Being an advocate for a healthier community, environment, and economy across multiple communities is a lot like being a parent: We love all our cities and towns like children, but we have our favorites (Don’t tell your brother!). Of course we have great expectations for each and every one of the 30-odd municipalities we serve. Still, we can’t help but feel a fondness for the places that are leading the way in getting more people out of their cars and onto bikes.
Today, we take a look at the biggest sibling in our family (okay, I may be stretching the metaphor a little thin): San Jose.
The largest and most populous city in the Bay Area is not necessarily an easy place to promote bicycling. Though flat and sunny, the Capital of Silicon Valley is a 189-square-mile study in sprawl, with a crisscrossing network of freeways and expressways dividing neighborhoods and forcing traffic onto just a few main roads that traverse the city. In order to ride from one neighborhood to the next, people on bikes often have to share fast-moving, high capacity streets with motorists while navigating past on ramps, free right turns, and seemingly endless parking lot driveways.
Nevertheless, San Jose is a city striving to become a leader in moving people by bike, and it has big goals. In 2009 the city adopted its Bike Plan 2020, which calls for five percent of all trips to be taken by bike by 2020. To accomplish this, the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Department of Parks, Recreation, and Neighborhood Services (PRNS) are working together to complete a 500-mile trail network, comprising 100 miles of trail and 400 miles of on-street bike routes. Additional goals include a 50% reduction of bike collisions, the addition of 5,000 new bike parking spaces, and achieving Gold-level Bicycle Friendly Community status.
Of course, goals are great, but it’s the action that counts. And I’m happy to share some good news on that front. San Jose has now installed 281 miles of on-street bikeways, including 35 miles of “enhanced” bike lanes (which utilize green paint and/or painted buffers – think San Fernando Street, or the buffered north-south lanes on 3rd, 4th, 10th, and 11th streets) and a short segment of parking-protected bike lane on S. 4th Street, soon to be expanded. In just the last year, 35 miles have been added to the network, including road diets on 2nd Street, 3rd Street, and Moorpark Avenue; huge gap closures on White Road and Keyes Street; parking removal on 10th Street; and new bike lanes (thanks to narrowing the travel lanes) on Branham Road. Even when changes have been unpopular with some, the city has persisted, prioritizing safety, especially for vulnerable users, over convenience and speed for motorists.
The city’s award-winning trails system is keeping pace, too. Recent projects bring the total off-street network to over 56 miles. The Los Alamitos Creek Trail was extended to reach Harry Road in south San Jose; the Tasman under-crossing of the Guadalupe River Trail was elevated to deal with occasional tidal and storm flooding; and Lupe the Mammoth, a 9-1/2 ton, 14.5′ tall piece of public art, was delivered, creating another destination along the Guadalupe River Trail. Several projects made it closer to implementation this year: a mile of the Three Creeks Trail from Lonus Street to the Guadalupe River was master planned; PRNS is partnering with the VTA to deliver the Penitencia Creek Trail extension leading to the Berryessa BART Station’s front door; and a five-mile section of the Guadalupe River Trail, from Virginia Street to Chyonweth Avenue, is being master-planned. On the program end of things, PRNS was also the lead agency behind 2015’s inaugural Viva CalleSJ event: Downtown and Eastbound, which brought 30,000 people out onto car-free streets. For a few sweet hours, San Jose gained an extra six miles of public parks!
All these projects are paying off. From 2007 to 2014, bike traffic on San Fernando more than tripled. Trail counts on the Guadalupe River Trail showed a 50% boost in 2014. Social bike events like San Jose Bike Party and Ride ESSJ are more popular than ever. And Motivate, the new operator of Bay Area Bike Share, is going to grow its presence in San Jose, boosting today’s network of 16 stations and 180 bikes to 100 stations and 1,000 bikes. Our flat, sunny city is finally growing into its best bike self.
Unfortunately, with increased opportunities for riding a bike and the greater overall traffic increase tied to the economic recovery, San Jose has suffered an increase in roadway fatalities of the last year. Fifty-nine people died on San Jose streets in 2015, and five of those were bicyclists. This year kicked off with a bicyclist fatality on January 2. It is a frustrating and scary trend that needs to be stopped and reversed if we are to ever make a serious shift in getting people to travel by bike.
Before 2015 had set that grim record, though, San Jose officials had already embarked on a bold program with a goal of eliminating roadway deaths and major injuries. Last May, Mayor Sam Liccardo announced at a press conference that San Jose was pursuing Vision Zero. The plan took a detailed look at where the city’s roadway fatalities were occurring and what caused them. Community meetings near the 14 identified “Safety Priority Streets” were soon scheduled and SVBC was invited, along with our partners at California Walks, to get involved and help the city with outreach, education, and design ideas.
City officials already have some impressive safety efforts to be proud about. San Jose Police Department and the DOT work closely together to track hot spots for traffic collisions and respond appropriately. Knowing that the East Side suffers disproportionately from roadway fatalities, the DOT is stepping up efforts to improve infrastructure for people on foot and bike, including new crosswalks, flashing beacons, and bike lanes along major arterials. The city’s Walk and Roll program works hard to prepare future generations to stay safe. In 2015, that program taught bicycle safety to 37,500 children and fitted and gave away 1,200 helmets. The combined engineering, enforcement, and education efforts have had their greatest impact on the youth of San Jose: bike and pedestrian crashes involving children have steadily and significantly declined for over a decade.
As we begin a new year, I’m excited to get more involved in San Jose’s Vision Zero program. I’ll be working alongside the DOT to assess and make suggestions for improving the city’s most dangerous streets. And I’ll be working with the communities that have been most impacted by traffic violence to hear what they have to say about the challenges their neighborhoods face when it comes to walking, biking, and driving safely. I’m happy to have California Walks as a partner, making sure our work benefits pedestrians and bicyclists equally.