Attack on Pedestrians!

Scare tactic, previously used against bicyclists, is now being used against pedestrians and transit patrons by the same highway engineers, in an attempt to eliminate their right to travel.

This is the abridged rebuttal to the staff report. A full rebuttal to the highway engineers' report was subsequently written by MTS.

It is in the format of an email. The BPAC vote results is in red at bottom.

To: Santa Clara County/VTA Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee

From: Akos Szoboszlay, Vice-President, Modern Transit Society

Date: April 2, 2002

Subject: Expressway shoulders are safe for pedestrians!

Dear Committee members,

There are so many errors in the report Expressway Pedestrian and Bicycle Plans of which, for space reasons, only two statements are rebutted below.

Highway engineer's claim: "All of the expressways are high-speed facilities"

Expressways are arterials that have few intersections (1/5 as many, on average), almost no driveways, and no parked cars. These three attributes make the expressways the safest roads to walk and bicycle. These attributes also make them "express", decreasing travel times without increasing speeds. The reduction of intersections alone means that much fewer need to be crossed. Crossing the road is the greatest danger for pedestrians. Thus, most of the danger is eliminated by walking along an expressway.

Speeds of expressways are no greater than for arterials. There are many arterials with the same 45 mph speeds as for most expressways. Two expressways are 50 mph, but so are two arterials in San Jose (Trimble and Monterey). But 50 mph Lawrence already allows pedestrians, and so does most of 50 mph Central, where pedestrians walk on shoulders. (These prohibitions were repealed at our request.).

The term "high-speed facility" has been an effective, albeit false, argument used by the County highway engineers to fight the repeal of bicycle prohibitions on expressways, causing many years of delay. This scare tactic is now being used against pedestrians, many of whom are also transit patrons.

Highway engineer's claim: "Principles #4: Pedestrians prohibited where sidewalks are not available"

This statement attempts to take away the "right to use the roadways." of pedestrians and transit patrons that currently walk along expressway shoulders. A common scenario is someone taking transit and needing to walk (usually one block or less) along the expressway shoulder to get to work from the transit stop. Another reason people walk along expressways is that there is no realistic alternate route because of the hierarchical street patterns that have been used since the 1960s. To avoid the expressway, a typical detour is one extra mile of walking. This detour is much more dangerous because of the large number of intersections that have to be crossed.

The County highway engineers write reports in a manner to make those voting on this topic believe that pedestrians walk on expressways only where there are sidewalks. This concept is blatantly false. The fact is, there are no "pedestrians prohibited" signs on Montague, Almaden, Central (in Santa Clara), and elsewhere where pedestrians walk on the shoulders. The false assumption has been used by the highway engineers to eliminate shoulders on parts of Montague and to refuse to implement pedestrian improvements that cost almost nothing. Furthermore, even where there are "pedestrians prohibited" signs, such sign posting has never eliminated pedestrians where there is no alternative route, in other words, in the majority of cases.


Expressway shoulders are safe for pedestrians, even safer than for bicyclists, because pedestrians usually walk in the 2-foot gutter while bicyclists ride closer to the shoulder line. (Moreover, statistically only a small percentage of bicycle accidents are the 'Vehicle overtakes bicyclist' type, the remainder being caused at intersections, driveways or parked cars which are minimized or nonexistent on expressways.)

The county highway engineers also oppose allowing pedestrians to walk on pedestrian paths that run along many expressways. The longest pedestrian paths are on the southern half of San Tomas. These are "prohibited.".

Anyone walking a disabled bicycle along an expressway can be (depending on location) ticketed because a disabled vehicle exception in city ordinances only applies to motorists.

The prohibitions were enacted for political reasons, falsely assume that the expressways are freeways, and have no logical basis today. The solution to this problem is to repeal ALL prohibitions, thus recognizing the existence of pedestrians on shoulders and pedestrian paths, and therefore legitimize implementation of pedestrian safety features.

For a graphic comparison of where pedestrians walk, see graph at bottom.

Action requested of BPAC

We ask that you vote to request the County Supervisors to support the repeal of all pedestrian prohibitions on "expressways."

This request is analogous to the request I submitted to the Supervisors in 1988: to support the repeal of bicycle prohibitions. They voted in favor by 4 to 1, despite vigorous opposition by the county highway engineers. This vote advanced the effort for city councils to repeal their prohibitory ordinances. As with bicycles, such a vote would legitimize safety improvements for pedestrians (many costing almost nothing) that the highway engineers have refused to do because of their current policy opposing pedestrians on shoulders. They assume (correctly) that implementing pedestrian safety features would increase the number of pedestrians. County Policy (e.g., T2020) encourages transportation modes that are alternatives to the automobile. In that sense, the County highway engineers are contravening County Policy.

Update: On May 8, 2002, the BPAC voted that all "pedestrians prohibited" signs should be removed from expressways. [See details.]

Further Information

For details on the below topics, click the topic or see

For a historical information on the fight to allow bicycles see

For photos and details on the fight to remove "pedestrians prohibited" signs on Capital Expressway "prohibiting" use of sidewalks, bus stops, pedestrian paths and shoulders, see

For background and author's personal experience, see


Akos Szoboszlay
Modern Transit Society

Comparison where pedestrians walk

Also see related articles:
Dangerous policies of County highway engineers and
Analyses of Pedestrians along Expressways

or: Expressway topics, links page.

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