Modern Transit Society   PO Box 5582, San Jose CA 95150   phone: 408-221-0694


Sept. 14, 2004

Councilmember Dave Cortese,
San Jose City Council, District 8
Supervisor Blanca Alvarado
Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, District 2
Subject: Capitol Expressway fatality prevention
Dear Councilmember Cortese and Supervisor Alvarado:
Executive Summary
The County Roads and Airports Department is partly responsible for two fatalities of pedestrians on Capitol Expressway on the same block (Quimby to Aborn) on Sept. 1 and in 1992. They did not comply with existing laws and policies regarding pedestrian safety on expressways. The policies were enacted at our request by the County Board of Supervisors in 1991, then included and expanded in the County Expressway Plan (2003) which we had influential input. The City Ordinance # 11.32.070 was changed at our request in 1989. 
The important point below is that another accident is just waiting to happen in this same block as a result of non-compliance. The danger can be corrected in a few days and at very little cost because it involves only sign removal and shrubbery trimming.
The Department has a fallacy that posting a “pedestrians prohibited” sign solves the “pedestrian problem.”  Posting prohibitory signs has never stopped pedestrians, especially on Capitol, the most used expressway by pedestrians.
The 1991 BOS policy and the 1992 fatality
At our request, the BOS adopted policy in 1991 that “shrubbery at expressway intersection areas will be trimmed [for] pedestrians.” This is illustrated by this general drawing for expressway-arterial intersections (with curbs shown as thicker lines):
In 1992, an elementary school pupil who lived on Capitol Expressway --at the mobile home park with no other access-- was killed because Branch Manager Allen Jones flat out refused to comply with the BOS policy, to trim shrubbery at expressway intersections for pedestrian safety, so people won't be forced to walk in the travel-way (trajectory) of right turning cars. This fatality occurred about 10 feet from the intersection where the shoulder does not exist, while the driver was making a right-turn-on-yield at the T-intersection --looking left while driving right.
Also contributing to the accident, in all likelihood, was the driver not expecting pedestrians due to the illegally posted "pedestrians prohibited" sign which the driver would have encountered upon leaving the private drive, turning onto the "expressway."
The May 2004 promise to comply with law and the September 2004 fatality
The Mercury News article, describing two hit-and-run fatalities on Sept. 1 (other was on Tully), had one paragraph re Capitol:
In the second incident -- on Capitol Expressway, between Quimby and Aborn roads -- the victim was hit about 8:20 p.m. while crossing the southbound lanes of the expressway. The man was declared dead at the scene; his identity was not immediately released.
There is a large prohibitory sign posted (photo, right) --only one on this block. The driver, going southbound, went past this one sign. The walker was NOT killed walking along the road shoulder, which is no more dangerous for walkers than for bicyclists using bike lanes.
Crossing arterial roads --including expressways-- is by far the most dangerous action according to statistics, and the risk is increased by misinforming drivers –and not just where the signs are posted, but at all expressways whether signs are posted or not. Accidents usually occur when something unexpected happens, and the illegal "pedestrians prohibited" signs send the message to drivers: There are no pedestrians, and they don't need to be aware of their presence.
That accident might not have occurred if County staff would have complied with the law. In fact, Mr. Murdter promised the BOS on May 4, 2004 that “[The] Department is in the process of removing the prohibition signs because ... the city with jurisdiction ... allow[s] pedestrian access.” He did not, and he continues his violations of California Vehicle Code (CVC) 21960 and 21401.
The next accident waiting to happen
There are three actions needed in this block of two fatalities for pedestrian safety:
1) Remove the illegally posted prohibitory sign at Quimby informing motorists not to watch out for walkers. The City ordinance Ordinance # 11.32.070 does not ban pedestrians on Capitol Expressway and therefore under CVC 21960 the sign must be removed. The sign is also unapproved by Caltrans under CVC 21401. [See links at bottom for City Ordinance, legal opinion and the Vehicle Code sections.]
2) Trim shrubbery at the SW corner of Capitol Expressway at Cumby Road, as graphically depicted above. At most such corners, where drivers make a right-turn-on-red, such action has been already accomplished by the bus stop. Here, a major transit center is less than a block away adjacent to Capitol Expressway at Eastridge, and there is no bus stop at this corner. For those walking south from the transit center, the most dangerous action is crossing the “Expressway” twice to get to the sidewalk on the other side and then crossing back. The County Expressway Plan approved by cities and the BOS states [page 93]:
"Landscaping needs to be kept trimmed back at intersection areas and along the travel way so pedestrians do not have to enter the travel lane."
3) Trim shrubbery for the entire block to obtain a path (example photo, below). The shoulder on this side of the block (photo, right) is unique compared with other shoulders of expressways because:
a) In 1997, County highway engineers, when adding more lanes, reduced the shoulder width here from 10 feet to as little as 4.5 feet, which is substandard and probably the narrowest shoulder on expressways, and is below the 5-foot minimum stipulated for bicycles in the Expressway Plan. Note that the minimum width for bicycles adopted by the City of San Jose is 5 feet, and by the State is also 5 feet (with a gutter pan, as on expressways).
b) Plants have overgrown about half of this width at many places.
c) This block has a right turning curvature.
All three factors combine to reduce visibility for those using the shoulder who are mostly bicyclists, but also pedestrians. Some drivers, led to believe that there are no bicycles or pedestrians on the “expressway,” may cut the corner by driving on the shoulder when the bicyclist or pedestrian may be hidden by the overgrown shrubbery. The solution is to create a pedestrian path by cutting back the shrubbery by two feet from the curb in this entire block on this side, to connect with the sidewalk extending part way from the south end. A pedestrian path would cheaply be created and would simultaneously solve the overgrowth / visibility problem for bicyclists.
The County Expressway Plan does recognize that pedestrian paths are legitimate walking facilities, and even has a photo of walking on a dirt path of an expressway [page 93]. While the third item above is not required by BOS policy, that does not mean it should not be accomplished. Moreover, in order to induce action, shrubbery trimming requirements used by the Department for sight-lines may be applicable and cited. (For details, contact Dan Collen, former Study Manager for the County Expressway Plan).
Transit access, transit patron safety
Mr. Murdter and County highway engineers completely ignore that a transit center is a half block away on the same side of Capitol Expressway. While a sidewalk was constructed on the other side in this block soon after the 1992 fatality, Mr. Murdter now expects many people to cross the expressway twice –the most risky activity—instead of just continuing on the same side of Capitol.
Mr. Murdter should have constructed sidewalks or paths as part of the lane addition project in 1997 when giving most of the bike/ped right of way to automobiles. He was informed that the signs were illegal by County Counsel the previous year due to the (then) County Bicycle Advisor Committee (now called VTA BPAC) requesting a legal opinion at the request of MTS.
The traditional highway engineering attitude towards transit patrons was demonstrated at other locations in the past: The Department banned use of the Capitol LRT station to people not driving a car to the parking lot-- until our efforts to remove the signs. The highway engineers also banned Lawrence Caltrain station patrons to access a nearby business park until forced to remove signs by MTS’ efforts. Bus stops on Capitol also had “pedestrians prohibited” signs until our 1996-7 fight with Mr. Murdter’s Department.
More illegal signs on Capitol
Two other blocks of Capitol with prohibitory signs also violate the same two Vehicle Code sections, between San Antonio St. and Capitol Ave. Here, nothing more needs to be accomplished other than to remove the signs because the intersections already have a path --in fact, it is most of the way-- or there is a wide shoulder or both (shown, right).
Thank you for your past efforts for pedestrian safety.
For your convenience for forwarding this letter (to retain photos and formatting), it was uploaded to the Internet at this link:
Links for documents and details are below.
Akos Szoboszlay
Links for documents, details:
Expressway Topics, Links page:
San Jose City Ordinance # 11.32.070:
County Counsel legal opinion:
CVC 21960:
CVC 21401 (several links at):
Count Expressway Plan (several links at):
Details of trimming shrubbery policies:
This letter: