Letter that resulted in Board of Supervisors order to create paths along all expressways

Akos Szoboszlay, President, Modern Transit Society


This letter from 1991 — shown below with updates in violet — resulted in the Board of Supervisors (BOS) order to create pedestrian paths along all expressways. For quotes of this order and related policies, see BOS policies and orders regarding pedestrians along expressways.


The letter also contained graphics illustrating many specific requests that have since been implemented (as shown in green). Click on a link for the graphic:

Š      Lawrence Expressway, future design and redesign. Bicycle and pedestrian facilities — the wide shoulders — were destroyed on Lawrence, but sidewalks were built a few years later by MTS efforts (Sunnyvale and Santa Clara) and shoulders restored for bicycles (by VTA BPAC’s efforts). The graph shows the “current design” which was County staff’s plan as of 1991, and was actually constructed — eliminating the shoulder used by both bicyclists and pedestrians circa 1995. The requested “redesign” with sidewalks and shoulders was implemented in 1997.

Š      San Tomas Expressway (portion north of El Camino).  The shoulder — it was eliminated north of El Camino — was since restored as shown. The sidewalk or interim dirt path in the graph —12 feet (typically) between curb and property line fence — is currently vigorously opposed by both County highway and Santa Clara (City) traffic staff who want to use that for a future traffic lane and/or freeway.

Š      Typical arterial-expressway intersection. This request was accomplished in terms of its inclusion in the 1991 policy and the 2003 policy (the County Expressway Master Plan) which states “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.” However, County Roads has stonewalled on compliance except at a few locations (after a huge MTS effort for each location). The violations continue today, despite it being very simple and low-cost.

Š      Lawrence photos (below) are when Lawrence shoulders were 8 feet (or greater) width (yet were claimed “unsafe” for bicycles).

Also attached were:

Š      MTS article, since updated and expanded at Pedestrians along Expressway Arterial Roads

Š      Mercury News Op-Ed article Trying to engineer walkers and cyclists off the expressway


MTS requested shoulder use, path creation at intersection areas, and other specific items (below). The BOS ordered paths along all expressways, a fact proven by documents (link at top). This fact was also acknowledged by (then) County Supervisor Zoe Lofgren in a letter to MTS. County Roads has stonewalled on implementing that for 15 years, despite the $75,000 annual appropriation for that purpose (still being appropriated). Note: The MTS request for paths at intersection areas was separately implemented in the BOS policies, but rarely complied with.

Modern Transit Society

P.O. Box 5582, San Jose CA 95150   408/371-9738


June 14, 1991

Updates and remarks added in violet, October 2006.

Supervisor Rod Diridon

Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors


1)   Request Board action to set transportation policy.

2)   Appalling policy to “discourage” pedestrians and transit patrons.

3)   Contravening of Supervisors policy regarding bicycles on expressways.

4)   Refusal of Transportation Agency to increase pedestrian safety because that would “encourage” pedestrian usage (and consequently transit patronage).

Dear Rod,

1) Request Board action to set transportation policy

Traffic engineers have a vested interest in maximizing automobile usage.  This has been demonstrated historically (see enclosed Mercury News Op-Ed article).  Maximizing auto use increases traffic congestion, brings political pressure for more road construction, and gives more construction projects for the traffic engineers.  Transportation policy on expressways was written by a professional traffic engineer and represents the vested interests of traffic engineers. 

During the past 15 years, wherever Caltrans constructed portions of County expressways (over freeways and often extending to the nearest arterials), they placed sidewalks on both sides of the road (5 to 8 feet wide) and shoulders (5 to 7 feet wide).  It is astounding that during this period on these exact same roads (Montague and San Tomas), county traffic engineers destroyed sidewalks and shoulders, and are planning further destruction of pedestrian and bicycle facilities on Lawrence.  Update: Lawrence facilities were restored.

The Supervisors need to set policy that takes into consideration not only all transportation modes (not just automobiles), but also concepts of clean air and the environment.  We ask the Board of Supervisors to take action to implement the following policy:

Wherever a County expressway is modified, pedestrian and bicycle facilities are required, including (but not limited to):

a) Shoulders having a minimum of five feet width. Update: This was subsequently placed into 2003 policy.

b) Sidewalks along both sides of the road at all crossings of freeways, rivers and railroads. Update: Yes, placed into 1991 policy, but “on at least one side” rather than the requested both sides. It states, “A sidewalk/path on at least one side of the expressway will be provided to the adjacent public street intersection in both directions from the barrier.”

c) Sidewalks shall not be abolished. Update: Yes, placed into 1991 policy: It states, “It is the policy … to not eliminate existing sidewalks/pathways/informal paths.”

Agency policy to “discourage pedestrians from walking along the shoulder areas of expressways” shall be replaced by “Pedestrians shall not be discouraged from using any county road”. Update: Instead, the BOS ordered paths created on all expressways — which would have made this issue moot — but the order was not complied with, to date.

2) Appalling policy to “discourage” pedestrians and transit patrons

A recent Transportation Agency memo (dated July 16, 1991, attached) blatantly reveals the anti-pedestrian, anti-transit and anti-bicycle policy of the Transportation Agency.  The memo states the policy of the Agency is to “discourage pedestrians from walking along the shoulder areas of expressways”. 

Pedestrians do not walk on expressway shoulders because they’re more pleasant than quiet residential streets.  On the contrary, the exhaust fumes and traffic roar make an expressway a lot less pleasant to walk on.  The reason for walking on the expressway shoulder is because there is no alternate way to travel.  Discouraging pedestrians and transit patrons would not mean that these people would be diverted to a parallel street (because there are no nearby parallel streets), but that walking and transit usage would be discouraged.  The enclosed article Pedestrians and transit patrons on expressways [Now updated and expanded at Pedestrians along Expressway Arterial Roads] explains why street patterns (designed after the 1950s), which are intended to force automobiles onto arterials and expressways, also force pedestrians (and bicyclists) onto arterials and expressways.

Transit patrons often walk along expressways because:

1. Many industrial companies are located on expressways. 

2. Transit patrons must often walk one block or so along an expressway to catch a bus on the next arterial intersecting the expressway

3. There is usually no alternative route that is within walking distance.

The Transportation Agency [, Department of Highway and Bridge Design —which was given carte-blanche despite that the Agency Directors (three in series) also ran the transit district’s buses and light rail —] discourages pedestrians in order to maximize the market share of automobiles in the transportation market.  Of course, they would never admit to that.  Instead, the Agency has alluded to “safety” as the reason for prohibiting pedestrians.  However, in a recent meeting with four top Agency managers, none of them (Larry Reuter, Lou Montini, Scotty Bruce or Ron Shields) could give us any reason why shoulders are unsafe between intersections.  In contrast, MTS has listed five reasons (enclosed) which show that prohibiting pedestrians from shoulders actually increases the danger to pedestrians (for the few that would still make the trip without an automobile).  The Agency has conceded that shoulders are safe for bicycles.  Why, then, are they claiming shoulders are unsafe for pedestrians — today, this claim is despite the 2003 policy acknowledging safe use of wide shoulders? 

3) Contravening of Supervisors policy [regarding banning bicycles again and destroying bicycle facilities]

The memo also states that the policy of the Agency is to “encourage cities to remove the bicycle prohibition, except where the shoulder is less than four feet”.  On Lawrence, the Agency is planning to completely destroy the shoulder by placing “a modified shared-lane of 15 feet”.  This would, in effect, re-institute bicycle prohibitions and veto the Supervisors’ policy [1988 and 1989], which placed no exception on allowing bicycles. Update: shoulders were restored on Lawrence and the 2003 policy has an extensive Bicycle Element, and requires 5-foot shoulders.

4) Refusal of Agency to increase safety because that would “encourage” pedestrian and transit usage

MTS requested the Agency to make minor roadway modifications to increase pedestrian (and bicycle) safety.  The Agency has refused to make these minor changes to increase safety because that would “encourage” pedestrians to use the expressway. 

Simple, low-cost modifications to make now:

Return shoulders to San Tomas by restriping [repainting the lines on the road] and reducing the left shoulder to two feet (see illustration).  The Agency argument that a two-foot left shoulder is inadequate is false.  Fwy 880 has a one-foot left shoulder in many sections.  Some sections have two-foot left shoulders.  Lawrence has had a one-foot left shoulder where it crosses over 101 for over twenty years, and after adding future lanes, a two-foot left shoulder is planned throughout the roadway. Update: This was accomplished.

Cut back vegetation, as was done for bus stops, at the other two corners of arterial-expressway intersections, to enable pedestrians to walk on the top-side of the curb (see illustration).  This has already occurred naturally, at about half of the non-bus stop corners, as walkers create a trail by walking (see photo example, above).  In sharp contrast to expressway shoulders between intersections, intersections are by far the most dangerous parts of expressways and arterials, with right-turning automobiles a major source of collisions with pedestrians. Update: This was accomplished in terms of including it explicitly in the 1991 and 2003 policy. However, it was not complied with except at a few locations. The stonewalling on compliance continues today.

Designs for the future:

The Agency is planning to destroy pedestrian/bicycle facilities (i.e., shoulders) on Lawrence.  Yet, there is enough right-of-way to keep shoulders if the design is done properly.  There is even room for sidewalks on both sides!  Agency managers stated to us (on 6/6/91) that they intend to destroy the pedestrian facility even where pedestrians are allowed.  By a recent addition to their policy, the agency conceded that they would not destroy sidewalks and paths.  However, in the absence of sidewalks (the usual case for expressways), shoulders are legitimate pedestrian facilities.  Destroying shoulders and forcing pedestrians to walk in the lane of 45-50 mph car traffic is absurd.  The Agency needs to re-design the future Lawrence to accommodate bicycles and pedestrians as shown in the illustration. Update: This was mostly accomplished.

The Agency has recently conceded that they will build one sidewalk on all crossings of freeways, rivers and railroads in future construction.  However, Caltrans builds sidewalks on both sides of expressways near freeway crossings.  Because there are relatively few intersections on expressways enabling pedestrians to cross to the other side, and because there is a likelihood of accessing future development on both sides of the road, it is important to place sidewalks on both sides of crossings in roadway designs. Update: This has mixed results, with some bridges having sidewalks on both sides, some on one side, some on no side. Another situation has been where Caltrans built sidewalks on a bridge, but the shoulder approaches used to reach the bridge was eliminated (e.g., Montague crossing 880).



Al Spivak, P.E.                        Henry Servin, Jr., P.E.,T.E.    Akos Szoboszlay, P.E.   

President                                 Vice-President                    Past President 

408/371-9738                          408/980-8909                     408/294-0694 


All members of the Board of Supervisors

Larry Reuter, Director, Transportation Agency

League of Women Voters

Sierra Club

Santa Clara Valley Bicycle Association

San Jose Mercury News


Pedestrians and transit patrons on expressways [Note: the updated and expanded version is Pedestrians along Expressway Arterial Roads]

SCCTA memo of 6/3/91  [Note: the final versions, after changes resulting from this letter, are accessible from links for 1991. To see the draft anti-pedestrian version (paper copy) that was changed, contact Akos Szoboszlay.]

Mercury News Op-Ed article Trying to engineer walkers and cyclists off the expressway