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The right of bicyclists and pedestrians to use public roadways was eliminated
in California on January 1, 2005, with no public input or notification, by SB 1233 of 2004.

Akos Szoboszlay, President, Modern Transit Society

Page Mill Road in Palo Alto, CA, a 35 mph arterial road with businesses on both sides, is nonetheless an official “expressway” by declaration. Roads have been declared “expressway” for the purpose of prohibiting bicycles and pedestrians, a practice that was legalized by the change in California Vehicle Code [CVC] 21960. [Enlarge photo]


Sign prohibiting use of sidewalks on Capitol Expressway, formerly named Capitol Avenue, in San Jose, CA. These signs were removed only by forcing Santa Clara County staff, in 1997, to comply with CVC 21960, which contained the right of pedestrians to use roadways (other than freeways). The “bike lane” (shown) was also previously prohibited to bicycles. The Capitol Light Rail Station, three blocks further, was “prohibited” to transit patrons except to those driving a car to the park-and-ride lot. As a result of the change in law, these signs can now be put back. [Enlarge photo]


The Reader should choose either the short version of this article for general audience (below) or the
full version for legislators and advocates, with details and links to supporting documentation.

The section of State law that protected the right of bicyclists and pedestrians to use public roadways --Vehicle Code 21960 -- was gutted by underhanded tactics of Santa Clara County staff.

A similar attempt in 1988 had a public process. County highway engineering staff asked the Board of Supervisors to seek legislation in Sacramento to re-impose the prohibition of bicycles on expressways. Cities had repealed bicycle prohibitions or were in the process of repealing --due to many years of SVBC fighting for bicyclists’ rights. Staff’s request went before a County Committee, the County Transportation Commission, and the County Board of Supervisors. It was fully agendized every time, so there was much public input. The Board then rejected that request by a 4-1 vote and voted that the Board “supports bicycles on expressways.” Another Board vote, in 1989, reiterated that statement, by 5-0, and was also a public process. What County staff failed to achieve in 1988 and 1989, using a public process, they accomplished last year, using deception and improper agendizing.

In December 2003, a false pretense was used to seek legislation by requesting authority [legal ability] to “install” and “post” pedestrian prohibitory signs. The County already had authority to post such signs in the California Vehicle Code, CVC 21351, provided that all stipulations were met for prohibiting. What staff really wanted was to eliminate those stipulations, in CVC 21960: that the road must be a freeway and that all rights of access must be acquired --meaning they could not prohibit if there was any destination on the freeway, such as a business with driveway access “on” the freeway --stipulations they often ignored. Further adding to deception was staff’s claim that the request was a “minor modification” to law. It passed the board without review by any advisory committee or commission. [Update: County staff reveals the real reason for Senate Bill 1233 [SB 1233].]

There was no public input because it was well-hidden on the Board agenda, which stated “Adopt 2004 Legislative Policies and Priorities” with an attachment containing the misleading summary “[legal ability] for the County to install 'pedestrians prohibited' signs on County expressway right-of-way.” The words “prohibit” or “bicycles” never appeared.

At the State Assembly Transportation Committee, this change in law was attached to “omnibus bill” SB 1233, that “is intended to deal with minor, non-controversial issues” and “would make ... non-substantive changes.”

The summary of SB 1233 (of portions requested by the County) misleadingly states: “Authorizes [allows] a county to post signs prohibiting pedestrians.” It did not authorize posting, which is already authorized [allowed] by CVC 21351 which states:

    "Local authorities ... may place ... traffic signs ... as may be authorized."

Instead, it greatly expanded authority [ability] to prohibit bicycles and pedestrians, by eliminating two stipulations in CVC 21960, the boldface in this quote:

    "Local authorities ... may [for] freeways [where] all rights of access have been acquired ... prohibit ... pedestrians, bicycles ... motor-driven cycles ... ."

As occurred at the County level, proponents used deception in the summary to prevent opposition. The bill authorized prohibiting, not posting, but the summary had no mention of prohibiting or of bicycles. One would have had to have read the full legal text to know that. Probably no one did, because there was no opposition.

County Supervisor McHugh, Chair, wrote a letter to the Senate Committee supporting the bill. That letter does not use the word “install” or “post” prohibitory signs, as approved by the Board. Instead, it states the Board supports the ability to “restrict pedestrian access” which the Board never approved. It makes no mention of bicycles. It also states the bill is consistent with the County’s Master Plan. In fact, the County Expressway Plan, which had a very large public input process including that of the VTA BPAC and many city BPACs, explicitly supports pedestrians on sidewalks, pedestrian paths, and shoulders of expressways, and supports bicycles.

SB 1233 also contradicted CVC 21949 (“safe and convenient pedestrian travel and access ... be provided”) and the similar ACR 211. Due to the various deception tactics, inserting text into an unrelated bill, and not informing the public and advocacy groups (bicycle, pedestrian and/or transit) at neither the County and State levels, SB 1233 passed last year with no opposition and became law effective January 1, 2005.

The purpose of seeking legislation was to legitimize the practice by the County of eliminating bicycle and pedestrian facilities when adding more lanes for automobiles. Most recently, this occurred on Montague Expressway, which always allowed bicyclists and pedestrians, and was formerly named Landess Ave., Trimble Rd. and Montague Rd. What made the change in law even worse is the ease that any road can be declared an “expressway” for the purpose of prohibiting bicycles and pedestrians. The road does not even need to change its name, an example being Page Mill Road in Palo Alto (see photo) which, in portions, is 35 mph, yet is an official “county expressway.”

[Update: The County Board of Supervisors, realizing their mistake, directed staff to un-do SB 1233 in January 2006, but staff never complied. See details in the Contents, Links page].]

There is a lot more information, including more underhanded tactics and deceptions, in the full version of this article. Santa Clara County residents should not miss the deception and all lack of public process at the County level.

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