Road Cycling

Following tragic bike accident, a local family and their friends take action. ‘Slow down for kids. Be more mindful.’ – Palo Alto Online

A photo of Paul Lafargue, 11, rests among flowers, teddy bears and other expressions of condolence at a memorial near where he was fatally struck by a truck on March 6 in Palo Alto. Photo taken March 9 by Magali Gauthier.

The family and friends of an 11-year-old Greene Middle School student who died in a collision in Palo Alto on Friday evening are coming together in the midst of tragedy to raise awareness about road safety.

The Santa Clara County Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office identified the boy on Wednesday as Paul Lafargue. He was riding a bicycle when he was struck and killed by a flatbed truck at El Camino Real and California Avenue on Friday, March 6. The coroner ruled his death an accident.

In a statement provided to the Weekly, his parents urged others to slow down — not only on the roads, but also in life.

“Paul’s family would like to express their deep gratitude for the overwhelming show of support they have received from everyone,” they said. “Through this tragedy they would like to encourage everyone to slow down for kids. Be more mindful. Be more aware of your surroundings.”

His mother, Veronique Lafargue, reached out to a friend this week for help designing posters to promote what they’re calling the “Slow Down for Kids” initiative. Nick Wiesner, a designer, jumped into action. He spent Tuesday night creating several posters, using Paul’s favorite colors — orange and purple — to illustrate the message, intertwined with hearts and a “children at play” yield sign. He used large, all-capitalized text and high-contrast colors.

The posters are meant to be “big, bold, hard to ignore,” Wiesner told the Weekly. “It feels like this is an opportunity to reflect and hopefully create posters that are arresting enough to stop people in their tracks.”

In one poster, he created an “abstract” exclamation point with the triangular “children at play” sign above a purple heart — “two well-known symbols that when put together tell the full story,” he said.

“Slow Down for Kids is a cause worth shouting about, so I made the posters loud,” he added.

They plan to print the posters and display them around Palo Alto in order to spread the message and keep children safe.

A preliminary police investigation revealed that both the boy and the truck were traveling east on California Avenue approaching El Camino Real, with the boy riding on the sidewalk. The truck made a right turn to head south on El Camino and hit the boy, police said. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Wiesner described Paul as a special child who made an impression on “everyone he came into contact with.”

He said he’s talked with Veronique about how distracted people are right now, both by the current news cycle and in general in their lives. They hope the posters will prevent future accidents and remind the community to “be more present in general for your loved ones and for others,” the family said in their statement.

“Life is busy,” Wiesner said, “and it’s easy to forget how valuable it is and how short it can be, sadly.”

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6 people like this

Posted by Concerned
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
14 hours ago

I am so sad for this family. No one should have to go through this.

[Portion removed.]

Unfortunately, the traffic/population/construction increases will continue to increase the possibility of accidents. The City isn’t helping by creating circumstances in which there is so much going on at intersections, it’s hard as a driver to feel like you can adequately keep track.

The City installed a bunch of road furniture at Coulomb and Arastradero that seems designed to cause a right hook accident. Before, if you wanted to turn right from Arastradero, you looked for bikes and moved into the bike lane, obviously having to slow down, before turning right. You always knew exactly where bikes were, which is important because they can come up really quickly and sometimes even pull up beside you when you are in the lane. It’s important to have that ability to watch for them even at the last minute, which is possible because of having that bike lane there.

But the City decided to move the bike lane into a narrow trench on the other side of the parking spots. They built up curbs that jut out into traffic on Arastradero so far, they keep getting hit, and because of it, their reflective paint keeps getting blackened and more people hit them. They’ve had to keep putting up signs so that people know what’s what, and don’t ruin their car frames on the jut outs (as some have). The worse scenario is if a bike doesn’t realize that’s parking and ends up getting launched when they hit that curb.

In the many months since the City installed that expensive change, I have only ONCE seen a bicyclist use that trench. Which is lucky since it’s impossible to keep track of them on the right like it is when there’s a proper bike lane.

I have many times seen cyclists approach that trench and veer into the park or take the sidewalk. Trench or sidewalk, neither is safe for the cyclists, because just like this accident, cars turning right will have difficulty seeing an approaching bicyclist because the bike path is so removed, and they may even have no idea that there is a bike lane hiding 10 feet from the road anyway. A cyclist could easily zip up and ride through a green light when the car turns and even if the car is going slowly, break their neck or be hit. The city made the oncoming lane so narrow, it’s necessary for drivers to take attention away from the right side (where it’s not even very clear where the bike path is now) and watch the oncoming lane in order to avoid hitting oncoming traffic in the turn. For most of the turn, the new remote bike lane is in my car’s blind spot.

No one uses the new trench, but the traffic chief calls it a success because he’s seen lots of bikes during school hours, when there already were lots of bikes and there is a crossing guard there, i.e., they just took however many dollars of City money and flushed it down the tubes to set some poor bicyclists up for a right hook accident just like this in the future. The only reason it hasn’t happened yet at that location is that no one uses it except during school hours when there is a crossing guard (and any furniture is at best unnecessary).

Our planning department does things based on theories and won’t listen to sense or feedback, they want accident and death numbers before they’ll do something (have basically been told this is how they operate when I have complained and felt not heard).

Safety planning should be about, as much as possible, ensuring that even when driver or bike make a mistake, no one gets hurt. I think some of the changes are making things worse, including just the drive to convert our town ever more into a glorified office park.

I post this with hesitation because if you complain about a danger that could cause an accident just like that, the City tells you they just don’t listen unless there are accidents. Once the accidents happen, you can’t complain or you are accused of being an opportunist using a tragedy to…help people/make things safer… which is definitely beyond the pale here there days.

I’m so sorry for this family. Please at least if you know what I’m talking about at the intersection I described above, please complain to the City so they fix it. I’m terrified every day of a cyclist getting hit there, like I said, the only saving grace is that apparently cyclists are too and never use it.

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