Improve safety by removing "pedestrians prohibited" and "expressway" signs

This web page has three articles and a conclusion.

When car drivers don't expect pedestrians or bicyclists,
the accident rate greatly increases, study shows

A study in 2003, "Safety in numbers: more pedestrians and bicyclists, safer walking and bicycling" by P. L. Jacobsen [] has this conclusion:
The more drivers expect pedestrians or bicyclists, typically as the number of pedestrians or bicyclists increase, the lower the risk of colliding into them, per walker or bicyclist. The "pedstrians prohibited" signs increase risk by decreasing pedestrians. Typically, the pedestrian count triples after signs banning them are removed (an observation by Akos Szoboszlay). From the study's conclusion, this fact alone doubles the safety of pedestrians. But another factor also comes into play which probably has greater effect, described next.

The study concludes that "It appears that motorists adjust their behavior in the presence of people walking and bicycling." Because motorists are misinformed by a sign stating pedestrians prohibited that pedestrians do not exist on the roadway, then the signs increase the accident rate because drivers won't expect pedestrians. This is a corollary, or a logical deduction from the study's conclusions.

Pedestrians prohibited signs do not stop all pedestrians due to lack of nearby alternatives or they don't understand the signs.

For those mathematically inclined, here are the equations

There is a power of 0.4 fatality increase for the road as the pedestrians/bicyclists increase --less than a square root (which is power of 0.5).
Per walker/bicyclist, there's a great risk reduction. It is power of -0.6, which is the same as power of 0.4 and then dividing by the increase (division is same as multiplying by power of -1), giving power of 0.4 - 1 = -0.6
For example, if 9 times more people walk/bicycle, the collision rate increases by 2.4 for the road, but decreases per walker/bicyclist by 2.4/9, or about one-fourth the risk for each person.

For more info or questions, contact Akos Szoboszlay, President, Modern Transit Society.

Rename all Expressway roads back to Avenue or Road

Photo: Page Mill Road in Palo Alto, 35 mph, is an official County expressway.

The word Expressway in the road name misleads many car drivers not to watch out for pedestrians and bicyclists. Most at risk are slow pedestrians and slow bicyclists crossing the Expressway who don't make it all the way across before the signal changes. Drivers don't expect them to be there because in most other states, an expressway is a freeway --except for often not being "free" due to a toll (or "road fare"). It is a mistake to have drivers --usually out-of-towners or new residents-- think that the Expressway is a freeway.

The misleading name also becomes an attitude problem for a few drivers who think bicycles and pedestrians don't belong on expressways, which they associate with freeways. They make their attitude known when passing them --sometimes by inches with their horn blaring.

All Expressway names should either be changed back to what they were before -- Avenue or Road -- or changed to an efficiently short name, such as Road or Way.

Some politicians also succumb to this fallacy. County Supervisor Gage said, "I consider them freeways -- they are freeways." [at the HLUET February 2004 meeting]. He also stated he wants bicycles banned from Mount Hamilton Road [at the May 4, 2004 Board meeting].

The attitude problem is also reflected in the County Roads and Airports Department. Mr. Murdter, Director, told the County Supervisors [at the HLUET February 2004 meeting and in his staff report] that expressways are freeways and that he can ban pedestrians [and logically, bicycles] at will -- his. This was subsequently retracted to the Board of Supervisors [May 4, 2004] after several MTS letters to the County Executive and County Counsel. The Board then ordered Murdter to remove pedestrians prohibited signs in Sunnyvale and anywhere else they were illegal. [May 4, 2004]

Historical details for each Expressway

The links in this table are to MTS' advocacy pages or to historical web pages. The suggested name change is to improve safety.

Name today

Suggested name

History and notes

Page Mill Road

(no change)

Page Mill Road is an official county expressway, and proves that expressway roads don't need to end with the word Expressway.

Oregon Expressway

Oregon Avenue

Oregon Expressway is 35 mph. Calling it Expressway is wishful thinking on the part of highway engineers and 1960s auto-centric politicians. This pretense is risky for non-motorists. This road is a continuation of Page Mill Road. It was formerly Oregon Avenue, a two-lane street.

Peninsular Way

Peninsular Avenue and the Southern Pacific passenger train service from Los Gatos to Palo Alto was eliminated for Foothill Expressway when, in 1964, train service was stopped and the tracks were destroyed to build it. Land for an adjacent track, used from 1905 to 1934 by the electric interurban trains of the Peninsular Railway from Palo Alto to San Jose, was also taken.

Lawrence Expressway

Lawrence Road

Lawrence Station Road was the former name. The Lawrence train station is directly underneath the Expressway

Montague Road

Montague Expressway was formed from three pre-existing roads: Montague Road (western portion), Trimble Road (central portion in line with Trimble Road today), and Landess Avenue (eastern portion, which continues today). It is interesting to note that Trimble Road had a 50 mph speed limit (changed to 45 in May 2007), greater than Montague at 45 mph.

Capitol Avenue

Formerly was named Capitol Avenue, which still continues from it. Two months after adding lanes and constructing a shoulder that was 10 feet wide -- without even changing the speed limit of 45 mph -- the County highway engineers posted pedestrians bicycles ... prohibited signs. After 15 years, these signs were changed to bike lane, finally allowing bicyclists to use the bike lane. The Capitol LRT Station is directly above the Expressway.

Almaden Expressway

Almaden Avenue

Formerly named Almaden Road, a portion of the old road parallels it today so a different name ending is needed.

San Tomas Road

San Tomas is the only expressway that was a mostly new road, mostly built along or on top of San Tomas Aquino Creek. However, the southern portion was Camden Avenue, which is its continuation today, the portion near El Camino was Los Olivos Drive, and the portion north of Central Expressway (which then was named Kifer Road) was Montague Road.

Central Expressway

Central Road

Central Expressway was formed from three pre-existing roads: Alma Street (between the continuation of Alma today and Orchard Ave. near Hwy 85), Argues Avenue (between Mathilda and today's Arques) and Kifer Road (between todays's Kifer Road near Bowers Ave. and De la Cruz Blvd.).

Southwest Expressway

Southwest Road

This 40 mph arterial road is not part of the County Expressway System, but rather, the City of San Jose.

Photo: Street, Los Olivos Drive, was walled off, severing north-south travel to non-motorists, pedestrians bicycles ... prohibited signs were posted, and Los Olivos was changed to San Tomas Expressway, a 45 mph arterial road that should also have accommodated non-motorists. More photos in Santa Clara (City) pictorial report.

Conclusion regarding safety and signage

1) Posting pedestrians prohibited signs increases danger. These should be removed because they:

  • mislead vehicle drivers not to watch out for pedestrians and slow bicyclists crossing the expressway (especially when the signal changes before the crossing is complete, or a car makes a right turn on red without stop),
  • force a detour route to be taken that has many more crossings of intersections and driveways, and
  • often force crossing the expressway twice. [See two map examples.] Risk of crossing increases with road width (exponentially) and expressways are the widest of arterial roads so are the most risky to cross. (In contrast, expressways are the safest to walk along due to 1/5 as many intersections per mile, on average).
  • Removing "pedestrians prohibited" signs increases safety by minimizing crossings of all types: commercial driveway, street, and arterial (including the expressway).

    2) Renaming all expressways back to Avenue or Road, or to select a different name, upon agreement with the cities that contain the expressway, would eliminate the misconception among some motorists (especially those from out-of-town or new residents) that non-motorists don't exist on expressways.

    Also see: Expressway topics, links page

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