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California Vehicle Code 21960, as changed by SB 1233 (of 2004),
eliminated the right of bicyclists and pedestrians to use public roadways

Akos Szoboszlay

Photo: The pedestrian path is prohibited by the posted sign stating “pedestrians prohibited”. County highway staff refused to remove these signs despite Sunnyvale informing them to "remove all signs that prohibit pedestrian use". They secretly started SB 1233, a bill that eliminated the right of non-motorists to use public roadways, without ever informing the BPAC or the public, so they would never be required to remove them.

Forward: The County Board of Supervisors voted to seek legislation in 2004 to eliminate non-motorists rights (described below), but in 2006, realizing their mistake, voted to seek legislation to un-do what was passed in 2004. However, staff never complied. This article was written in 2005, and subsequent events are listed on the Contents, Links page.

Santa Clara County sponsored portions of Senate Bill 1233 [SB 1233], the “Transportation Omnibus bill” (sections 15, 17, and 28), in April of 2004, which eliminated the right of bicyclists and pedestrians to use all public roadways, Statewide, without disclosing the effect that the change in law would cause. The County’s letters to the Senate and the Assembly Transportation Committees (by Supervisor McHugh, Chair), directly contradicted the County staff report of May 4, 2004 on several counts. and contradicted the County Expressway Plan [Master Plan] in statements regarding pedestrians. These contradictions are shown by quotes in Appendix A.

The County also recognized, in its staff report of May 4, 2004, stipulations in the law which gave bicyclists and pedestrians the right to use public roadways. What the legislation actually accomplished was not what was approved by the Board of Supervisors and stated to the Legislature in the summary: an innocuous request to “install” or “post” signs --authority which already existed. What it accomplished was to eliminate the stipulations protecting these rights. From CVC [California Vehicle Code] 21960, it eliminated the stipulation that the road must be a freeway, eliminated the stipulation that “all rights of access have been acquired,” added “expressway” and then trivialized the basis for declaring any road an “expressway” in SHC [Streets and Highways Code] 1730. These changes enabled prohibiting bicycles and pedestrians on practically any road.

SB 1233, according to the legislative analysis, “is intended to deal with minor, non-controversial issues” and “would make ... non-substantive changes.” On the contrary, it was very controversial because there was an ongoing dispute between the City of Sunnyvale and the County, and between the Modern Transit Society and the County, with regards to removal of illegal "pedestrians prohibited" signs. The County staff refused to remove these signs despite Sunnyvale’s repeal of its prohibiting ordinance on April 22, 2003, and despite Sunnyvale’s letter to the County to remove “pedestrians prohibited” signs (Appendix E). The County staff also refused to remove signs where walkers’ right to use the roadway was protected by CVC 21960, such as access to businesses directly on arterial roads that were declared “expressway” by the County. Compliance with the law was requested by the Modern Transit Society. These disputes were kept from the Senators. Conversely, the City of Sunnyvale and we were not informed through such deceptive tactics such as omitting all mention of seeking legislation in the staff report of May 4, 2004. Moreover, Sunnyvale and we should have been informed directly. More violations of the intentions of SB 1233, with quotes and sources, are in Appendix B.

The County never authorized seeking such legislation, but something very different. It was improperly agendized, to hide it, and it lacked a public process, as detailed in Appendix D.

The summary of SB 1233 misleadingly states: “Authorizes a county to post signs prohibiting pedestrians.” The bill did not authorize posting, which is already authorized by CVC 21351, which states: "Local authorities ... may place ... traffic signs ... as may be authorized." Instead, it greatly expanded authority to prohibit bicycles and pedestrians, by eliminating two stipulations in CVC 21960, the boldface in this quote: "Local authorities ... may [for] freeways [where] all rights of access have been acquired ... prohibit ... pedestrians, bicycles ... motor-driven cycles ... ." It authorized prohibiting, not posting, but the summary had no mention of prohibiting or of bicycles. The proponents used deception in the summary to prevent opposition. [Update: County staff reveals the real reason for SB 1233.]

These sections of SB 1233 also contradicted CVC 21949 which states: “all levels of government ... provide convenient and safe passage for pedestrians on and across all streets and highways, increase levels of walking and pedestrian travel, and reduce pedestrian fatalities and injuries.” It also contradicted the similar ACR 211. The purpose of seeking legislation was to legitimize the practice by the County of eliminating pedestrian and bicycle facilities when adding more lanes for automobiles. In all cases, this has occurred not for lack of right-of-way, but because posting of “pedestrians bicycles ... prohibited” signs is cheaper than relocating these facilities when traffic lanes are added. Such action, again, contradicts CVC 21949.

[For latest events: See the Contents, Links page.]

Appendix contents.

Appendix A: The County contradicted its letters to the Senate and Assembly Committees

Appendix B: Three intentions of SB 1233 were contradicted

Appendix C: Goal to conform CVC 21960 to CVC 21949 and ACR 211

Appendix D: Deception and all lack of public process at the County level

Appendix E: Historical events leading to SB 1233. Letter from City of Sunnyvale to County, to "remove all signs that prohibit pedestrian use".

Appendix F: Text of changes to CVC 21960.

Appendix G: Text of changes to Streets and Highways Code 1730.

Appendix H: Letter from County to Senate Transportation Committee.


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