Rebuttal to the County highway engineers

For an abridged rebuttal, see Attack on Pedestrians!

This rebuttal is in the format of an email.

To: Dan Collen, Senior Civil Engineer, Highway and Bridge Design, Santa Clara County

From: Akos Szoboszlay, Vice-President, MTS
Date: 6/26/02

The report "Comprehensive County Expressway Planning Study," dated 4/26/2002, has these statements which are rebutted:

Under Guidelines #1, it is stated that

"Frontage roads and nearby parallel roads or trails are available along many portions of the expressways." I would like to meet with you so you can show me on a map what locations you are talking about. I think I know all the frontage/parallel roads and it is a small percentage of expressway mileage. I will show that the word "many" needs to be replaced by "very few."

Under Guidelines #3, it is stated that

"emergency walkways would use whatever right-of-way is available." This concept ignores the fact that most expressway miles already allow pedestrians, and that the pedestrians do exist even where there are no official sidewalks. They use whatever is available: shoulders, paths, or, in a minority of cases, sidewalks. These facilities are NOT primarily for "emergency" use, but for basic transportation. Expressways are a type of arterial, and both expressway and arterials are an integral part of the transportation network in the system that we have: hierarchical. 

Under Guidelines #4, it is stated that

"pedestrians [shall be] prohibited where sidewalks are not available"

This concept ignores two facts:

1) that shoulders and pedestrian paths are legitimate and legal pedestrian facilities; and

2) that State Law and City Ordinances protect peoples right to travel and prevent prohibiting pedestrians and bicycles in most cases. The County highway engineers cannot simply post "pedestrians prohibited" signs at will. They have tried many times but MTS and SVBC has always forced their removal. (In fact, almost every time a city repealed a bicycle and/or pedestrian prohibition, I and other activists had to go through a huge fight with the County highway engineers, typically lasting 6 months or years, to achieve compliance.) 

A legal opinion was requested by the County/VTA BAC in 1996. This Legal Opinion needs to be part of the report as an appendix and also summarized. Guideline #4 violates the law as per County Councel's Legal Opinion. The County highway engineers first told the BAC that they can put "pedestrians prohibited" signs up at will, then tried to persuade them not to seek a legal opinion (unsuccessfully), and then were obviously disappointed with the Legal Opinion because they, as staff liaison to the BAC, refused to hand it until over six months after it was released by County Councel. Yet, all along they new full well what the law was because there is no distinction made between bicycles and pedestrians in Vehicle Code 21960; we went through years of fighting on this and another County Councel's legal opinion when fighting for bicyclists' use of expressway shoulders; and because city ordinances were changed to permit pedestrians on expressways where the definition of "freeway" is not met. I even supplied the San Jose City Ordinance, and it was obvious it did not prohibit pedestrians from much of Capitol expressway, which was the current struggle at the time. This entire episode was simply an effort to achieve compliance with the San Jose Ordinance, revised in 1989 !

The basic problem with the "Expressway Planning Study - Pedestrian Plan" arises from the fact that County highway engineers have, for decades, falsely assumed that pedestrians are prohibited from all expressways and do not exist on expressways where there is no sidewalk. This has resulted in poor roadway design, especially in eastern Montague and northern Almaden expressways. It must be recognized that pedestrians are allowed on these both roads, and always have been. And, that they do exist. Calling pedestrian paths "emergency walkways" or shoulders "for emergency use only" is a complete misrepresentation of the facts. Shoulders and paths are legitimate and legal pedestrian facilities where there is no adjacent sidewalk. The false assumption has been a license for the destruction of pedestrian facilities, the shoulders, when adding more traffic lanes.

The slide show presentation before BPAC clearly demonstrated this. Slides were shown of poor or non-existant facilities for pedestrians, and this was shown as the reason to keep pedestrians prohibited even when pedestrians in fact were allowed. Furthermore, these conditions were the result of poor roadway design as a result of the false assumption because originally these roads had wide, typically 8 feet, shoulders for pedestrian use.

On page 2, in the middle, there is a list of reasons for walking along expressways.

The "emergency" use listed first, but needs to be listed last because that is the least used scenario.

The "unaware of alternate routes" should be replaced by "there is no alternative route." A one-mile walking detour, which is a typical detour to avoid walking on the expressway, is unacceptable for either transit patrons or just walkers, especially considering this distance is added on to other walking not associated with the detour. This is the same, in terms of time, of forcing a motorist on a freeway to make a 20 mile detour for no logical reason. See a typical map of detours.

The following is not a rebuttal, but a request to include information.

In the many years I have spent fighting to repeal bicycle prohibitions on expressways, the highway engineers have consistently refused to compare expressways with arterials. Expressways have 1/5 as many intersections (the main cause of accidents), few driveways (also a cause), no parked cars (no need to swerve into traffic to pass one), and a shoulder (complete separation from vehicular traffic flow). Instead, the highway engineers have resorted to simplistic slogans like "high speed facility" while simultaneously refusing to compare speeds with arterials and to recognize the fact that many arterials have the same speed limits. Another claim, that "shoulders are for emergency parking only" is another case of pretending that expressways are freeways. In fact, expressways are a type of arterials. 

The point here is that in the current struggle for pedestrians, a comparison must be made with similar situations where pedestrians walk on shoulders. You should also compare with arterials where pedestrians walk on shoulders, or even better, compare with other expressways. The two expressways with the most substandard (or lack of) shoulders for pedestrians are eastern Montague and northern Almaden. Slides of these were shown at the BPAC. Only problem was, that they were shown to be an example of why pedestrians must be prohibited, when it fact pedestrians are allowed on those expressways, and always have been. The County report on pedestrians must make these comparisons. And, compare with Caltrans' practice such as I described in my email about pedestrians on Hwy. 99.

Furthermore, the unsafe or less safe situations on Montague and Almaden are the direct result of poor roadway design by the County highway engineers. They occurred because the County highway engineers, when increasing the number of traffic lanes, made the false assumption that pedestrians are prohibited and do not exist. Neither is correct. For years, the highway engineers have pretended that pedestrians are prohibited unless there is a sidewalk, and this is wishful thinking at best. The false assumption has, in fact, created unsafe conditions. The County report on pedestrians must recognize that pedestrians are allowed on expressway shoulders in most cases, and make a table showing this. 

One of the most use sections of expressways is the San Tomas crossing over Los Gatos Creek and under Hwy. 17. Pedestrians and bicyclists used to use the wide 8-foot shoulders. There was even an official access to Los Gatos Creek Park. Despite this, shoulders was completely eliminated for lanes in 1982. When MTS wrote a letter to SCCTA, there was no written reply, just action: this access was fence off, forcing pedestrians to walk even further in the traffic lane to get to the next Park entrance. For 15 years, MTS has fought for restoration of bike/ped facilities and this was accomplished only a few years ago. The reason the problem occurred was, again, the false assumption by County highway engineers that pedestrians are prohibited and do not exist unless there is a sidewalk. Neither was true in this case, either, and it resulted in forcing pedestrians to walk in the traffic lane for about 15 years. (This part of San Tomas was formerly Camden Ave., allowing all transportation modes including a streetcar line.) Lane widening should pay for relocating bike/ped facilities, instead of the current practice of changing bike/ped facilities to traffic lanes and exposing pedestrians to danger for years until pedestrian funding is finally obtained to build sidewalks. 

Another example is on Montague where sidewalk was destroyed in 1989 when adding lanes. Only years later, after pedestrian funding was secured, was a sidewalk rebuilt, but only on one side of the road.

The expressways were paid for by property taxes, a county-wide bond measure, including by pedestrians. Until lanes were added beginning in 1982, shoulders were usually 8 feet, at least 6, and sometimes even 11 feet wide. These were wide enough to park a car let alone wide enough for pedestrians to walk in the 2-foot gutter. The report must recognize that fact that shoulders are legitimate pedestrians facilities where no alternative exists. 

The County report on pedestrians must state where pedestrians have been placed in substandard situations, identify the reason as lane additions, and then roadway funds need to pay for solving it because pedestrians do not benefit from lane additions. The current practice is a way to force the limited pedestrian funds to subsidize traffic lane additions. It is suggested that this is the real reason for the highway engineers' opposition to pedestrian use of shoulders, so as to continue this practice. All their stated arguments are easily proven false. 

Finally, the report should agree with the BPAC, that all "pedestrians prohibited" signs should be removed from expressways. 

I will gladly meet with you to discuss any or all of the above points and I am available most days. Please send email or call to set it up. My cell phone is 221 0694.

Also see:Expressway topics, links page

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