County staff’s triple attack on walkers and transit patrons

Akos Szoboszlay, President, Modern Transit Society.

October 2005, with update.

Update, January 2006: The County Board of Supervisors (BOS) voted, on January 10, 2006, to restore the rights that were secretly eliminated by SB 1233 (in 2004). This was despite County highway engineers' opposition to restoration and their triple attack on walkers and transit patrons, documented below. The BOS unanimously approved this proposal (agenda #25): "Santa Clara County previously sought ... SB 1233 of 2004. This new proposal would repeal that language." Furthermore, the County Expressway Master Plan was NOT repudiated as the County Roads Department attempted before the VTA BPAC (Bicycle-Pedestrian Advisory Committee), and County Roads Department then dropped their proposal after losing the vote. See the detailed recommendation of VTA BPAC in this regard.

For background, see Violations of law and County Supervisors' policy by the County highway engineers.

Sources for information in this article and links to details are at bottom.

Santa Clara County Roads and Airport Department staff has eliminated the right to use roadways, destroyed travel facilities, and is now trying to prohibit transportation —but only to those who walk, take public transit or bicycle. Driving is a privilege, and walking is a right —or was until this year. Now, driving is still a privilege, but walking is no longer a right, and if the County staff prevails, no longer allowed on some roads.

First, Santa Clara County staff has the practice of destroying walking and bicycle facilities when adding traffic lanes, and forcing people to walk in the traffic lane. While the County relocates telephone poles and anything else as part of road widening, it won’t spend a penny of its lane-addition budget for relocating walking facilities. A recent example is forcing people to walk in the traffic lane of Montague to reach the Montague light rail station. The County staff destroyed walking facilities there when it added more traffic lanes in 2003 —despite the fact that the County Expressway Master Plan shows sidewalks on both sides of Montague.

Second, the County staff eliminated the State-protected rights of both walkers and bicyclists to use public roadways. It used a secret —and probably illegal— process, and kept it hidden from the Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee, the public and the cities in this County.

The County staff succeeded by using deception to prevent public input and opposition. It falsely stated that they are changing State law only to “install” signs, that it was a “minor” change, while omitting the legal text. Despite the meeting's agenda item having “Signage” in the title, the Vehicle Code chapter that was changed was not “Traffic Signs” but “Pedestrian Rights”. The County staff gutted this section which protected walkers' and bicyclists' right to use roadways —for the entire State. It became law this year.

The third attack started this month [August 2005]. Now that the County staff has eliminated this right, County highway engineers have proposed prohibiting walkers and transit patrons from using many arterial (main) roads, including where they eliminated sidewalks. For years, they fought against allowing bicyclists from using existing bike lanes and shoulders. When they lost that fight, many signs were changed from "bicycles prohibited" to "bike lane". Now, they want to ban walkers from bike lanes and wide shoulders, despite the Vehicle Code (21966) allowing walking in a bike lane where adjacent sidewalks or paths are lacking. Alternatively, they can cheaply create dirt paths. But instead of spending the $75,000 per year allocated to path creation since 1991, they have misspent the money, and have failed to create any paths all these years.

Transit use would be impeded by again banning many arterial roads and violating the new Vehicle Code 21949, which states that governments "provide convenient and safe passage for pedestrians on ... all streets and highways.". The Capitol light rail station on Capitol Expressway was banned, unless driving to the station. The Lawrence Caltrain Station underneath Lawrence Expressway was banned to patrons walking to nearby industrial areas. Bus usage was banned to many who needed to walk along banned arterial roads after getting off the bus. Most bans have since been repealed, after huge fights with highway engineers.

Arterial roads that had bans were re-named “expressway” but kept the same 35 to 50 mph speed limits. Yet, expressway roads are “faster” than other arterial roads for the same reason an “express” bus is faster than a local bus —fewer stops, not higher speed limits. Expressways have about 1/5 as many intersections and stop lights. This attribute also increases safety —including safety for walkers and bicyclists— because most accidents occur at intersections.

The reason County highway engineers want to ban walkers and transit patrons is that they don't want to pay for relocating walking facilities when adding lanes, while completely ignoring the danger that would create. The greatest danger is preventing walkers from using the shortest route with the least number of intersections to cross. A typical detour for proposed banning of roads is one mile and six extra intersections to cross. Detours increase danger, waste time, and discourage —often prevent— people from using transit.

Another example where the bike/ped facility was eliminated:

While opposing pedestrian (and previously, bicycle) use of the wide (8-foot) shoulders on Foothill Expressway (below left), Roads &Airports Department. has no such qualms where the name of the same, County-owned “G-5” road changes to Junipero Serra Blvd (below right). Pedestrians have always been allowed on the shoulders there (despite being two feet narrower). What further emphasizes the hypocrisy is that on a portion of Junipero Serra Blvd, the County highway engineers eliminated the shoulder when adding a (left-turn) traffic lane near Campus Drive West [map] , with the result shown (above).


The dispute over safety has turned into a dispute over funding: While Roads &Airports Department now wants to restore the shoulder, it would only do so if using the limited bicycle/pedestrian funding. The VTA BPAC has opposed that because (1) rightfully, motorists' funds should be used on projects that benefit only motorists (such as adding a traffic lane), (2) there is a great amount of bike/ped projects that don't having funding, and (3) the County staff is trying to shift danger from it's roads to cities' roads, by getting its danger corrected instead of other projects. The County staff needs to stop creating these dangers and --costing almost nothing-- restore what was before by re-painting lines.

Details and Verification of information

Attack #1: Destruction of facilities (photos, captions):
Destructions in 2003 near Great Mall on Montague:
Photos for other Montague destructions:
Yet, County Expressway Master Plan shows sidewalks on both sides of Montague: See the map from the Plan:
For destructions on other roads, see and photo above.

Attack #2: Elimination of rights. See SB 1233 short article: or the SB 1233 contents, links page:
Especially see the current County policy quote and map that the County highway engineers are trying to repudiate.

Attack #3: The County highway engineers proposed policy to prohibit. It is a badly written policy, which they tried to pass by an up or down voted. It was unanimously rejected by the VTA PBAC on 9/8/05 but unanimously approved by the County Roads Commission on 9/9/05. Here it is:
My rebuttal to this is here (email to the VTA BPAC members):

The $75,000/year figure for walking paths is from Board of Supervisors allocation on August 20, 1991. I have the original 1991 transmittal document (on paper). This figure was put into the draft new policy (above link), but the language was greatly watered down, by stating "target of" and "as conditions allow". In actuality, the highway engineers are trying to eliminate this fund, by making it optional instead of mandatory.

Detour maps for walkers (notes year of removal of "pedestrians prohibited" signs if applicable):
Capitol Expressway: We forced signs to be removed in 1997 by using right of access which was eliminated from State law this year:
Lawrence Expressway: We forced signs to be removed between 1988 and 2002 using right of access (Santa Clara), city repeal (Sunnyvale) or pointing out the lunacy of banning use of paved sidewalks (San Jose):
San Tomas Expressway: This and Foothilll are the only arterial roads still banning walkers. See two example detour maps for San Tomas here:
Central Expressway: the last city to repeal the prohibition from this road was Sunnyvale in 2003 (scroll to bottom map):
Foothill Expressway: least number of detours, but a huge one was once forced upon us. We had to go up a steep hill to avoid using the "bike lane" which was "prohibited" to bicyclists and walkers. Bike ban repealed in 1980 but the walking ban is still remaining. Don't have detour map here, but here's photos:
Almaden, Montague and Oregon roads never had prohibitions; only 5 of 8 "Expressways" did. However, the County highway engineers' proposal to ban use of all shoulders --no matter how wide-- to walkers, in combination with eliminating the right of pedestrians to use roadways, is a definite threat to walkers and transit patrons. See example detour, above.

Also see:
Expressway topics, links page
Why were pedestrians and bicycles originally prohibited?

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