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Man hit by car while crossing Embarcadero

Original post made on Oct 3, 2007

An 84-year-old man was struck and injured by a car Tuesday night in Palo Alto. The man is in serious but stable condition at Stanford Hospital, being treated for a broken leg and possible head injuries, Sgt. Sandra Brown said.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, October 3, 2007, 10:25 AM

Comments (20)

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 3, 2007 at 2:48 pm

Three comments strike me from this.

1. The man was crossing mid block

2. The man was wearing dark clothing at 8.55 p.m. when it is dark

3. The man was hit by a Prius, almost silent.

All very dangerous, but what have we been saying about an accident waiting to happen - here it is? Hard to decide who is at fault most, the pedestrian inconspicuous and where he shouldn't be, and the car, too silent.

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Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 3, 2007 at 2:58 pm

Car was going the speed limit, I doubt it was running all electric.

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Posted by Native Girl
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 3, 2007 at 3:02 pm


The man was 84 years old. This is very sad.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 3, 2007 at 3:20 pm

Yes it is indeed very sad.

I am not sure if his age was in any way a cause of the accident. Accidents are always very sad and I do have great sympathy for the man and his family. I can also see that perhaps the driver was unable to see him clearly until it was too late. It is one of those accidents where so much is still unknown.

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Posted by R Wray
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 3, 2007 at 4:45 pm

Which speed limit--the posted 25 mph or the "state limit", what ever that is?

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Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 3, 2007 at 7:29 pm

"Which speed limit--the posted 25 mph or the "state limit", what ever that is?"

They are the same.

The posted speed limit is 25
The state limit for residential is 25
I seldom see anyone drive that slow on that street though.

Since this was at 8:55 p.m., the cars light should have been on.
I assume the lights were on since it was not reported they were not.

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Posted by R Wray
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 4, 2007 at 9:47 am

The CA Vehicle Code uses "the 85th percentile speed" to effectively limit enforcement. On Embarcadero this is much closer to 40 mph than 25 mph. This is a de facto increase in the speed limit.

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Posted by embarcadero driver
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 4, 2007 at 10:53 am

With regard to the speed limit, RS is correct that the speed limit on Embarcadero at Waverly is 25 mph, because the street is in a "residence district" (i.e., lots of houses on both sides of the street). (See Vehicle Code 22352(a)(2).) However, as R Wray suggests, the Palo Alto police would not be able to use radar to enforce the 25 mph speed limit on Embarcadero at Waverly (Embarcadero being classified as a "minor arterial" street in that location) unless the speed limit is justified by a recent engineering and traffic survey, since that would constitute a "speed trap" (see Veh. Code 40802). But keep in mind that the police would still be able to enforce the 25 mph speed limit in other ways.

The city probably has the option of increasing the speed limit on Embarcadero, given the speed that most cars seem to travel there (see Veh. Code 22357), but the city isn't required to raise the speed limit to the 85th percentile speed. (In general, engineering and traffic surveys use the 85th percentile to set the prima facie speed limit, but the use of the 85th percentile is not required--or even mentioned--by the Vehicle Code.)

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Posted by Marci
a resident of Los Altos
on Oct 4, 2007 at 10:49 pm

I was walking in Los Altos last week with my husband, no loud sounds going on, and a hybrid backing out of its driveway came very close to us. We had not heard a thing. When a driver's in a rush and not looking around well and there's no audible cues to warn the people around it, what else could happen but a dangerous situation.

I, of course, hate the roar of traffic in the Bay Area, but I also find it annoying to have to be so vigilant now.

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Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 5, 2007 at 12:11 am

Trust me foolish pedestrians step in from of my 8 cylinder all the time. Its not quiet, they are just not being careful or hoping I will yield to them even if I have right of way. Drive any University Ave cross street at night and make sure you travel with your foot on your brake because about 25% of the time someone is going to walk across the street against red light right in front of oncoming traffic.

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Posted by trudy
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 5, 2007 at 5:45 am

I am sorry for this gentleman, but crossing the street in the dark wearing dark clothing and apparently not looking for traffic, well.

I am amazed at all the people who apparently do not look for traffic but think using their ears is sufficient. What about bicycles, not to mention basic safety, did your mothers not tell you to watch for traffic? Well, in a few generations the gene pool will be corrected for that behavior.

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Posted by R Wray
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 5, 2007 at 9:40 am

My source indicated that the 85th percentile was in the CVC, but I stand corrected. Nevertheless, the CVC references "prima facie speed" and "engineering and traffic survey" and it seems to be the law of the land in CA.
The other method of enforcing the speed limit is for the police to tail the vehicle. My understanding, however, is that the courts usually give at least a 10 mph leeway to the offender because they consider this method to be inaccurate.
My point is that the posted 25 mph speed cannot be enforced, mainly because of interference by the state. I recall several news stories/comments that this is the case. This situation results in disrespect for the law.
If believe the posted speed limit would be enforced by automatic means, and fines would be imposed something like $5 for every 0.2 mph over the posted limit.

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Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 5, 2007 at 10:40 am

ok, but what is your point vs the original post. There is no information that the car was speeding.

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Posted by R Wray
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 5, 2007 at 5:46 pm

My point is that there are two speed limits: the posted limit of 25 mph and the "prima facie" limit of about 40 mph. The news story just says "travelling at the speed limit". Since I hardly ever see anyone driving 25 mph or less at that location, I wonder if the actual speed was more than 25 mph. (BTW, how do they know how fast the car was going?) I can see how the accident might happen at 40 mph, but I have a much harder time seeing it at 25 mph. I don't like the State telling us how to enforce our local laws, and I would like to know if the state laws were instrumental in this accident.

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Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 5, 2007 at 6:17 pm

prima facie deals with enforcements of speed limits, it does not estabish a speed limit. The speed limit is 25. Now I agree with you, I seldom see anyone travel 25, but the limit is still 25.

The estimate of the cars speed is done by the evidence collected at the scene. Officers are trained to do that, I am not, so thats the best I can help you there. How good it is a suppose is based on how much evidence he can collect.

From the write up, it appears that the accident was caused because a pedestrian in dark clothing failed to yield right of way to an approaching car. He did not cross at an intersection, he needed to do that to have any chance of establishing right of way.

Waverly is controlled intersection, he should have crossed there.

My guess, he saw the headlights, thought he could beat it and misjudged the cars speed and distance vs his own ability to cross the street. Its only a guess though.

Its a tragedy for both the pedestrian that must deal with his wounds for taking a risk that he did not have to take and the driver that probably feels horrible and wonders if there was anything he/she could have done differently.

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Posted by Christina
a resident of another community
on Oct 5, 2007 at 7:41 pm

I was a person who pulled over to see if the man needed help (CPR). While I was there the woman who hit him explicitly stated that she had been driving 25mph. I'm not sure I totally believe that since, as others have pointed out, very few people drive that speed on Embarcadero. However, 25 is what she reported. Also, I know it's smartest to wear bright clothing but the man was wearing a suit...white and powder blue suits aren't all that popular as it happens...However, it would have been smartest to cross at a corner when all was clear.

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Posted by Witness
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 5, 2007 at 8:37 pm

I was a passenger in a car (ironically a Prius) and came to the intersection (actually Cowper at Embarcadero) just as the man stepped in front of traffic and was hit. I called 911 and we paused long enough to see the man lying in the street with a small crowd gathering, as sirens sopunded in the distance. A few bystanders seemed to be trying to determine if the man was conscious but he was clearly not responding. There is no question he was jaywalking. Why is an important question. when I called the police department yesterday (10-4) to inquire after the man who was hit, I was told by a woman in Records, "actually it's more complicated than that," but she wouldn't elaborate and said when information was available it would be posted on the police log. As of today (10-5) nothing new has been added. I find myself wondering if this might have been a suicide attempt. Why else would a man in dark clothing step off a curb at night into oncoming traffic where there was no crosswalk? I hope he will be all right - and that we will find out more.

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Posted by silent engine is bogus; thanks for driving 25
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 6, 2007 at 3:14 pm

For those who throw in the question of a "too silent" Prius engine: I really doubt this could be construed as a causal factor in this case. My own experience is that when the full headlights are on in a Prius, the engine is almost always on at 25 mph except when braking, going downhill or at a stop.
But in any case, the visual cue of oncoming headlights at night is a much more important cue for pedestrians than any motor noise. The lights are visible from much farther away than the sound of even the biggest , and even if a pedestrian is foolish enough not to look in the direction of oncoming traffic, the bright headlights of a car close enough to hit someone would be readily apparent! So let's not be so quick to bash hybrids.

Second, the law is clear: pedestrians do not have the right of way if they step out into oncoming traffic away from corners and crosswalks. If they do so without allowing sufficient time for vehicles to come to a stop without hitting them, they will almost certainly be assigned fault.

Third, the 85th percentile rule applies to whether radar enforcement can be used. It does NOT change the speed limit. When a police officer states that the driver was going the speed limit on Embarcadero, that means 25 mph. And they don't just take the driver's statement for granted. In all injury accidents, a team looks at the physical evidence (brake marks and much more) and can usually pinpoint the speed at impact pretty accurately.

While it is a tragedy that this man was injured, how fortunate for him and his family that the driver was one of the few obeying the 25 mph speed limit!! Way too many drivers think it's okay to go 35-40 mph the whole length of Embarcadero.

So yes, let's remind everyone to take care when crossing busy multi-lane streets at night on foot or on bike. But let's also remind drivers that speed really does kill. See the graph on this authoritative site:
Web Link

And here's some food for thought if you are tempted to go 40 miles per hour when the road looks "empty" and no cops are in sight. You may have the best brakes in the world, but the laws of physics still apply and you won't be able to stop as fast as you think:
"For both stopping distances and the severity of crashes, speed matters. Travelling at 40 mph, the average driver who sights a pedestrian in the road 100 feet ahead will still be travelling 38 mph on impact: driving at 25 mph, the driver will have stopped before the pedestrian is struck." [ See citation *** .]

I'm sure that this driver feels awful about hitting a pedestrian. But it sure seems like he/she had taken the most important step to prevent crashes and reduce the severity of injuries if "accidents" do occur -- reducing vehicle speed. Wouldn't it be great if more Palo Alto drivers would follow suit?

*** Source: McLean AJ, Anderson RWG, Farmer MJB, Lee BH, Brooks CG. Vehicle Speeds and the Incidence of Fatal Pedestrian Collisions - Volume 1. Federal Office of Road Safety, Australia. See also Traditional Neighborhood Development Street Design Guidelines. Transportation Planning Council Committee 5P-8, Institute of Transportation Engineers. Washington D.C., 1997, p. 15-16.

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Posted by R Wray
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 6, 2007 at 4:04 pm

Witness (above) raises the possibility that this could have been a suicide attempt. Looking only at the technical aspects of the incident, this looks likely. In my mind I had ruled this out because the news story indicated a cut-and-dried accident. When suicide is a possible factor, an honest news report invariably includes at least some statement like "the incident is under investigation"--it didn't in this case. Overly PC reporting can be misleading.

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Posted by Mark
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 7, 2007 at 12:29 pm

I agree the driver must have had lights on and making noise, but as a side note, as a Prius driver, I need to be incredibly cautious because sometimes my car makes no noise and I could hit someone. Let's face it, I, and I assume most drivers, are not 100% perfect, and I need to exercise even more caution because of the car I drive.

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