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Bicycle Infrastructure

San Jose DOT: Ban Sidewalk Cycling Downtown, 5 MPH Speed Limit Elsewhere

4:08 PM PDT on October 3, 2014

Santa Clara Street Car Traffic
Santa Clara Street in downtown San Jose, where SJDOT is proposing banning anyone over age 12 from bicycling on the sidewalks. Photo: Google Maps

On Monday afternoon (October 6), San Jose's Transportation & Environment Committee will review a proposal by the city's Department of Transportation (SJDOT) to ban bicyclists over the age of 12 on sidewalks along ten downtown streets, and to set a speed limit of 5 mph for bicycling on every other sidewalk citywide.

The city has been inching towards a sidewalk cycling ban ever since it was first proposed by City Council member Sam Liccardo in March 2013, following complaints by downtown residents who said "they're afraid to walk on the sidewalks because adult men zip by at unsafe speeds, startling them with a series of near-misses," and cited injuries suffered by pedestrians. Jack Licursi, Sr., owner of a barber shop on Santa Clara Street, was hospitalized due to a fall he suffered after a bicyclist collided with him when he stepped out of his shop and onto the sidewalk.

Walk_Your_Bike_signs_and_banners
"Public education materials" that SJDOT concluded were unsuccessful at convincing sidewalk bicyclists to share the street with auto traffic. Image: City of San Jose

A coalition of local non-profit groups, including the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC), Silicon Valley Leadership Group, Greenbelt Alliance, and TransForm, supported an ordinance that would define and prohibit reckless bicycling, but opposed an outright ban on sidewalk cycling.

"[A ban] would criminalize a healthy behavior (bicycle riding) being undertaken by those who likely do not ride in the street because of health, age, or safety concerns," wrote Corinne Winter, Jessica Zenk, Michele Beasley, and Chris Lepe in a joint April 2013 letter.

SJDOT concluded that "Walk Your Bike" signs, pavement markers, and banners installed in late 2013 haven't convinced enough bicyclists to join the fast-moving bus and truck traffic present on many downtown streets, and so now proposes a sidewalk cycling ban instead. Anyone over the age of 12 could be ticketed for bicycling on the sidewalks of Santa Clara Street and on every street with bike lanes within the "greater downtown area": Almaden Boulevard, Woz Way, and San Fernando, 3rd, 4th, 7th, 10th, and 11th streets.

But traffic conditions, even on streets with wide buffered bike lanes, present too great a hazard for many people to safely navigate by bicycle. These include high-speed traffic, large vehicles like trucks and buses, cars merging across the bike lanes to make turns or park, and vehicles blocking bike lanes that force cyclists to merge into adjacent traffic.

San Jose Proposed Sidewalk Cycling Ban
Red lines indicate where people riding bicycles on sidewalks could be stopped, and ticketed, by police under the proposed ban. Image: Andrew Boone / Google Maps

"I really don't like the notion of being forced onto an unsafe street," said affordable housing advocate Shiloh Ballard at a September 17 public meeting at which SJDOT officials announced they would propose a ban.

"There's just not sufficient bike infrastructure to warrant a ban," said Andrew, a pedi-cab driver who lives downtown. "There's really no safe and practical place for everyone riding bikes to exist on the streets."

According to data collected by SJDOT staff in September, 19 percent of people riding bicycles on San Fernando Street chose the sidewalk over the buffered bike lane available there. A sidewalk cycling ban would force a good one in five cyclists along San Fernando to choose between bicycling in the street, where they feel unsafe, and riding on the sidewalk, where they risk a police stop and traffic ticket.

A partial sidewalk cycling ban, as proposed, could also confuse matters for cyclists along other San Jose streets -- and particularly along downtown streets that are less accommodating of bicycles. Along 64 percent chose the sidewalks along more-challenging Santa Clara Street, which has five travel lanes, parking lanes on both sides, and no bike lanes. A whopping 88 percent chose the sidewalks over the two narrow travel lanes on two-way First Street, which requires cyclists to "take the lane" and offers no way for car traffic to legally pass.

Cyclist on Crowded Santa Clara Street
Bicyclists and pedestrians share the sidewalk on Santa Clara Street in downtown San Jose. Photo: City of San Jose

"We have two parallel streets," explained SJDOT Deputy Director Paul Smith in defense of a sidewalk cycling ban for Santa Clara Street. "You can come down Saint John until you get to your destination and then switch back. I know that's not ideal, but in most American cities, this is the way it's evolving."

Not satisfied with restrictions on cycling downtown, SJDOT is also recommending a speed limit of 5 miles per hour for bicycling on every sidewalk in the city, and a minimum passing distance of 3 feet for bicyclists passing pedestrians on all sidewalks, "similar to California's recently enacted statue requiring motorists to provide three feet when passing bicyclists on roadways."

The Transportation & Environment Committee is composed of City Council members Sam Liccardo, Rose Herrera, Xavier Campos, and Donald Rocha, and will meet on Monday, October 8 at 1:30 pm to consider the proposed cycling ban and speed limit as Agenda Item (d)3, Downtown Sidewalks Bicycle Riding.

Sam Liccardo, District3@sanjoseca.gov, (408) 535-4903
Rose Herrera, rose.herrera@sanjoseca.gov, (408) 535-4908
Xavier Campos, District5@sanjoseca.gov, (408) 535-4905
Donald Rocha, District9@sanjoseca.gov, (408) 535-4909

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