32-year-old Shahriar Rahimzadeh was struck and killed by the driver of a red 2000 Volvo S40 sedan while walking across El Camino Real at Almendral Avenue near his home in Atherton two weeks ago. It was exactly the type of high-speed, fatal collision that could have been prevented either by crosswalk improvements that Caltrans is dragging its feet on, or by the comprehensive redesign of El Camino proposed by the town’s draft bicycle and pedestrian plan. That plan still awaits approval from the Town Council, more than four months after its review in April.
“Mr. Rahimzadeh was struck hard enough to be thrown some distance from the site of the collision,” Atherton Police Sergeant Sherman Hall told The Almanac. Hall also noted that “we’re not able to place him in the crosswalk,” despite one eyewitness who described seeing both a puddle of blood in the crosswalk, and the Volvo stopped just a few feet past the crosswalk. Shahriar Rahimzadeh survived five hours before dying at Stanford Hospital at 8:40 p.m.
The 1.6-mile stretch of El Camino Real that cuts through the low-density residential town presents an ongoing hazard to residents walking or bicycling — especially for anyone crossing the six-lane arterial street anywhere other than at the sole traffic signal, at Atherton Avenue and Fair Oaks Lane. In October 2012, two women were seriously injured by an SUV driver while walking together across El Camino, in the crosswalk at Isabella Avenue. Two years earlier, 55-year-old Honofre Mendoza and 62-year-old Christopher Chandler were killed by drivers in separate crashes at the same intersection.
After the October 2012 injuries, Atherton officials began lobbying a reluctant California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to implement safety improvements, resulting in “enhanced crosswalk signing and striping” at the town’s five existing crosswalks on El Camino — including Almendral Avenue, where Shahriar Rahimzadeh was killed on July 23.
Caltrans also agreed to install pedestrian hybrid beacons on El Camino at Almendral Avenue and Isabella Avenue, but only after Atherton town staff insisted on a solution that would require drivers to come to a complete stop for pedestrians crossing the street. Pedestrian hybrid beacons are similar to standard traffic signals: They display yellow, then red, lights to stop vehicle traffic after being activated via a push-button by a person wishing to cross the street on foot or by bike. Caltrans agreed to pay for, and install, the beacons at a cost up to $150,000 for each intersection — but not until 2017. Caltrans engineers initially proposed using much cheaper rectangular rapid flashing beacons, which flash yellow lights from a roadside sign but do not require drivers to stop.