Bloody Sand Hill Road

This is for Deborah who lost her life and all the bicyclists who risked their lives from July 19 to July 30, 2007 when delineators marked the bike lane on Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park, California. This memorial website is a public service to inform bicyclists, for their safety, about the dangers posed by delineators when they are inappropriately used to temporarily mark bike lanes.

In November 2009, a settlement in the amount of $2.4 million was reached in the wrongful death lawsuit of Mr. John Gerrity versus the City of Menlo Park and its Contractor for the death of his wife, Deborah Kay Johnson, 54, resulting from her injuries in a bicycle accident on Sand Hill Road on Sunday July 22, 2007.


Solvang Century

This photo is of Deborah at the 2005 Solvang Century mid-point rest stop. Deborah was one of the safest bicyclists you would ever meet. She obeyed all the rules of the road. In her 17 years of bicycling over highly varied terrain, in different traffic environments and under very strenuous conditions, Deborah never had a bicycle accident.

The Police traffic collision report determined the cause of the accident to be:"it is my opinion that D-1 Johnson struck the delineator base which caused her to loose control of her bicycle and fall". Through eyewitness statements and depositions, expert witness opinions and depositions, Public Works and Contractor depositions, along with his cycling expertise and accident scene photos, Mr. Gerrity was able to determine how Deborah's accident actually occurred.

Deborah's Accident

When Public Works finished its repaving of Sand Hill Road on Friday July 20, 2007, it allowed the eastbound designated bike lane to be marked by "candlestick" delineators (a four foot tall plastic orange pole attached to a flat black octagonal rubber base).  This is a photo of a bicyclist riding down the bike lane marked by delineators.


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Sometime prior to 1 p.m. on Sunday July 22, 2007 just west of the Branner Drive intersection, a delineator pole became separated from its base. The black base was lying in the bike lane hidden in the dark shadow of a tree on the newly paved black asphalt while the pole was lying off of the road to the right of the curb. Neither Public Works nor its Contractor made any arrangements to inspect or maintain the delineators during non-construction hours to include that weekend.


View Accident Scene in a larger map

On Sunday July 22, 2007 at around 1 p.m. Deborah was cycling home to Palo Alto downhill on eastbound Sand Hill Road with a friend. Deborah rode in the bike lane marked by the delineators while Deborah's friend followed closely on Deborah's left flank in the adjacent traffic lane to the left of the delineators. Midway down Sand Hill Road just before Branner Drive, neither Deborah nor her friend could see any sign of the next in the series of delineators where they expected it to be. Suddenly Deborah without any visual warning struck the black base which was hidden in the dark tree shadow. She was instantly catapulted into the air, flipped over and then crashed hard on her right side onto the pavement.

Even though Deborah was wearing a bicycle helmet, she suffered traumatic head and body injuries including multiple skull fractures, catastrophic brain damage, a broken right collar bone, a bruised right shoulder, all right side ribs broken, a punctured right lung, and a broken pelvis. She died from these injuries at Stanford Hospital on July 24, 2007.

The accident scene photo below shows a delineator in the dark tree shadow located a foot or two to the left of the spot where Deborah struck the base. This photo was taken on July 29, 2007 at 1 p.m. the same time as the accident a week earlier so the dark tree shadows appear on the road as they appeared at the time of the accident.


Accident Scene

From the point where this photo was taken, a bicyclist riding at an average downhill cruising speed of 20 miles per hour (roughly 30 feet per second)  is about 1.5 seconds away from the delineator. The dark tree shadow perfectly camouflaged the black base rendering it extremely difficult or impossible for a bicyclist at this cruising speed to see in time to avoid striking it. Because bicyclists at this cruising speed were forced to extend their normal road scanning horizon out to 60 to 75 feet (about 2 to 2.5 seconds of travel time) to look ahead for the next delineator, they were extremely vulnerable to any obstructions hidden in the tree shadows that fell short of this road scanning horizon.

This short video clip, recorded on July 22, 2010 at about 1:30 p.m., is representative of the average bicyclist cruising speed through the accident scene.


The delineator base that Deborah struck was a random death sentence to the unfortunate bicyclist who would ultimately hit it. Moreover, every bicyclist riding down eastbound Sand Hill Road was at risk of having a similar accident while the delineators marked the bike lane from July 19 to July 30, 2007.

Accident Reporting & Investigation

When the Police logged in the accident on Sunday July 22, 2007, it misrepresented the accident circumstances to the public by failing to mention that Deborah struck the base of a delineator as witnessed by Deborah's friend. This misrepresentation meant that the Police withheld from bicyclists critical information about the dangers of the delineators which continued to mark the bike lane for eight days after the accident from July 22 to July 30, 2007.

Subsequently, the City of Menlo Park City Council apparently elected to not inform the public of the actual accident circumstances, of the dangers for bicyclists of the delineators marking the bike lane, of the allegations in the wrongful death lawsuit, of the lawsuit settlement terms, of the serious bicyclist safety management issues identified during the litigation, and what if anything it has done to address these issues to ensure the safety of bicyclists and to prevent a recurrence of this accident.

Insofar as the accident investigation, the Police traffic collision report attempted to find Deborah at fault in committing this code violation: "no person shall turn a vehicle from a direct course or move right or left upon a roadway until such movement can be made with reasonable safety and then only after the giving of an appropriate signal in the manner provided in this chapter in the event any other vehicle may be affected by this movement." The Police depositions confirmed that there was absolutely no evidence to support such a code violation. The obvious Police bias against Deborah in this accident investigation is concerning for all bicyclists.

Safe Industry Standard Practice

Deborah's accident was completely preventable and should never have happened. The safe industry standard practice for managing a bike lane after repaving and before the placement of the permanent white stripe is to leave the bike lane unmarked for one or two days or over the weekend with "share the road" signage, then place a temporary white stripe or layout line, and once the asphalt has cured for a week place a permanent white stripe. If Public Works had simply followed this safe standard practice, Deborah would be alive today. The delineators marking the bike lane were unnecessary and dramatically increased the risk of serious or fatal injury for all bicyclists leading to and after Deborah's accident.

Instead of following this safe industry standard practice, Public Works allowed the delineators to mark the bike lane for ten days after the end of repaving and eight days after the accident. The Contractor replaced the delineators with a temporary white stripe on or about July 30, 2007. The photo below was taken on July 31, 2007 at 1 p.m. with the bicyclist approaching the point where Deborah struck the delineator base.


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Another alternative safe temporary bike lane marking is "floppies" which are small rectangular rubberized reflectors that stick to the asphalt. A bicyclist's speed, direction or stability is not affected when they ride over a floppy.

Safety Function of a Bike Lane

The standard pavement marking for a designated bike lane anywhere in California is a white stripe in accordance with Section 9C.04 of the California Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (CMUTCD). The safety function of the bike lane white stripe is to alert motorists to stay clear of the bike lane and to allow bicyclists safe, unobstructed movement within the bike lane and from the bike lane into the adjacent traffic lane and vice versa.

Because delineators pose significant dangers for bicyclists, it was inappropriate for Public Works to allow delineators to temporarily mark the bike lane.

The Dangers of Delineators

When a delineator is used to mark a bike lane, it is a dangerous obstruction to the movement of bicyclists into and out of the bike lane. In the event that a pole separates from its base, the black base is an extremely dangerous obstruction for bicyclists, who may not see it in time to avoid striking it. In focusing their attention on avoiding each delineator in series, bicyclists become dangerously distracted from their normal road scanning for obstructions, especially those hidden in shadows. Furthermore, bicyclists are invariably confused by the delineators with half riding in the bike lane while the other half, believing the bike lane is closed, ride in the adjacent traffic lane with motor vehicles.

Instead of protecting bicyclists, the delineators completely defeated the safety function of the designated bike lane to the detriment of all bicyclists.

The traffic profile of Sand Hill Road greatly compounded these dangers. With its heavy motor vehicle traffic, there was a very high risk of a motorist striking a delineator and causing the pole to separate from its base. For the large number of bicyclists negotiating this one mile long gauntlet of about 50 delineators at average downhill cruising speeds of over 20 miles per hour, there was a very high risk of a bicyclist collision with a delineator or fragments thereof (the base or the pole) and of crashing with a serious or fatal injury.

Public Works ignored all of these dangers of delineators for bicyclists in allowing delineators to mark the bike lane.

These short video clips, recorded on July 22, 2010 at  about 1:30 p.m. are further representative of the average bicyclist cruising speeds through the accident scene. Public Works was fully aware that bicyclists rode downhill at these cruising speeds as one employee involved in the repaving project acknowledged in his deposition, "they travel very fast".



Safety Principles

The California Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (CMUTCD) establishes common sense safety principles for the deployment of traffic control devices and requires every municipality in California to be responsible for compliance. "The responsibility for the design, placement, operation, maintenance, and uniformity of traffic control devices shall rest with the public agency or the official having jurisdiction."

The Public Works decision to allow delineators to mark the bike lane contravened these basic CMUTCD safety principles:

  • Category 1 devices (including delineators) and such devices deployed as channelizing devices should be             crashworthy for bicyclists (Section 6F.01 and 6B.01).
  • Channelizing devices and fragments thereof (the base or the pole) should be crashworthy and not present a hazard to other road users, i.e. bicyclists (Section 6F.58).
  • Devices should be placed so that adequate visibility is provided, i.e. away from shadows (Section 1A.04).
  • Devices should be visible to bicyclists to allow them adequate time to respond to avoid the device in both day and night conditions (Section 1A.02 and 1A.04).
  • Temporary markings should be consistent with the bike lane markings before and after the traffic control zone, i.e. a temporary white stripe or layout line is consistent with a permanent white stripe (Section 6F.71).
  • Temporary markings should be as close as possible to normal road highway situations, i.e. a temporary white stripe or layout line is closest to a permanent white stripe (Section 6B.01).
  • Devices should convey the same meaning to all bicyclists (Section 1A.02 and 1A.06).
  • Devices should not cause confusion among bicyclists (Section 3A.02).

Public Works disregarded all of these CMUTCD safety principles in allowing delineators to mark the bike lane.

Unsafe Work Zones

Prior to this repaving project, it was the standard practice of Public Works to not allow delineators to temporarily mark bike lanes. Shortly after Public Works deviated from this standard practice and allowed delineators to mark the bike lane on Friday, July 20, 2007, a bicyclist fatality occurred. Once this decision was made, a serious or fatal bicyclist accident was inevitable - it was simply a question of when such an accident would occur.

When Public Works learned of Deborah's accident on Monday, July 23, 2007, it took no action to study the safety of the traffic control zone for bicyclists in an effort to prevent a recurrence of the accident. Instead it continued to allow the delineators to mark the bike lane for eight days after the accident until July 30, 2007.

This photo on Sand Hill Road of a separated delineator base immediately to the left of the bicyclist was taken on July 28, 2007 at around 10 a.m., six days after Deborah's accident. This dangerous condition for all bicyclists can occur at anytime when delineators are used to mark a bike lane.


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Considering that Sand Hill Road is notorious for its horrific bicycle accidents, the safety of bicyclists should have been a paramount concern during this repaving project, however, that was not the case. In allowing the delineators, Public Works demonstrated unsound traffic engineering judgment by disregarding all of the dangers of delineators for bicyclists, the CMUTCD safety principles and standards as they relate to bicyclist safety needs, and the safe industry standard practice for managing the bike lane after repaving.

The New York Times December 21, 2009 article, Efforts Lag to Improve Safety at Works Zones, by Mike McIntire, portrays a nationwide problem with road construction safety management that results in tens of thousands of road user injuries and thousands of deaths each year. Deborah's accident serves as yet another tragic example of the consequences of the failure to address road user safety needs in the management of a road construction zone.

Bicycle Safety Advocacy Resources

The following bicycle coalitions offer an excellent resource for bicycle safety advocacy in the Bay Area and elsewhere in California:

Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, San Francisco Bicycle CoalitionEast Bay Bicycle Coalition,
Marin County Bicycle Coalition, Napa County Bicycle Coalition, Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition,
Bay Area Bicycle Coalition, California Bicycle Coalition.

Each of these bicycle coalitions have been informed by this website of Deborah's accident circumstances .

A Safety Reminder to all Bicyclists

Ride safely. Follow the rules of the road at all times. Email a link to this website to other cyclists you may know, for their safety.  And demand that your municipal and county public works not use delineators to mark bike lanes. Your life literally depends on it.

This website also serves as a cautionary tale and clear warning for all bicyclists that their public agencies may not be acting in the best interests of bicyclists and in fact may be in direct conflict with them.

Epilogue

Revision of Accident Report

In January 2011, the City of Menlo Park Chief of Police provided Mr. Gerrity with a summary of its reopened investigation into the accident and a revised accident report which concluded that there was no basis of any kind for the original accident report conclusion that found Deborah at fault in her accident.

Therefore it has been finally and correctly determined by the Police that Deborah was in fact not at fault in the accident.

Initiative to Improve California MUTCD Section 9

During the summer of 2011, the California Department of Transportation CMUTCD Branch was conducting its periodic review of the CMUTCD and had opened the public comment period for any proposed revisions. In June 2011, the CMUTCD Branch was informed of Deborah's accident circumstances and of the danger of inappropriately marking bike lanes with delineators. In addition a request was made to the CMUTCD Branch to revise the CMUTCD Section 9, which specifically addresses bike lane traffic control to safeguard bicyclists.

Through this initiative, the CMUTCD Branch was made fully aware of the dangers of delineators for marking bike lanes, of the safe industry standard practices for marking bike lanes after repaving, and that most traffic engineers lacked the training necessary protect bicyclists from this danger. The CMUTCD Branch ignored this request as is documented in the public record.

Prior to this initiative the California Strategic Highway Safety Plan had specifically noted that the CMUTCD was systemically deficient in failing to adequately address the safety needs of bicyclists in work zones. The CMUTCD Branch was fully aware of this deficiency for some time prior the summer of 2011, which by any reasonable standard would require them to be especially responsive to any work zone safety issues that could endanger bicyclists.

Even though the CMUTCD Branch is responsible for the safety of bicyclists in work zones, it intentionally prevented a critical bicyclist safety issue from being addressed in the CMUTCD revisions. In October 2011, a request was made to the California State Auditor under the California Whistle Blower Protection Act to investigate the gross misconduct of the CMUTCD Branch for deliberately endangering all bicyclists by not addressing this critical safety issue and for denying traffic engineers the information needed to avoid the dangerous condition of delineators being used to temporarily mark bike lanes.