Despite Unanimous San Jose City Council Vote,
the Struggle was Not Over

Akos Szoboszlay

This article, published in the Spinning Crank newsletter of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, in 1989, describes the underhanded tactics that traffic engineers took to keep prohibiting bicycles from shoulders of expressways, despite the City Council vote to eliminate all prohibitions.

One would expect that because the expressways are owned by the county, but the cities have jurisdiction, that it would be a bureaucratic nightmare to repeal the prohibitions on bicycles. It was. After leading the effort for more than two years at a cost of 800 hours of my time, and time of other people, it resulted in a 5-0 vote of the Supervisors that they "support" bicycles on all expressways and a 11-0 vote of the San Jose City Council to "direct the City Attorney to prepare the revised ordinance that would remove all prohibitions." With both votes unanimous, one would think it would be easy street in ending the discrimination. Yet, the most difficult battle was just beginning.

Normally, it takes two weeks to revise a simple ordinance. The Council vote was Feb. 7, 1989. But weeks stretched to months. Phone calls to City staff remained unreturned. In May, I contacted San Jose Councilmember Jim Beall. While all the councilmembers support bicycles, Jim Beall was helpful at the County's Highways and Bikeways Committee and was most familiar with the topic. The staff gave him a deadline of Aug. 1, two months later. They missed their own deadline. More phone calls, another deadline, and another deadline missed.

Finally, it was agendized for Sept. 12, a 7-month delay. The City Attorney had promised in February to give me a copy of the draft ordinance so that I could provide feedback before it went to Council, and even told Jim Beall's office that I would get a copy a week in advance. I called every day that week. Only the Thursday before the vote (9/7/89) were Jim Beall and I given a copy. By then, it was too late to make changes in time for the vote. Yet, the staff's proposed ordinance was dated 8/29/89!

I was stunned. Instead of complying with the directive to "remove all prohibitions", it stated "No person ... shall operate a bicycle upon any County expressway ... which ... meets criteria for the prohibition of bicycles." The ordinance would have allowed the traffic engineers to automatically reinstate prohibitions by modifying the road so that their "criteria" would not be met.

At the Council meeting, Jim Beall requested and got a two week postponement. This gave me the time needed to edit the staff's proposed ordinance. The first thing I eliminated was the bicycle prohibitions. Then the clause that the expressways are "primarily for motor vehicle movement". Blatant prejudice. (It's like putting a sign on a water fountain "primarily for whites.") It stated that expressways "generally include some intersecting streets allowing right turn access." Out. All intersecting streets allow right turn access, so why include them as expressways?

We held a meeting with the staff to discuss the problem on Sept. 22. Attending were Jim Beall, myself, Garnetta Annable, government relations for the Almaden Cycle Touring Club, David Jaffer, bicyclist and attorney, Jim Kennedy of the City Office of Traffic Operations, and Kim Marlo of the City Office of the Attorney. It was not a showdown as much as a spirited conversation. Jim Kennedy stated that a "criteria" used in deciding to allow bicycles should be part of the ordinance. Jim Beall asked staff that they stick to the City Council's vote. We got every substantive change we wanted. I thanked the staff for agreeing to the changes.

On Sept. 26, 1989, it was anti-climactic. It passed unanimously, and would be effective in 30 days. In the meanwhile, I gave advance notice to James Reading, Director of SCCTA [Santa Clara County Transportation Agency, now split into the VTA and the Country Roads and Airports], to have SCCTA tape up the word "bicycle" on the signs when it becomes effective. In Sunnyvale, it took the SCCTA traffic engineers 3 to 12 months to do that (an action only taking one minute for each sign) after the city repealed their prohibition. Let's hope the unnecessary delay can be avoided this time.

Why did staff take 7 months to do something wrong that they could have done right in two weeks? The office of the attorney was apparently taking orders from the traffic engineers. The traffic engineers have tried anything extra-legal or illegal (e.g., refusing to remove illegal signs) to keep bicycles from using the roads. As long as staff continued the delay, not complying with the City Council directive, they got exactly what they wanted: prohibiting bicycles from using bike lanes and shoulders [picture], since they don't have to take the signs down unless the formal ordinance is passed.


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