Despite major victories, the Expressway fights continue

Expressway (publicly known) Events 2003-2004 [also see Secret Events: SB 1233]

Akos Szoboszlay, December 2004 [with marked "Updates," July 2005]

Major victories for non-motorists on expressways occurred the past two years. Only two expressways still have "pedestrians prohibited" signs on both sides of the road, and County policy supports pedestrians at these locations because they have shoulders. Yet, noncompliance with these policies and the law continues [as updated, below]. Furthermore, there were more bike/ped facility eliminations on Montague Expressway.

Update: The 2003-2004 events described here occurred while, unbeknownst to the author (and SVBC, VTA BPAC, affected cities, county citizens), County staff used a secret and possibly illegal process attempting to undermine these victories and the right of bicyclists and pedestrians to use public roadways.

Sunnyvale repeal

After a yearlong effort by Sunnyvale BPAC and MTS (Modern Transit Society), the Sunnyvale City Council repealed the pedestrian prohibition in May 2003, allowing use of expressway shoulders. Yet, the County highway engineers refused to remove the signs. In early 2004, the City sent a letter directing that the signs “be promptly removed” but that was also ignored by the County highway engineers. Finally, a year after repeal, the Board of Supervisors gave the directive to remove signs which did occur.

County highway engineers disobey policies and laws.

I brought the matter to the BOS, and it was placed on the agenda of the HLUET Committee of the BOS, in February 2004. Mr. Murdter, Director of County Roads and Airports Department, told the two Supervisors of the Committee that he can ban pedestrians at will, and that expressways are "freeways." He contradicted all County Counsel legal opinions on the matter. I rebutted this to both the County Counsel and County Executive, by showing the legal opinions. Mr. Murdter also falsely stated that the BOS policy opposes pedestrian use of shoulders, by citing obsolete policy. I rebutted that also, quoting the recent policy.

Corrections were made to the staff report when this went to the full Board on May 4. Yet, the illegal signs were still not removed from Sunnyvale, despite recognizing they needed removal in the staff report. When one of us speakers (Kevin Jackson of Sunnyvale BPAC) pointed out at the BOS meeting that the signs are still posted despite the repeal a year earlier, Supervisor McHugh, Chair, asked: "Mr. Murdter, the implication was made that you won't remove the signs." Mr. Murdter said "I already made out the work order." (If that were true, the signs would have been gone by then.)

The illegal signs were removed --a month later-- from Sunnyvale but not removed from other locations. The most outstanding violation is Foothill Expressway, due to Los Altos not prohibiting pedestrians. Another violation is the large prohibitory signs --about half the signs posted. These look like those at freeway entrances and thus mislead drivers into thinking that non-motorists --most of whom are crossing the expressway-- would not be present. They are illegal because they are not approved regulatory signs by Caltrans. [Update: These were replaced by small signs in April 2005.] A third violation is where there is right of access --as shown by a driveway-- people have the right to use the roadway in that block and any prohibitory sign there is illegal. [Update: SB 1233 legalized these signs on Jan. 1, 2005, thus thwarting BOS policy (below) which supports pedestrians on shoulders.] These are three violations of the Vehicle Code --but ignored by Mr. Murdter and the Department.

New County policy

The Board of Supervisors (BOS) approved the County Expressway Plan on August 19, 2003. The Plan was also endorsed by cities in the County (as shown on the endorsements page).

Of course, the above points only occurred as a result of advocates' efforts. For example, the first draft actually sought to impose more pedestrian bans by banning use of shoulders and paths even where walkers are allowed today. In contrast, the VTA BPAC voted that ALL prohibitory signs be removed.

Montague Expressway --appalling conditions for walkers and cyclists

The County highway engineers continue to ignore safety requirements for walkers in the County Expressway Plan on Montague Expressway, which has always allowed walkers and bicyclists. The most dangerous are forcing walkers to use two acceleration lanes, and to walk in the trajectory of right-turning vehicles. The acceleration lane widths --13 feet-- do not even meet minimum width requirements --16 feet for a curb lane. Nor are acceleration lanes approved in the County Expressway Plan. These were formerly safe shoulders until lanes were added.

Another safety hazard --recently created-- was changing the shoulder --used by both walkers and bicyclists-- into still another traffic lane near Western Pacific railroad crossing. The buckling asphalt is not even ridable crossing the tracks unless using the middle of the traffic lane. Previously, this was avoidable by riding next to the shoulder line, which now is mid-lane --there is no shoulder now. Walkers also must walk in this lane due to a ditch at the edge of the road.

I have brought these safety and legal violations to the attention of Supervisor McHugh (whose district includes Montague) and the County Executive. Update, July 2005: a few of the locations had shrubbery trimmed, but why this was not done at most others is not known.

While the above occurred, County staff worked secretly to undermine the right of bicyclists and pedestrians to use public roadways. See SB 1233.


More info about the County Expressway Plan, including the pedestrian-expressway map.

[Update: Secret Events, SB 1233]

Links to all above topics, details and documents, see: Expressway topics, links page.

Recent photos of Montague, destruction of bike/ped facilities

Sidebar: History repeated itself

The bicycle prohibition was repealed by Sunnyvale in 1987, but it took a year of fighting County highway engineers to force removal of those signs. The pedestrian prohibition was repealed by Sunnyvale in 2003, but it took a year of fighting County highway engineers to force removal of those signs.

The County highway engineers refused to remove prohibitory signs despite the fact that, in both cases, they violated the policy of the County Board of Supervisors (BOS) that, respectively, supported bicycles on expressways and pedestrians on expressway shoulders.

I had to go back to the City in both 1988 and 2004 to get the City to tell the County to remove the signs. Here is a difference: In 1988, the city order caused them to comply. But in 2004, County staff simply ignored the City --which was another violation of law--, so I then went to the BOS which ordered Murdter to remove the signs, which he finally did. This indicates that County staff has even less respect for the law today than in 1988.

The repeat of County staff's actions is not amazing. It shows the Department hasn't changed, and it's actions are still despicable.

The author:
Akos Szoboszlay, former SVBC Vice-President and now President of Modern Transit Society, has lead the effort to repeal bicycle and pedestrian prohibitions since 1987, and for safety of non-motorists on arterial roads that were renamed "Expressway." Akos also was successful in constructing about 10 miles of sidewalks on Lawrence and southern San Tomas Expressways after the County highway engineers eliminated shoulders that were safely used by walkers. Akos was forced to bicycle past discriminatory “bicycles prohibited” signs to three different jobs, and talked to many walkers and transit patrons in the same predicament.

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