Modern Transit Society       P.O. Box 5582, San Jose CA 95150        408 221-0694
January 18, 2007
Supervisor Ken Yeager
District 4
Cc: Tony Filice, Policy Aide for Transportation
Subject: Compliance needed with Board order to create pedestrian paths along San Tomas Expressway
Dear Supervisor Yeager,
San Tomas Expressway is an arterial road in your district that pedestrians need to use. Many are transit patrons. Due to the hierarchical street patterns in that region, prohibiting use of San Tomas often means a detour of a half mile, and sometimes one mile, due to lack of nearby parallel routes [see maps, page 4]. These are walking detours, adding 10 or 20 minutes to the walking or transit trip. VTA, in their report Community Design and Transportation, recognized that pedestrians are forced to use arterial roads.
These detours greatly increase accident risk to pedestrians because most pedestrian accidents (now called “crashes” by FHWA) occur when crossing the roadway. Several times more intersections need to be crossed due to these unnecessary detours. Sometimes, it forces crossing the expressway twice. Expressways are the least safe to cross because they are the widest of arterial roads, and crash risk increases with road width. In contrast, walking along the road, whether on a sidewalk, pedestrian path or wide shoulder, is far safer than crossing an intersection. Furthermore, joggers who would run along San Tomas would encounter about 1/5 as many intersections to cross per mile of travel, compared with other routes. This makes San Tomas (and other expressways) the safest roads to jog, walk or bicycle along.
Just as local buses observe the same speed limit as express buses, fewer stops, not higher speed limits, make expressways “express.” As a result of our efforts, most cities have repealed pedestrian prohibitions on expressways. The only expressways still having pedestrian bans are San Tomas and Foothill (in north County). These two have 45 mph speed limits, the same as North First Street (San Jose), Winchester Blvd. (Campbell), and many other regular arterial roads.
The Board ordered staff to create pedestrian paths along San Tomas and other expressways in 1991 [see attached page of Board quotes]. The staff report for that agenda item stated that that would be accomplished in “several years” for the “entire expressway system”. The Board also allocated $75,000 annually for that purpose at the same time. Unfortunately, staff has not complied with this Board order – despite our reminders many times over the years. Staff also misspent the money – and continues to do so. On San Tomas, the distance between the property line fence and the curb is typically 12 feet. Compare with a sidewalk – most are 5 feet wide – or a dirt path – many are 2 or 3 feet wide. Last year, it took one day to cut back a half mile of brush between El Camino and Cabrillo, creating a path that I’ve walked.
In 2003, the Board adopted the County Expressway Master Plan, formally titled Comprehensive County Expressway Planning Study Implementation Plan. It is a Master Plan of the County. The Plan recognized that wide shoulders are also safe for pedestrians, not just pedestrian paths or sidewalks. It contains a pedestrian map for each of the eight expressway roads, showing exactly where it is safe for pedestrians. The entire length of San Tomas Expressway, with the exception of two bridges that have nearby parallel pedestrian routes, is shown as being safe for pedestrian use today. The distance between the curb and the solid shoulder line is usually 9 feet wide. This is much wider than a standard bike lane, which is 5 feet wide. The Vehicle Code allows pedestrians to use bike lanes where an adjacent sidewalk or path is lacking. People walking along shoulders are even safer than people bicycling because they always walk near the edge of pavement, while most bicyclists ride near the shoulder line.
Unfortunately, County staff has consistently refused to comply with the Board’s path creation order wherever there were city ordinances prohibiting pedestrians.
Last year, we requested the City Council of Santa Clara to repeal the pedestrian prohibition on San Tomas. The City already allows people to walk along Lawrence, Montague and Central Expressways, due to our prior efforts. Montague never had pedestrian bans. Michael Murdter and Dan Collen of Roads and Airports came to the City Council meeting and falsely stated that the Board opposes shoulder use. They also made no mention of the path creation order, which we mentioned; but, due to County staff’s misrepresentations, we were not believed. County and City staff spoke for an hour while we were given only 3 minutes nominally to rebut their many false and misleading statements. I can give you the two-page letter from Murdter that was given to the City Council, contradicting Board policy. Audio/visual clips of Murdter are on our web site. Staff’s false statements are easy to show to be false afterwards, but impossible in a 3-minute time limit.
Paths are very easy to create, as I can show with photos. The easiest approach to achieve compliance may be to direct staff to comply with the 1991 order to create paths along San Tomas. As seen from the quotes, staff was supposed to create paths and then “encourage” repeals of pedestrian bans. Another approach would be to write a letter to Mayor Mayan of Santa Clara stating Board policies and the Board order in this regard, and requesting repeal as per Board policy. That way, the Council can repeal the pedestrian ban while staff creates the Board-ordered paths, while in the interim, shoulders not only exist for pedestrian use, they are required by Board policies to meet bike lane standards.
Most of San Tomas in Campbell and San Jose already have pedestrian paths, but staff has stonewalled on repeals here for years. [See photos, page 4.] Mr. Murdter did not acknowledge the existence of several pedestrian paths along San Tomas in Santa Clara at the Santa Clara City Council meeting.
May I show you more photos of pedestrian facilities and official pedestrian maps for San Tomas? I also have a red-lined copy of Mr. Murdter’s letter contradicting Board policies, and original County documents that are quoted (with links to originals) on the next page. I am available any time, and can be reached at 408 221 06794.  Our San Tomas Expressway web page also has a lot of information, at:
Akos Szoboszlay