the case in this situation, but sometimes pedestrians do unexpected things and aren't always 'right'.


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Dec 24, 2015 at 7:32 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Both the pedestrian and the driver share responsibilities according to California law:

"Right-of-Way at Crosswalks

21950. (a) The driver of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection, except as otherwise provided in this chapter.
(b) This section does not relieve a pedestrian from the duty of using due care for his or her safety. No pedestrian may suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard. No pedestrian may unnecessarily stop or delay traffic while in a marked or unmarked crosswalk.

(c) The driver of a vehicle approaching a pedestrian within any marked or unmarked crosswalk shall exercise all due care and shall reduce the speed of the vehicle or take any other action relating to the operation of the vehicle as necessary to safeguard the safety of the pedestrian.

(d) Subdivision (b) does not relieve a driver of a vehicle from the duty of exercising due care for the safety of any pedestrian within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection.

Amended Sec. 8, Ch. 833, Stats. 2000. Effective January 1, 2001."


2 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on Dec 24, 2015 at 8:00 am

Hi Peter, Does the law say anything specific about who has the right of way when the intersection is controlled by a traffic light?


6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Dec 24, 2015 at 8:24 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"21450. Whenever traffic is controlled by official traffic control
signals showing different colored lights, color-lighted arrows, or
color-lighted bicycle symbols, successively, one at a time, or in
combination, only the colors green, yellow, and red shall be used,
except for pedestrian control signals, and those lights shall
indicate and apply to drivers of vehicles, operators of bicycles, and
pedestrians as provided in this chapter."

"21453. (a) A driver facing a steady circular red signal alone shall
stop at a marked limit line, but if none, before entering the
crosswalk on the near side of the intersection or, if none, then
before entering the intersection, and shall remain stopped until an
indication to proceed is shown, except as provided in subdivision
(b).
(b) Except when a sign is in place prohibiting a turn, a driver,
after stopping as required by subdivision (a), facing a steady
circular red signal, may turn right, or turn left from a one-way
street onto a one-way street. A driver making that turn shall yield
the right-of-way to pedestrians lawfully within an adjacent crosswalk
and to any vehicle that has approached or is approaching so closely
as to constitute an immediate hazard to the driver, and shall
continue to yield the right-of-way to that vehicle until the driver
can proceed with reasonable safety.
(c) A driver facing a steady red arrow signal shall not enter the
intersection to make the movement indicated by the arrow and, unless
entering the intersection to make a movement permitted by another
signal, shall stop at a clearly marked limit line, but if none,
before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection,
or if none, then before entering the intersection, and shall remain
stopped until an indication permitting movement is shown.
(d) Unless otherwise directed by a pedestrian control signal as
provided in Section 21456, a pedestrian facing a steady circular red
or red arrow signal shall not enter the roadway."

"21456. Whenever a pedestrian control signal showing the words "WALK"
or "WAIT" or "DONT WALK" or other approved symbol is in place, the
signal shall indicate as follows:
(a) "WALK" or approved "Walking Person" symbol. A pedestrian
facing the signal may proceed across the roadway in the direction of
the signal, but shall yield the right-of-way to vehicles lawfully
within the intersection at the time that signal is first shown.
(b) Flashing or steady "DONT WALK" or "WAIT" or approved "Upraised
Hand" symbol. No pedestrian shall start to cross the roadway in the
direction of the signal, but any pedestrian who has partially
completed crossing shall proceed to a sidewalk or safety zone or
otherwise leave the roadway while the "WAIT" or "DONT WALK" or
approved "Upraised Hand" symbol is showing."


Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on Dec 24, 2015 at 8:32 am

Thanks Peter.


1 person likes this
Posted by Safety First
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 24, 2015 at 9:54 am

I think there is what should happen, and what does hapoen, because humans are not machines. Systems designed for safety have to incorporate those. Giving tickets or fines doesn't necessarily make things safer depending on the circumstances.

One thing I appreciated when walking in Lisbon was how far back from major intersections cars stop at a light. I heard much about the crazy driving locally so I was surprised never to see a single person run a light. When I asked a friend about this, he said, it's because they take away your license. Somewhere in Lisbon's past must be the tragic reasons for that. But it's pretty hard to enforce something like that with our roads. I wonder if that is why the enormous clear intersections in Lisbon, easy enforcement... I'm not suggesting we do anything like that, but given what they have done, it's hard to see how anyone could get caught in a pedestrian car conflict in one of those intersections. (Elsewhere is another matter of course, but those main thoroughfares seem much safer to cross.) Starting first with the idea that it is possible to improve safety and aim for zero tragedies, and that people make mistakes, understanding how to make systems that let people avoid common mistakes, or behaviorally shortcuts even, becoming tragedies, should be one of the aims of learning from accidents - or complaints before accidents happen.


1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Dec 24, 2015 at 10:19 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"One thing I appreciated when walking in Lisbon was how far back from major intersections cars stop at a light"

This is a great idea and one which is easily implemented - just paint new "limit lines" at all intersections that have traffic signals. Of course for this to be succesful then drivers would have to actually stop at the limit line.
With limit lines further back violators would be mnore obvious and pedestrians would be more visible.

I suspect that at least 50% of current drivers do not even know what a limit line is.


1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 24, 2015 at 10:21 am

We still do not know the cause of this sad event. I hope that when they have decided the cause that it will be made public and covered by the local media.

What I would like to say is that one of the things that has struck me recently is just how many of our local drivers learned to drive elsewhere, other states or even other countries. Obviously local residents will have had to get California licenses, but rental cars and even zip cars require drivers to have a license, but not necessarily a CA license. Whatever laws are not nationwide or worldwide will be unknown to many drivers around here.

Secondly, this area is full of people using GPS to get around. Local knowledge is always better than being in an unfamiliar area. Listening for a voice to say when to turn, particularly when the voice doesn't tell which lane, can make for late lane changes or turn signals. I don't know the solution to this problem, but just assuming some driver is not paying attention due to texting or chatting on the phone may really be a case of a driver struggling to understand the directions being given.

As for pedestrians and bikes, they usually know where they want to go, but at the same time are very often unpredictable. A pedestrian looking that they may want to cross one way, may suddenly decide to cross another way. Someone standing chatting to a friend may suddenly decide to cross. Even on a bright day, a pedestrian can suddenly appear out of shadows and start crossing and be very hard to see until the last minute.

Bike riders are also very unpredictable. A rider may give a signal, or maybe they are just waving to someone or scratching their nose. Many do ride without lights and wear dark clothes. Sometimes drivers are expected to have the gift of prophecy in knowing what bike riders and pedestrians are about to do.

Our roads are all out of date. In wet weather even lane markings are hard to see and in some places the older ones appear stronger than the more recent ones.

Once again, so many of our rules are so different to the rest of the world and so many of the laws have been designed for 1950s not the 21st century. Some roads are just not designed for the volume of vehicle and bike traffic.

Last point at present, the right on red law. I would like to see that eliminated. At some of our large and busy intersections, particularly where gas stations are involved also, traffic comes from such a variety of different places that makes red on right a hazard. Middlefield/San Antonio is one such intersection. I would like to see the law on this altered. Is this a peculiarly American custom? I have not seen it in Europe. I believe Ireland has invoked a flashing yellow in the light signal sequence which gives this same procedure if it is safe, but not at other times. Perhaps something like this would make right turns safer, particularly with pedestrian signals.


1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Dec 24, 2015 at 10:31 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" Is this a peculiarly American custom?" Re right turns on red.

Wikipedia:
"Right turns on red are permitted in many regions of North America. While Western states have allowed it for more than 50 years;[citation needed] eastern states amended their traffic laws to allow it in the 1970s as a fuel-saving measure in response to motor fuel shortages in 1973 and 1979. All 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico have allowed right turns on red since 1978, except where prohibited by a sign or where right turns are controlled by dedicated traffic lights. (In June 1978, Maryland became the last state to allow right turns on red.[2] Right turns on red became legal in the District of Columbia in November 1978.[3]) The few exceptions include New York City,[4] where right turns on red are prohibited, unless a sign indicates otherwise."

"In European Union member states in general, it is illegal to turn on a red light, unless it is indicated otherwise, for example by a green arrow on a red light, a flashing amber arrow with a red light or a permanent green board next to the red light"

I agree with Resident that right turns on red should be prohibited in the interest of safety unless permitted by a green turn arrow signal.


9 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 24, 2015 at 10:38 am

Right turns on red lights are only safe and legal if the car comes to a complete stop and the driver checks for and yields to all other traffic, including pedestrians. How often do car drivers really do that at this intersection?


11 people like this
Posted by l8t
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 24, 2015 at 11:01 am

Drivers not only don't stop on reds if they are in a dedicated right turn lane (as exists when turning east onto Sand Hill), they think that having that dedicated lane gives them the right of way. I see this at El Camino @ Ravenswood in Menlo Park all the time, where cars heading north on El Camino don't think they should yield to cars that have the green light.

More enforcement is the answer.


7 people like this
Posted by Paly Grad
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Dec 24, 2015 at 11:26 am

The signal lights at Laurel Street and Ravenswood Avenue have timing different from most. The WALK signs light up for pedestrians before the signal lights for cars turns green. It just a few seconds early, but the result is that pedestrians get a head start when they use the crosswalks. Cars are less likely to make a turn into an already occupied crosswalk. It seems to make pedestrian crossing safer at this intersection.


3 people like this
Posted by lindaloo
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 24, 2015 at 11:29 am

There's a notorious intersection of W. Edith Ave. and Foothill Expressway in Los Altos. At that right turn, if one comes to a full stop at red, which one absolutely must in order to actually see around the SUV's nearby to see if there is oncoming traffic -- and, oh yeah, also to avoid hitting the pedestrians who might be crossing in the crosswalk -- what will happen? The person behind you will either lean on their horn angrily or narrowly miss rear-ending you (if you are lucky).
It's a given that people will just zoom on through, red light or not. I don't get it. Where are the Los Altos PD?

I have written to them (LAPD) and received no response.


3 people like this
Posted by Fernando Pereira
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 25, 2015 at 9:46 am

@Safety First: I was born and raised in Lisbon, and go back frequently. There are some areas with wide main streets that are like you describe, but in most areas, your have to be a very aware pedestrian if you don't want to get hurt. I'm especially attentive when I go running in the residential areas where my family there lives, which have become very congested with car traffic in the last 20 years (rings a bell, doesn't it?) The one big difference is that right-turn-on-red is not the default there. However, there are some intersections with right-turn green arrows and a blinking yellow pedestrian crossing warning, and those are a problem like right-turn-on-red is here. IMO, the one change here that would have the most positive impact on pedestrian and cyclist safety would be the elimination of right-turn-on-red.


6 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 25, 2015 at 11:05 am

We agree that right turns on red lights should be banned at this intersection. The wide street makes pedestrians hard to see unless a driver comes to a complete stop and studies the street for several seconds, which no one does.


5 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on Dec 25, 2015 at 11:14 am

This was not the direction of travel of the SUV in the article, but there is no right on red if you are traveling WEST on Sand Hill at Alameda de las Pulgas.

I make that right turn frequently. When I'm stopped at the red light waiting for it to turn green so I can turn right there is almost always a car behind me blasing its horn.


5 people like this
Posted by I didn't know that
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 26, 2015 at 6:23 pm

MP Resident - you write "The duty of care should lie with the operator of the 2-ton SUV, period."

While it's easy to point fingers at SUV drivers please remember that SUV's are not the only 2-ton vehicles on the road. Silicon Valley's favorite "green vehicle", the Tesla Model S, weighs well over 2-tons.

Web Link



1 person likes this
Posted by I didn't know that
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 26, 2015 at 7:58 pm

Mike -

I think you mean Santa Cruz Avenue and Sand Hill Road, not Alameda de las Pulgas. Sand Hill Road and Alameda never intersect.


Like this comment
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 26, 2015 at 11:53 pm

It would be silly to ban right turns on red without real data that says more accidents happen when the light is red than green. At least right on red requires a stop. Right on green happens at higher speed, with more assumption of safety even though you are still crossing a live crosswalk, and having to deal with concurrent bicycle traffic. If you are following the law (i.e., stopping at the light first), right on red is probably safer for nikes and pedestrians than right on green.


2 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 27, 2015 at 7:43 am

@Mr.Recycle Be honest - when was the last time you saw a car come to a complete stop at this intersection before making a right turn on a red light. I travel through here regularly (usually turning left from the opposite direction) and cars are always rolling through the red lights.


Like this comment
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 27, 2015 at 12:59 pm

If the problem is people rolling through red lights, put up a right light camera. Even people who make rolling stops are at least slowing, and are alert because of the danger of cross traffic. People who turn right on green just zip through and assume the green means safe and clear.


7 people like this
Posted by l8t
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 27, 2015 at 3:31 pm

Just an hour ago, I saw a car zip through a red light on Lytton. The light wasn't turning red, but had been red for a good second. Fortunately, no one was injured because the pedestrians and cars on the side street (who had a green light) saw this vehicle speeding and waited until he passed.

I see this kind of behavior pretty much every time I go for a walk. It's not usually quite as blatant, but either people aren't paying attention or believe that their need to get to a destination trumps everyone else's safety.


5 people like this
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 27, 2015 at 6:48 pm

@l8t - I used to object to red light cameras on privacy grounds, but I have seen so many horrible red light runners that I gave up. We don't deserve privacy, we need to enforce traffic laws. I was on Embarcadero yesterday, stopped at a red light at Greer. The guy facing me (westbound on Embarcadero) was stopped, then just turned left right through the red light. It was shockingly blatant. I see cars going the wrong way on one way streets (esp. Channing and Homer) about once a week.


Like this comment
Posted by spudguy
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 8, 2016 at 10:31 am

I still wish more facts would be released on this.

I often run along this route myself, so I can provide some thoughts from a runner's point of view. This is typically a busy intersection, and even at this time in the morning, I would think any runner would be pretty cautious of crossing there.

As noted, it has pretty clear traffic signals, and any experienced runner would stop for them as well. I personally admit that at roads that are not busy, I'll occasionally not stop for traffic signals at some intersections (obviously checking judiciously to make sure it's clear), but this isn't one of them.

I can imagine that a car looking left for traffic on a Red light making a right turn might miss a pedestrian or runner. That's certainly possible or even likely here. Wish we could verify somehow if this is the case. Most runners look for cars doing that too, but it's never a sure thing.

I hope we hear more updates before this fades into memory. My condolences to the family.


Like this comment
Posted by Kazu
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 8, 2016 at 3:44 pm

What can we learn? These two things would certainly help:

1. Obey the walk / wait signals at intersections

2. Be very vigilant in crosswalks, and everywhere else by roadways, even when you have the right of way.

3. This ties in with 2, and has saved my bacon on a number of occasions. Be very agile and quick to jump out of the way of drivers running red lights or otherwise ignoring pedestrians in the crosswalk. Many drivers in Palo Alto are clueless, nuts or both.

4. Put the cell phone in your pocket, purse or somewhere else where you cannot be hypnotized by its soft glare. That applies equally to both motorists and pedestrians.

@l8t wrote:

"Just an hour ago, I saw a car zip through a red light on Lytton"

Please see #2 and #3 above. Seriously, although I wish it wasn't.


Like this comment
Posted by Kazu
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 8, 2016 at 3:45 pm

Correction: These four things.


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

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