Bicyclist/pedestrian rights fighter given award

Akos Szoboszlay


I wrote this article for the newsletter of the Western Wheelers Bicycle Club in fall, 1991. For information about later years to 1998, see The struggle to allow pedestrians, transit access on "expressways" and Struggle on Capitol "Expressway."

The Western Wheelers Bicycle Club's Ben Lefkowitz award was presented to Akos Szoboszlay. The annual award is for outstanding contribution to bicycling. Akos has lead the fight to repeal the prohibitions of bicycles on Santa Clara County expressways during the past four years. He has successfully lead the repeal of these prohibitions in the cities of Santa Clara, San Jose, and Campbell, and at the County level he got the support of the County Board of Supervisors. This completed repeal of all bicycle prohibitions on Santa Clara County expressways.

The bicycle prohibitions have all been repealed, but that does not mean the signs were all taken down (though they should have been). Akos also fought for removal of "bicycles prohibited" signs after the City Councils repealed the prohibiting ordinance. This often entailed a long fight with the traffic engineers (sometimes lasting a whole year) to remove the signs. Still remaining are some signs on San Tomas. The City of Santa Clara repealed the prohibitions in June of this is year, but the traffic engineers have still not complied with the law. Akos is currently fighting the traffic engineers on this matter. [Update: these signs were removed after about six months of stonewalling.]

The traffic engineers vigorously fought to prevent repeal of prohibitions of non-polluting transportation. They used false arguments to get the city council or county supervisors to keep the prohibitions. Akos rebutted all the staff reports, lobbied the councilmembers and supervisors, and spoke as the topic went before the County Transportation Commission, Highways/Bikeways Committee, the Board of Supervisors and city councils (each one several times).

Santa Clara (City)

One argument used by the Santa Clara traffic engineers was that the faster a bicycle goes, the more unstable it comes and therefore "bicycles may lose control" on the expressway . Obviously, he didn't know the first thing about bicycles. Another argument he used was that bicycles don't have headlamps turned on during the day as motorcycles do, and therefore shouldn't be allowed to use expressways (-as if the cars coming from behind would see the headlamps on the divided road!) The Santa Clara Councilmembers didn't bicycle either and most apparently believed the traffic engineer. During the four-year fight, the council voted over 20 times (usually for another staff report). The vote was 4-3, and until the end it was against bicycles. During all this time, the staff never compared the dangers of riding on paralleling streets, despite repeated requests by both bicyclists and the Council to do so.

Santa Clara County

The county traffic engineers used different arguments to try to prevent bicycles. They stated that "there wouldn't be enough room for bicycles" after adding more traffic lanes. Akos proved the traffic engineers dead wrong. He examined their blueprints, made computer graphics of roadway cross sections, and then got both the City of San Jose (in 1989) and the County Supervisors (in 1991) to specify that shoulders shall not be less than 4 feet wide (5 feet for most cases), even after adding more lanes of polluting automobiles. There would still be about nine feet left over on each side for landscaping and sidewalks! The traffic engineers then argued that the people living behind the "soundwall" would object to a decrease of landscaping that would occur (by keeping shoulders when adding more traffic lanes). As the arguments were shot down by Akos, the traffic engineers resorted to more and more ludicrous arguments. While future lanes widths (planned for 13' by the Agency) would have been adequate, Akos worked for keeping shoulders since it would result in more people bicycling, and further increase safety.

San Jose

The most frustrating fight was with the city of San Jose. Despite vigorous opposition from the traffic engineering dept., Akos got an 11-0 vote from the San Jose City Council to "direct the City Attorney to prepare the revised ordinance that would remove all prohibitions." The Council vote was on Feb. 7, 1989. The ordinance was only comprised of two sentences. Only the words "bicycles" had to be deleted. Normally, it takes a couple weeks to revise an ordinance. Weeks stretched to months. Akos' weekly phone calls remained unreturned. By May, it became obvious the staff had no intention of complying with the City Council. Akos contacted San Jose Councilmember Jim Beall. The staff gave Jim Beall a deadline of Aug. 1, two additional months to revise two sentences! The staff then missed their own deadline. More phone calls, another deadline, and another deadline missed. Finally, it was agendized for Sept. 12, a 7-month delay. The City Attorney had promised to give Akos a copy of the draft ordinance so that he could provide feedback before it went to Council. Akos called every day that week. Only the Thursday before the vote (9/7/89) were Jim Beall and Akos given a copy. By then, it was too late to make changes in time for the vote. Yet, the staff's proposed ordinance was dated 8/29/89! In other words, they used false information (saying they did not have it ready) in order to try to prevent opposition to their proposed ordinance.

It was stunning. Instead of complying with the directive to "remove all prohibitions", it stated "No person ... shall operate a bicycle upon any County expressway ... which ... meets criteria for the prohibition of bicycles." The ordinance would have allowed the traffic engineers to automatically reinstate prohibitions by modifying the road so that their "criteria" would not be met, and they could change their "criteria" at whim because it was not specified as part of the ordinance. The staff also placed a clause that expressways are "primarily for motor vehicle movement". Blatant prejudice. It's like putting a sign on a water fountain "primarily for whites."

Akos informed Jim Beall who requested the Council for a postponement of the vote on the ordinance. Jim Beall met with and asked staff to stick to the Council's vote to repeal prohibitions. The staff complied and re-wrote the proposed ordinance. This became law two weeks later. Why did they take 7 months to do something wrong that they could have done right in 2 weeks? The office of the attorney was apparently taking orders from the traffic engineers. The traffic engineers have tried anything extra-legal or illegal (e.g., refusing to remove signs) to keep bicycles from using the roads.

Transit/pedestrians on expressways

Akos is also a transit/pedestrian advocate. Akos put a stop to the practice of destroying sidewalks and shoulders when adding more traffic lanes (the latest destruction happened on Montague in 1990 where highway engineers destroyed the sidewalk). He got the County Supervisors in Sept. 1991 to enact a policy to not only stop destroying these facilities, but the county also agreed to replace sidewalks and shoulders that they destroyed on Montague and San Tomas (including the important section of San Tomas between Camden Ave. and Los Gatos Creek Linear Park). The County Supervisors voted to support allowing pedestrians on all expressways. Due to Akos' efforts, the Supervisors allocated $75,000 per year for pedestrian facilities on expressways.

Akos got the City of Santa Clara to repeal pedestrian prohibitions on most of Lawrence, thus finally allowing Caltrain patrons to use the pedestrian underpass crossing underneath Central Expressway. The City traffic engineer opposed allowing pedestrians to use the pedestrian underpass, despite the fact Caltrain patrons must walk a one-mile detour (20 minutes extra) if the underpass is prohibited.


One of Akos' current fights is to repeal the Sunnyvale ordinance that prohibits pedestrians from using existing sidewalks, crosswalks, shoulders, bus stops, pedestrian underpasses and pedestrian signaling (that still work despite the sign stating pedestrians prohibited from crossing) on Lawrence. These facilities still exist from the days the Lawrence was called Lawrence Station Road, and demonstrates the ludicrous lengths that have been taken by the traffic engineers to eliminate non-polluting transportation. The fine for using pedestrian facilities is $125. The staff (specifically, the traffic engineering dept.) rejected Akos' request to allow pedestrians to use pedestrian facilities. Yet, they have no qualms about forcing pedestrians to walk in the lane of 45 mph traffic on Java Dr, including where they changed the shoulders to another traffic lane in 1990. Akos then made the same request of the City Council. The Council told staff to come up with a revised ordinance. Let's hope the San Jose episode will not be repeated. [UPDATE: The Sunnyvale City Council referred the matter to staff for a staff report, but then the City traffic engineer, in charge of writing the report, simply refused to do it for two years, despite repeated attempts on my part to get him to comply with the Council's directive. Pedestrians are now allowed everywhere on Lawrence Expressway unless there is a nearby parallel alternative route.]


Akos has done research in Bay Area transportation history, and found that traffic engineers supported and often instigated the destruction of many of the streetcar and electric train lines in the Bay Area. These include destroying the San Jose-Los Gatos streetcar line to add more automobile lanes on Bascom Ave., and the destruction of the Geary St. streetcar line in San Francisco 1957 (which today is the most heavily used bus line in the city). The Key System electric trains that crossed the Bay Bridge carried twice as many people as were carried by automobiles during rush hour, but this fact was irrelevant to the traffic engineers, who in 1958 prohibited trains from crossing the bridge to obtain two more automobile lanes (for a total of 10 lanes). Noting that if the number of automobiles should ever decrease, then most traffic engineers would be out of a job, Akos theorizes that the purpose of prohibiting electric trains, bicycles pedestrians and streetcars was to maximize the market share of automobiles in the urban transportation market.

See Conflict of Transportation Competitors for details.

Also see: list of bicycle articles.