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

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

  • BBnet3000

    Ban it in 6 months when they’ve built out comfortable infrastructure on the streets. Oh, they aren’t doing that? So basically they’re just banning cycling for all but the most assertive riders?

    Brilliant.

  • ladyfleur

    I’d personally like to have a 3-foot passing law for bicyclists passing me on my bike on the trail or in the street. As for the 5 mph limit, does that apply to runners? That’s 12 minute-miles which is slower than average.

  • Ken

    Come on now. The danger bikes pose to pedestrians is real, and should be taken as seriously around here as the danger cars pose to bikes. A “reckless biking” law isn’t sufficient — it’s too ambiguous. If I’m biking at a moderate pace in a straight line down what looks like an empty sidewalk, is that “reckless”? But I’m still a danger to a pedestrian coming out of a store or around a corner. The best way to protect pedestrians is to make the rule clear cut. The best way to protect bikers is to improve infrastructure (which they have been doing, on 3rd and 4th and san fernando). I’ve had several near-misses in DTSJ and none of them looked like riders who were “afraid” of going on the road — in fact, typically they were weaving on-and-off the road, cutting corners, going against traffic, etc. The only thing I have an issue with is that santa clara street is very dangerous for bikers and desperately needs buffered lanes.

  • Ken

    There is comfortable infrastructure on most of the streets subject to the ban, with the main exception of santa clara.

  • BBnet3000

    The buffered lanes are OK, but if people were comfortable with them they wouldnt be riding on the sidewalk. Or else we need better education, which hopefully this ban can sort of accomplish.

  • MattB

    Just another local government that is rooting for cyclists to get hit by reckless drivers on the road. SSDD.

  • rbentscool

    Having attended the second public workshop on 9/17/14, I want to comment on the testimony expressing shock at the angry and disrespectful responses seniors received from bicyclists who were flagged down and asked to walk their bikes. Personally, I’m amazed anyone thought this could possibly improve sidewalk etiquette and produce positive behavioral change and mutual support. How do you think motorists would respond in the Pedestrian Priority Zone (PPZ) if we could flag them down and ask them to drive at bicycle speed regardless of whether bikes were on the street or not? Many motorists already are profane, hostile and aggressive toward experienced bicyclists who are fast and ride streets legally, and it is more than likely that the 60% population of potential cyclists who are “interested but concerned” will choose to use sidewalks after encountering such automobile rage and/or inattention. Please be aware that any sidewalk ban will likely impede the progress San Jose is making in trying to lure these 8 to 80 year olds out of their cars, and will make it less likely San Jose will achieve the bicycling mode share goals that have been targeted.

    After reviewing the Memo from Hans Larsen dated 9/19/14 regarding Downtown Sidewalks Bicycle Riding:
    1. I think we agree that pedestrians, especially seniors, need to feel safer on sidewalks.

    2. I think we agree most experienced cyclists prefer to be on streets, as long as they are REASONABLY safe.

    3. However, the memo ignores that sidewalks offer a SAFER haven not only for children, but for all inexperienced cyclists 8 to 80 years old, until they learn how to negotiate increasingly less safe street environments. Within the PPZ, only the newest buffered bike lanes on San Fernando, 3rd, and 4th offer sufficient reassurance for most new riders. Older bike lanes which have gutter debris, car door openings, and cars within 3 feet are NOT reasonable options, and Sharrows are helpful only for giving experienced cyclists more legitimacy when negotiating traffic.

    4. The memo also fails to observe that San Jose’s PPZ sidewalks are not congested most of the time. Even HOV Lanes recognize that they are needed only during times of highway commuter congestion. Telling cyclists to walk on sidewalks during periods on non-congestion when the space could be safely shared with pedestrians was short-sighted and punitive to the huge majority of responsible bicyclists. The current proposal to ban them from sidewalks is even more egregious. Bicyclists and pedestrians should be problem solving together for the safety of both groups, as the danger from the far more lethal automobile is far greater to both. Why has there been no community task force charged with finding solutions that have us working together rather than in opposition? Similar to signage on many multi-use trails, I think a good starting place of agreement would be that within the PPZ, Pedestrians ALWAYS have the right of way, requiring Bicyclists yield to Peds, and requiring Motorists yield to both Peds and Bikes.

    5.Technically, the 6 step pilot project of 6/25/13 to encourage bicycle riding on streets and walking on sidewalks should not yet progress beyond Step 4 given the still inadequate implementation of reasonably safe on-street bikeways.

    6. Thus, the Staff Suggestions for Ordinance go too far, too fast. Given the mis-steps of the past 15 months, please try something more positive and collaborative. To empower police, cyclist, and pedestrian efforts to educate and enforce the law, please DO implement 1.a. (5mph or less speed limit depending on congestion)and 1.b. (3 foot safe passing/yield). Please consider adding a 1.c. (when bicyclists approach pedestrians from behind, they must use a bell or horn and announce that they are passing on the left or the right). Please work with the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition or other appropriate groups to develop a diversion programwhere first offenders can opt for a bicycle-pedestrian safety class in order to minimize their fine. Lastly, urge both senior and bicycle communities to report ALL bicycle-pedestrian accidents in a way that allows ongoing future comparison of data to determine the effectiveness of these efforts, and any needed next steps.

    7. The proposed de facto expansion of the PPZ to the Greater Downtown Area reflects no justification for doing so, will dilute enforcement and education efforts, and will encourage defiant cyclist behavior. Please continue your focus on the PPZ only.

    8. Prohibition of sidewalk bicycling is unreasonable on streets with unbuffered bike lanes for the reasons noted.

    9. Instead of prohibiting sidewalk bicycling on Santa Clara Street, why not figure out a way to divert cyclists during times of congestion to San Fernando’s buffered lanes? If they try it, and they see it’s faster and safer for them than the sidewalk, they will be on their way to further street cycling adventures.

    In my efforts to convince my wife she can bicycle on San Jose streets safely once she retires, I can guarantee she will be scared off all but the buffered lanes, even if I ride with her. If she is banned from riding slowly but safely on sidewalks to access anything else downtown, instead making her have to push her bike to do so, do you really think she, as an interested but concerned cyclist, is going to leave the perceived comfort, utility and safety of the car? Why give her one more reason to avoid downtown altogether?

  • p_chazz

    Just another bicyclist who is rooting for pedestrians to get hit by reckless bicyclists on the sidewalk.

  • p_chazz

    Bicycles on the sidewalk create a hostile environment for pedestrians and should never br permitted in densely populated areas. However, the ban should be implemented in conjunction with street improvements that make streets safer for bicyclists.

  • gneiss

    What a ridiculous statement. As you well know, people who ride bikes are at just as much risk in a collision involving someone walking as the person walking. Are you also going to ban joggers as well? After all, they are traveling at speeds greater than 5 mph in most cases.

    Lets figure out how to address the behavior that is dangerous – passing people to closely going too quickly rather than saying “bicycles are dangerous”. A more nuanced enforcement could be much more effective in the long run than a simplistic ban on sidewalk riding, particularly in place that lacks adequate infrastructure to support safe bicycling.

  • murphstahoe

    Spoken like a true moderate pragmatist

  • murphstahoe

    You sound just like ENUF saying we can have metering on Potrero Hill when there is world class bus service on the hill. I’d say no bikes on the sidewalk is appropriate regardless, then we push hard for better streets as well.

  • Gallups Mirror

    That isn’t the stupidest proposal I’ve ever heard, but it’s close.
    Cyclists have every right to use a full lane, but fear of unsafe
    motorists drives some cyclists onto sidewalks where they endanger
    pedestrians (and themselves). So rather than address the unsafe motoring
    that causes the problem, the city goes after the victims who are too
    intimidated to ride in the street where they belong.

    If the city was genuinely concerned about pedestrian and cyclist safety they could lower the city speed limit to 20 miles per hour, and pass ordinances
    protecting cyclists against motorist intimidation. Honk at, yell at, cut
    off, tailgate or unsafely overtake a cyclist who is obeying the law?
    First offense: ticket and $5,000 fine. Second offense: misdemeanor and
    $10,000 fine. Third offense: felony, $20,000 fine and seize the motor
    vehicle. Post signs throughout the city giving public notice. Do that
    and watch how carefully people drive when they’re around cyclists in the
    street.

    But of course, that’s not going to happen. It’s inconceivable that cyclist and pedestrian safety should be elevated above motorist convenience and impunity.

  • whatever_dude

    Great.

    Yet again, cars, i.e. THE PROBLEM, benefit when non-motorized users turn against each other to fight over table scraps.

    Pedestrians should align with bicyclists to work for dedicated cycling facility rather than spending that effort trying to effectively ban bicycles, resulting in even more cars, which doesn’t help pedestrians at all.

    It’s perfectly clear that the future of cities is less car-centric. Anything that attempts to push that reality off, yet again, is backward revisionist thinking and needs to be soundly resisted.

    There is no possible way to accommodate the number of cars that would accrete in a city that encourages their use. The past–what 50 years?–ought to be sufficient evidence of that to just move on, yank the band-aid off and get it over with.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Where I live, bicycling on the sidewalk is prohibited, period. Allowing bicycling on the sidewalk with a speed limit of 5 mph sounds like a good compromise between the safety of bicyclists (in places where the streets are unsafe) and the comfort of pedestrians (who are alarmed when bikes pass them at high speed).

  • p_chazz

    If pedestrians are to align with bicyclists then bicyclists need to show a little respect to pedestrians. Don’t ride your bikes hell bent for leather down the middle of the sidewalk, don’t be a jerk taking your bike on BART, don’t blow through stop signs. Until you do, you are just one more wheeled vehicle.

  • p_chazz

    Turn about is fair play.

  • murphstahoe

    Not that pedestrians and cyclists and drivers are actual distinct tribes like the Pawnee and the Sioux, but if they were, for the “Pedestrian Tribe” to not align with the “Cyclist Tribe” would be pretty self-defeating. WalkSF is a very laudable group but of trivial import compared to the SFBC.

    Fortunately WalkSF does not share your vision, and works with the SFBC, to the benefit of pedestrians city wide in terms of actual on the ground pedestrian improvements that have nothing to do with riding a bike. Probably in no small part that the two organizations have an overlapping memebership – my donations to WalkSF have not been some sort of alms to “the pedestrians”. Presumably you refrain from donating to WalkSF because of their alliance with the Sith Lords of the Bicycle Coalition.

  • Andy Chow

    Most pedestrians walk to access other transportation modes, whether it is transit or their own cars. If your trip is 5 miles in length you would have to walk may be at most a few blocks to get to the nearest transit stop or the parking spot. Very few people would walk the entire 5 miles and make walking itself the sole transportation mode.

    People can obviously bike the entire distance of 5 miles, but cyclists tend to keep their bikes as close to them as possible and tend to ride their bikes (rather than walk with their bikes) whenever they have possession of their bikes. People may park their car in the parking garage and walk 2-3 blocks, but will cyclists do that? Or that they will keep their bikes with them and bike the entire way.

    A lot of pedestrian complaints about cyclists come from the elderly and disabled folks who have mobility issues and may have other health issues that make them hard to detect cyclists and avoid them. They don’t have to walk much because they are benefited from parking policies that favor the disabled.

  • Andy Chow

    Have you seen the big very wide bike lanes on 3rd, 4th, 10th. 11th streets, Almaden Blvd, etc? The only major road that doesn’t have it is Santa Clara which is a designed BRT corridor and have bike lanes a block away on San Fernando Street.

  • p_chazz

    I have endorsed street improvements that would make them safer for bicyclists. In exchange, all I request is that bicyclists show a modicum of respect to pedestrians. Is that really so much to ask?

  • jd_x

    “Until you do, you are just one more wheeled vehicle.”

    That’s right: because bicycles and cars both have wheels, they are the same. Forget the 3000+ lb difference in weight, or the 200+ hp difference in power, or the dulling of the motorists sight and hearing due to the shell of the car, or that bicyclists are just as vulnerable as a pedestrian in an accident … all that matters is that they both have wheels and therefore they should be treated the same in the eyes of the law not to mention society at-large. Right?

    “If pedestrians are to align with bicyclists then bicyclists need to show a little respect to pedestrians.”

    Right! And the statistics bear out this complete lack of respect: cyclists injure a LOT of pedestrians. This isn’t just your own irrational opinion but a statement based on facts, isn’t it? I mean, the statistics make it clear that one of San Jose’s biggest safety issues is cyclists on sidewalks, right? And I’m sure you are using the statistics to guide your opinion on what are the true safety issues pedestrians face in our urban areas ….

  • murphstahoe

    Who are you asking?

  • p_chazz

    It was a rhetorical question…

  • murphstahoe

    Then apparently it is too much to ask if you can’t actually ask it.

  • Affen_Theater

    Today’s Sacramento Bee:

    Injured midtown resident challenges Sacramento law allowing sidewalk cycling

    http://www.sacbee.com/2014/10/07/6767954/pedestrian-hit-by-cyclist-files.html

  • Nick

    I think it’s stupid. Somebody has to take a risk, and a cyclist getting hit by a car is a lot more likely to be seriously injured or killed than a pedestrian getting hit by a bike. I had a friend get hit and killed while riding in the BIKE LANE in a popular tourist area. The streets are not safe for people on bicycles. Maybe more enforcement of recklessly driving a bicycle on sidewalks instead of a complete ban would be a better compromise. I hate speed limits of any sort because regardless of what any study shows, I think careless driving is much more dangerous than speeding, and there are many speeders who drive carefully and MANY people who drive at the speed limit but drive absolutely RECKLESS. But it comes down to the speeders being the ones prosecuted because those cases are more cut and dry and are easy revenue.

  • Idrather Bebikin

    This is coming to the full San Jose City Council on Tues, Oct. 28th.

    Who will come to protest?

    Who will come to protest that Mayoral Candidate Sam Liccardo got all excited at the possibilities of SJ Police being able to stop people ONLY because they were biking on sidewalks. Then they could be asked questions.

    Does this scare the Hell out of anyone?
    Haven’t we learned anything about unreasonable and illegal PROFILING?!?

  • peter o

    Lincoln ave at the green bridge at the end of town, stand there and count all the cars that blow right thru the red light(coe??) Just missing pedestrians and bike riders alike. Then you can speak. Go look for your self. I lost count, only a few stopped but those behind honked for them to go, its a death spot waiting to happen… Stand at the Mexican grocers, just observe, look at how close and crazy this spot is… Insanity … Why bother having a red stop light???? How about a sign cross at your own peril…

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