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How Safe Is Palo Alto for Cyclists and Pedestrians?

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Market Street sidewalk cyclist
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As with in other college towns, non-motorized modes of transportation are frequently utilized in Palo Alto. Students opting out of high-fuel prices and parking fees can frequently be seen cycling and walking on the streets and sidewalks surrounding the university. Despite receiving a gold rating on the League of American Bicyclists 2011 Bicycle Friendly Community Master List and the implementation of several safety measures, the city does not rank well for cyclist and pedestrian safety, according to the California Office of Traffic Safety. A series of fatal accidents that have occurred there in recent years illustrate some of the risks cyclists and pedestrians face, explains a local lawyer.

Last September, a six-year-old girl was killed in an East Palo Alto crosswalk while walking to school with her mother. A local elementary school teacher driving a silver BMW collided with the girl as she crossed at the intersection of Bay Road and Gloria Way. Her mother rushed to her aid but the injuries she suffered proved fatal. Since 2004, there have been at least six vehicle-verses-pedestrian collisions at the intersection, which has neither a stop sign nor a signal, reported the San Jose Mercury News.

In February 2010, a graduate student from China studying at Stanford for the winter quarter was struck while riding from the campus laboratory to his residence at Palm Drive and Museum Way. He suffered major head trauma and remained in a coma for two weeks before succumbing to his injuries. Throughout the five years prior to the accident, Stanford police had recorded 200 bicycle accidents on the campus, reported The Stanford Daily.

Palo Alto accounted for none of the 21 fatalities and 27 of the 470 injuries suffered by pedestrians in traffic accidents in Santa Clara County in 2009, according to the California Highway Patrol’s Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System. That year, none of the county’s 7 fatalities and 82 of the 698 injuries sustained by cyclists in traffic accidents occurred in the city. The California Office of Traffic Safety compares the accident statistics of cities with similar populations, ranking those with the poorest records the highest, with 1st place being the worst. In 2009, Palo Alto ranked 24th for fatal and injury pedestrian accidents and 2nd for cyclist accidents out of 104 cities, explains a local lawyer.

In the two aforementioned accidents, the city’s infrastructure may have been a contributing factor. The crosswalk in which the girl was killed lacked a sign or signal to warn motorists to stop for pedestrians. In the case of the cyclist, the collision occurred at night, so the street may have lacked sufficient lighting. The fact that the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara metro area made Transportation for America’s list of places with poor Pedestrian Danger Indexes—a computation of the rate of fatalities relative to the extent to which people walk in an area—is another indicator that the city could better accommodate alternative modes of transportation.

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