Prohibitions of pedestrians and bicycles

Background and Personal Experience

Akos Szoboszlay
President, Modern Transit Society


When in high school, I bicycled on Capitol Road in San Jose. Extra lanes plus a 10-foot shoulder were added circa 1970. I was pleased because I felt much more at ease on the 10-foot shoulder rather than in the traffic lane as previously. Without even changing the speed limit of 45 mph, they placed "bicycles and pedestrians prohibited" signs two months later! I knew even than as a teenager that this was simply discrimination against those not using automobiles, as it made no logical sense.

I went to Mitty High School on Lawrence Expressway and Mitty way. I took the bus and sometimes I had to walk along Lawrence for shopping errands, to the Bazaar store on the corner of Lawrence and Stevens Creek. I had to walk past the "pedestrians prohibited" signs, or else go into a significant detour. Again, I knew this was just discrimination.

In 1975, I was broad sided by an automobile on Scott Blvd. while bicycling to work. The car pulled out of a gas station driveway all of a sudden. This accident would not have occurred if it were not for the "bicycles prohibited" signs on the parallel San Tomas because San Tomas has almost no driveways. I would have taken San Tomas because it is faster for bicyclists as a result of fewer signals and longer green signals. This is an example of how traffic engineers increased danger to bicyclists by prohibiting the safest roads, the expressways, which have 1/5 as many intersections on average (where the majority of accidents occur), almost no driveways, and no parked cars. Thereafter, I decided my life is more important than the bigotry of traffic engineers and ignored discriminatory signs.

I did nothing about the signs until 1987, starting work at Lockheed. The only way I could bike safely to work was on Lawrence Expressway with an 8-foot shoulder. By comparison, the only other route toward Santa Clara, Fair Oaks, had narrow, subtandard 10-foot lanes, no shoulders, and obnoxious motorists honking at me to get out of the traffic lane. (These lanes were the same width as shoulders on some expressways). I kept being harassed by police on Lawrence, and my girlfriend got a ticket. On appeal, she was found not guilty and the signs were ruled illegal, but the judge never ordered the traffic engineers to remove the illegal signs. Innocent people continued to be ticketed, including eventually myself on two occasions.

I lead the effort to repeal bicycle prohibitions, and later, pedestrian prohibitions, and have been very successful, but at a cost of over 2500 hours of my time. While I don't walk on expressways, I stopped to talk to many people who do and know they do not have a choice in most cases as a result of the street patterns.

In 1989, San Jose City Council repealed the prohibitions of bicycles on expressways despite vigorous opposition by staff. While the vote was 11-0, staff stonewalled on complying. After six months, and not responding to my weekly phone calls, I had to go back to Council to tell them of staff's refusal to comply. The story gets even worse. Details are in an article at:

On Capitol, Central and Foothill expressways signs were changed from "bicycles prohibited" to "bike lane" with no other change to the roadway. This means bicycles were actually prohibited from using the bike lane for over 20 years. For a history of the fight to allow bicycles, please see

After successfully fighting city traffic engineers in Santa Clara, Sunnyvale and Campbell to repeal all bicycle prohibitions and pedestrian prohibitions on Lawrence (Sunnyvale and Santa Clara) and Central (Santa Clara), I attempted to work with San Jose staff again regarding Capitol Expressway, which has the highest pedestrian usage of all expressways. My tactic was to first at least achieve compliance with the City Ordinance and State Law. The City Ordinance regarding pedestrians on expressways was changed in 1989 from a blanket prohibition on all expressways, even those never having signs like Almaden or Montague, to prohibiting only on city blocks where all right of access has been acquired.

Larry Moore, San Jose traffic engineer, referred me to a specific City Attorney. This Attorney would not take my phone calls, answer my letters, or return my phone calls. I also repeatedly called Larry Moore, who just always referred me to the same attorney. A concurrent effort at the County level also failed. Finally, in 1996 the County Bicycle Advisor Committee requested a legal opinion, as I asked them. Dan Collen, the staff liaison and highway engineer, simply refused to hand over the legal opinion for six months after it was completed. Even after handing it over, they just ignored it.

After talking to the County Road Operations manager, Bill Baxtor, I took a tour of Capitol with Masoud Abkarzadeh, a County traffic engineer, and showed him all the locations where there is "prohibiting" of sidewalks, bus stops, pedestrian paths and wide shoulders. The total disregard for the law --and lack of common sense-- is demonstrated by prohibiting sidewalks and paths where there was a driveway. Driveways are a prove that the road is NOT a freeway and under the law they can not prohibit. Masoud said he would remove the signs but none were removed even after three months. Most of the times in the past, after a City Ordinance was changed to allow bicycles or pedestrians, I had to go through a big fight at the County level to achieve compliance. Regarding Masoud, three times in the past, as a result of his stonewalling, I went to the Director of SCCTA who gave a direct order to remove illegal signs.

I took pictures of these signs and showed them to the Supervisors aides, giving them copies. To abbreviate matters, this action is what finally resulted in removal of most of the signs in 1997. At least people can walk on one side of the road, but unnecessary crossing of the expressway as a result of randomly prohibiting one side or the other actually increases danger to pedestrians compared with just walking along one side. For photos and more detail, see

The hypocrisy in prohibiting pedestrians is sharply demonstrated by examples. Yerba Buena Dr. in San Jose, constructed in the 1980s, has 4 foot shoulders for pedestrians, and the same speed as expressways, 45 mph. It does not "prohibit" pedestrians but some expressway, with double the shoulder width, do. Furthermore, "pedestrians prohibited" portions of expressways can be compared with other expressways or even portions of the same expressway without these signs. The worst sections of expressways in terms of safety never prohibited pedestrians. This is the San Tomas, formerly Camden Ave., crossing over Los Gatos Creek, in Campbell, where traffic engineers force walking in the traffic lane after they changed shoulders to car lanes about 1982; and portions of Montague where shoulders were changed to right turn only and acceleration lanes.

The solution to this discrimination is to repeal the San Jose City Ordinance in its entirety. See"Repeal Ordinance #11.32.070" (also titled Analyses of Pedestsrians along Expressways).

Also see: Expressway topics, links page.

home page | about MTS | Cashout | HOV lanes | Bay Bridge | Solution | Allow Pedestrians! | AGT | letters | webmaster