Below is the first of about a hundred letters I wrote to elected officials to repeal bicycle and pedestrian prohibitions. The City attorney, Mr. Moore, had repudiated my request to comply with State law and remove the illegal signs that would have prevented me from commuting to work by bicycle. However, I ignored the signs and risked ticketing by police rather than be forced to drive a car.
July 6, 1987
Mayor Everett Souza
City of Santa Clara
1500 Warburton Ave.
Santa Clara CA 95050
I work at Lockheed in Sunnyvale and live where the Acapulco restaurant is on Lawrence Expressway in Santa Clara. I bicycle to work on Lawrence every work day.
An expressway is the safest place to ride. There are few intersections, no parked cars and few driveways. Lawrence Expressway has a 5 to 6 foot shoulder which is perfect for bicycling.
Even if the shoulder on Lawrence were to be eliminated, Lawrence Expressway would still be much a safer place to ride than arterials. This is because the vast majority of accidents are caused by intersections, driveways and parked car doors.
I ride at 20 to 25 mph, and have gone at 30 mph with a good tail wind. The cars don't slow me down during commute times because I ride on the shoulder. Conversely, I don't slow the cars down at other times.
The Sunnyvale City Council at their June 9, 1987 meeting unanimously removed the bicycle prohibition on Lawrence Expressway in their jurisdiction. They never, in fact, had the legal right to prohibit bicycles, as was proved in court in Sunnyvale vs. Diane Harrison. (Diane has since moved to Berkely as a result of a job change). State law only allows the possibility of prohibiting bicycles from freeways. Bicycles cannot be prohibited from streets, arterials, expressways, or non-freeway highways.
Please consider the following issues:
Morality: I'm a property owner and taxpayer in this county. The Expressway is paid by property taxes. What right does someone have to deny me use of the expressway which I partly paid for when I don't cause harm or even inconvenience anyone?
Liability: The Sunnyvale City Attorney made a report which stated that the city is at negligible liability if it permits bicycles. The Attorney did not consider a potential liability problem, the liability of the city if it forces bicyclists to use comparatively less safe routes. I have been in 2 bike-car accidents. The first was when someone popped his parked car door open right in front of me. The second was when a car, underestimating my speed, pulled out of a gas station driveway. If I was on an expressway, those accidents would not have happened.
Legality: I received a letter (dated 5/28/87) from Mr. Edwin J. Moore, City Attorney of Santa Clara. He stated that the bicycle prohibition is City Resolution No. 1814 and that it is based on Vehicle Code Section 21960. He stated that Section 21960 reads "Freeway is a highway in respect to which the owners of abutting lands have no right or easement of access". If this is a definition of a freeway then all roads going through national forests (including dirt roads) must also be freeways, since there is no "owner of abutting lands". In short, this is not a definition at all. It is a requirement that freeways must have no right or easement of access to owners of abutting lands. It is for the purpose of assuring people access to their property.
The bicycle prohibition is based on a fallacy that Lawrence Expressway is a freeway. Ask anyone in the county, and no one will state that Lawrence Expressway is a freeway (except Mr. Moore). About 80% of the intersections are at grade!
Let's assume for the sake of argument that Mr. Moore is correct. Using the same Section 21960 that he cites, Lawrence Expressway cannot be considered a freeway! This is because there are at least 3 private driveways that go onto Lawrence in the City of Santa Clara (in addition to more driveways in other cities). Mr. Moore's "no right or easement of access" does not hold up. These private property accesses are at the following locations:
A farmhouse with the its only access on Lawrence,
south of Homestead.
A shopping center, north of Homestead.
Hewlett-Packard, north of Stevens Creek.
Please place the removal of the bicycle prohibition on Lawrence onto the City Council Agenda. Please inform me in advance so that I can lobby other Council Members.
In the meantime, I will continue to ride my bicycle on Lawrence Expressway since it is completely legal for me to do so, and the best pollution-free commute alternative for me. I see other bicyclists use it also. Most bicyclists are intimidated by the threat of receiving a ticket. I myself was stopped by Santa Clara Police. He gave me a warning to get off the road. If it was a ticket, I would have gone to court, and won.
The sad story is that for over 20 years, bicyclists were given tickets, and just paid the fine without doing anything wrong or even illegal. On the contrary, they were contributing to cleaner air and less traffic congestion!
cc Ellen Fletcher
Also see: list of bicycle articles.