April 14, 2001
Mayor Jack Walker
City of Sunnyvale
PO Box 3707
Sunnyvale CA 94088-3707
Appalling conditions for pedestrians on Java Dr. (and solutions)
Anti-pedestrian ordinance needs repeal or correction..
Dear Mayor Walker:
Light Rail Transit patrons working near Java Drive have to walk in the lane of automobile traffic to get to or from the LRT stations, and the speed limit is 45 mph. I experienced this myself, when I worked on Bordeaux Drive one block from the Borregas Ave. station. The situation is not only unsafe, it discourages transit use as it scares potential transit patrons. My co-workers and I could not even walk to the nearest deli during lunch without walking in the traffic lane of Java Drive.
The Modern Transit Society wrote a letter to then Mayor Patricia Castillo (dated May 27, 1992) requesting that the shoulder lines be painted on Java Drive to change the above situation because this road is also used by many bus routes. The response we obtained from staff was that sidewalks would likely be constructed concurrent with light rail construction, so nothing was done. Unfortunately, even upon construction of the LRT, seven years later, no sidewalks were constructed.
This situation discourages walking and transit use since most people are frightened to walk on the road to get to or from the LRT stations and bus stops. Probably, only those who are transit-dependant would do it. There is little chance of getting people to switch from driving to transit under your existing conditions.
For a simple low-cost interim solution, paint shoulder lines as we requested in 1992. This would result in a 4 foot shoulder or bike/ped. lane and a 10 foot car lane, both meeting minimum State requirements for width. Shoulder lines are known to keep the great majority of cars within the proper lane width, instead of driving near the curb as they do now under the assumption they "own" all the space between the striped line and the curb. Pedestrians walk adjacent to the curb since they have no alternative.
Ordinance 10.44.010 is anti-pedestrian and we ask its repeal or major revision. It prohibits people from using bus stops, pedestrian paths, and safe shoulders on Lawrence and Central expressways. This ordinance was revised in 1993 at our request but did not go far enough, since it only allows using sidewalks. Before 1993, use of sidewalks, which existed from the time Lawrence Expressway was named Lawrence Station Road, were also prohibited. The ordinance causes major disruptions for pedestrians because there is no alternative parallel route in most cases. I enclose maps for these two examples:
I worked at the corner of Central and Middlefield Road, but the #32 bus going along Mary Ave. dropped me off one block away. Pedestrians do not walk in the traffic lane of Central, since most of the way is totally removed from traffic. Yet, you still have the signs stating "pedestrians prohibited." See map.
The most frequently used expressway section in Sunnyvale by pedestrians is Lawrence Expressway between Palamos Ave. and Tasman Dr. People use the pedestrian path to get to or from the light rail station and buses on Tasman since there is no alternative route. Your ordinance prohibits this. I make the important point that people were living here before the road was renamed from "Lawrence Station Road" and before this unjust ordinance was enacted. See map.
Forcing people into detours by prohibiting pedestrian paths forces unnecessary crossings of intersections, which actually increases the danger to walkers compared to just walking on the pedestrian path. This is because crossing the road is the most dangerous action by pedestrians. Walking along the road is relatively safe unless one is walking in the lane of traffic, as on Java Drive.
The only part of any expressway within Sunnyvale that does not have shoulders or pedestrian paths or sidewalks is on Lawrence between Lakewood/Bridgewood and Lakebird/Palamos. Fortunately, there is a paralleling route here. We ask either the repeal of the ordinance, or only prohibiting pedestrians from this section. With repeal of the ordinance, signs can still be posted advising pedestrians approaching the section without shoulders to use the parallel route.
Sunnyvale's traffic engineering department opposed allowing even bicycle use of expressway shoulders, and it took two years of fighting before that prohibition was repealed by the City Council in 1987. I was one of about 25 bicyclists at the Council meeting when the repeal was approved. At the time, I bicycled on Lawrence Expressway to work at Lockheed because there was no safe alternative route. The prohibitions greatly increased danger for both bicyclists and pedestrians. Compared with arterials, expressways have 1/5 as many intersections (the main cause of accidents), few driveways, no parked cars, and a safe shoulder, as opposed to walking or bicycling in the traffic lane. All these factors increase safety for bicycles and pedestrians on expressways.
All bicycle prohibitions and most pedestrian prohibitions have been repealed by other cities in this County as a result of efforts by the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition and the Modern Transit Society. In particular, as a result of our efforts, all "pedestrians prohibited" signs were removed on Central Expressway and Lawrence Expressway in the City of Santa Clara by 1991. People walk on the safe shoulders of Central Expressway. Lawrence Expressway in Santa Clara has sidewalks only because the signs were first removed. When highway engineers wanted to add more auto lanes, it necessitated sidewalks.
The highway and traffic engineers fought hard to keep pedestrian and bicycle prohibitions, including in Sunnyvale. The highway engineers wanted to spend all transportation money on automobiles-only facilities. It is much cheaper to place a sign "bicycles and pedestrians prohibited" than to construct bike/ped facilities in the future, when adding more lanes of car traffic. The traffic engineers even claimed "shoulders," which are identical to bike lanes, are "dangerous" for bicyclists. After repeal, signs on three expressways were changed from "bicycles prohibited" to "bike lane" with no other change to the roadway. This means that, for 20 years or so, the traffic engineers prohibited bicycles from bicycling in the bike lane! Obviously, safety was not the reason for the prohibition. The remaining signs in Sunnyvale likewise need to be removed, which now only relate to pedestrians. The reasons for the prohibition are completely political, to minimize future bike/ped spending (since existing shoulders are safe). Yet, traffic engineers repeatedly used the false claim of "unsafe" to keep the prohibitions.
A detailed history of the prohibitions of bicycles and pedestrians is on our web site at http://moderntransit.org/ctc
The diagram above is to-scale and illustrates the two requests. Please compare the two requests for logic. If Sunnyvale is to have any pedestrians prohibitions at all, is it more logical to prohibit people from walking in the 45 mph or greater lane of traffic, or to prohibit people from walking on a shoulder that is so wide (8 feet usually) you can park a car on it? I think you will conclude that the existing scenario is absurd: the safe place to walk is prohibited, and the dangerous is allowed. I am not advocating prohibiting pedestrians (who are also transit patrons) from accessing LRT and bus stops on Java Dr. I, and the Modern Transit Society, are requesting painting shoulder lines on Java Dr., and allowing people to use the shoulder of both Java Dr. and "expressways."