Mountain View Voice

News - March 15, 2013

Neighbors sought stop sign where pedestrian was hit

Near-misses occur every day on Phyllis Avenue, says resident

by Daniel DeBolt

When Mountain View resident Ruifan Ma was struck and killed last week, it was at an intersection where neighbors have wanted a stop sign or stoplight for years.

Resident Chuck Zissman said he was the first on the scene.

"Frankly, it sounded more like a vehicle collision than a vehicle hitting a pedestrian," said Zissman, who lives on the corner where Ma was hit while crossing Phyllis Avenue near Hans Avenue at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, March 4. "I assumed it must have been a bicyclist. I was pretty shocked to see it was a pedestrian. I don't know how fast she was hit, I just know it was loud. It knocked her completely unconscious and she didn't feel a thing, I suspect."

"People came immediately to her side to help," Zissman said. "The woman who hit her stopped immediately and rushed over and was really distraught about the whole thing."

Ma, 59, died later at the hospital. The driver — heading northbound — is not suspected to have been speeding or under the influence of alcohol or drugs, police say. An investigation is ongoing.

"I can't explain it," Zissman said. "I don't even want to say she was dressed in all dark clothes. I can't recall exactly what she was dressed in, she didn't see the car and the car didn't see her. For those two things to happen is just inexplicable to me. Sometimes an accident is just that, an accident. I really feel for the driver because clearly she struck me as a conscientious, mature woman who didn't seem like the sort to take unnecessary risks. It just happened."

"Right next to her body was her cell phone" Zissman recalled. "Which begs the question, 'Was she on it?'"

After the accident, Zissman wrote a letter to the City Council that was read aloud on March 6 in a meeting of the city's bicycle pedestrian advisory committee and the council transportation committee.

"This tragic event brings to light the danger this intersection poses," Zissman wrote. "Living on the corner as I do, I've become nearly numb to the numerous close-calls that occur at this intersection every day. I'd place the number at well in excess of five near-collisions per day here, as I'm all too familiar with the sound of horns honking and tires squealing as drivers on Phyllis react to avoid a collision with drivers on Hans attempting to turn left. This evening we have written to the City of Mountain View to request that action be taken to improve safety at this intersection, and we urge others who have experience with this intersection to do the same.

"While improving safety at this intersection won't restore the life tragically lost here last night, perhaps it will prevent another from meeting the same fate so that this loss of life will not have been entirely in vain," he adds.

Several residents expressed their sadness over Ma's death at the meeting and pleaded for action."I want you to think about what you can do tomorrow about this," said one woman.

Stop sign petition

In 2001, Cuesta Park neighborhood residents requested stop signs on Phyllis to slow traffic, the sort of stop sign that might have saved Ma's life. Over 115 residents signed a petition requesting stop signs and crosswalks to slow traffic on Phyllis Avenue, as well as narrow Phyllis Avenue from four lanes to two. They also wanted to reduce the speed limit from 35 miles per hour to 25 on Phyllis, according to the report for the City Council's Nov. 27, 2001 meeting.

Residents succeeded in having the street narrowed in 2001, with the City Council voting unanimously to do so without comment on the consent calendar item.

Five years later, the speed limit was reduced from 35 miles per hour to 30 miles per hour by the City Council. At that meeting, On August 22, 2006, residents Patrick Burns and Merle Martin asked for a stop sign at Hans and Phyllis.

Cuesta neighborhood residents say the city's traffic engineer at the time opposed stop signs as a way to slow traffic. According to the minutes from a November 2001 council transportation committee meeting, then-council member Sally Lieber "stated it seems unsafe for pedestrians to cross the street" on Phyllis and asked if reflective markers could be placed on the street, presumably to mark crosswalks. In response to Lieber, then-traffic engineer Dennis Belluomini "stated the street does not meet the requirements for stop signs or lights " and said reflective markers have created noise complaints when cars drive over them.

Finding a safe solution

"I work from my home, I spend a lot of time here in my garage and at my kitchen table," said Zissman, who runs a home repair business. "What I was expecting to see at that intersection was a bad vehicle collision."

"People view Phyllis as a way to get more quickly from point A to point B, not as a residential street," Zissman said.

That spells trouble for cars and people trying to cross lanes on Phyllis at Hans, where he says the crosswalk Ma was walking on is "poorly indicated" compared to another one at the other end of Hans, just two white stripes.

"On a typical morning, you'll see as many as six, seven, eight cars backed up on Hans," mostly leaving Bubb school, Zissman said. They are trying to turn left onto Phyllis, where "there is literally an endless stream of traffic."

Drivers "take chances that they shouldn't," Zissman said.

"I think a three-way stop is probably the most appropriate" fix, Zissman said, adding that a stoplight might also be best. "I don't think just a solution to the crosswalk (on Phyllis) is enough."

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

Comments

Posted by Cuesta Resident, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 14, 2013 at 9:43 pm

This is a tragedy. We need to understand what happened, and then think about changes.

We need to know if the car was speeding. We need to know if the walker was on her phone, or texting, or wearing dark clothes. We need a full investigation, with total clarity on what is known for sure, what's suspected, and what is unknown.

After we have that, we need to look at all options. For example, maybe we should close off Hans so no cars turn from it or onto it. Maybe we should clearly designate this as a no-pedestrian crossing area. Or maybe we should add a pedestrian crossing signal like near Wal-Mart.

Clearly lots of prior steps - narrowing the street, and reducing speed limit did not work in this case. And yet there is a real cost to those measures (extra time, reduced capacity). If they've saved lives then they are worth it - but they did not in this case, and might not be worth it in general.

The keys here are to:
1) Understand the facts first
2) Consider ALL options, not just ones that the Bike/Ped committee prefers
3) Consider all the costs (money, time, capacity, gas, pollution, etc) to make smart choices.



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