The numbers have climbed too quickly to keep up with this year.
Nine pedestrians, one bicyclist, and one driver. Those were the grim fatality numbers my colleague Jaime Fearer, of California Walks, had featured on a slide for our joint presentation (updated PDF) at SPUR earlier this week. Sadly, by the time we were in front of the lunchtime audience, another pedestrian fatality had already rendered the slide out-of-date. And now, as I write this post, I can unfortunately add another motorist to the list, bringing the death toll on San Jose’s roads to 13 for the first 95 days of 2017. There have been six homicides in the same period.
Jaime and I joined Heba El-Guendy of the City of San Jose’s Department of Transportation (DOT) to discuss the city’s Vision Zero program, which Heba manages. Vision Zero is a worldwide movement to eliminate roadway deaths and major injuries. San Jose was the fourth US city to adopt a Vision Zero initiative, in May of 2015. At the SPUR forum, the three of us covered the basics of the program and what had been accomplished in the last two years, as well as what’s to come in the effort to make our roads safer.
— Jessica Zenk (@JessicaZenk) April 4, 2017
The presentation was particularly timely – not only in light of San Jose’s rising number of pedestrian fatalities, but also considering the national surge. Bicyclist fatalities have been less abundant, but as far as we can tell from commute data, they are still over-represented as a portion of all traffic deaths.
This is not an easy problem to fix. In San Jose specifically, decades of transportation and land use decisions have created a city where the car is king. The results are heavy traffic, long commutes, and giant roads that make it easy to speed while dissuading walking and biking. Add to that the fact that the Traffic Enforcement Unit of San Jose Police Department has dwindled from more than 40 officers to fewer than 10 in recent years, and it’s no wonder our streets are such unwelcoming places for humans trying to get around without the benefit of a 3000-pound shield.
There is hope. Before launching the Vision Zero initiative, DOT took a close look at five years of crash data and identified the most dangerous San Jose streets. SVBC and California Walks joined the City’s engineers and traffic planners on 14 safety assessments of these streets. We examined scores of dangerous intersections and scenes of past crashes. Our notes and suggestions became the basis of a number of grant applications last year, which yielded funding for upcoming safety improvements to White, Story, McKee, Senter, and Monterey Roads.
We’re also pushing hard for new policy that will permit San Jose to take advantage of proven safety technology. Assembly Bill 342 would allow San Jose, along with San Francisco, to pilot a five-year program to combat speeding through cameras and automated enforcement. That’s a fight we need your help on, as the California legislature is facing pressure from powerful lobbies who want to maintain the status quo.
Though the numbers were disheartening, it was important to meet and update the crowd at SPUR. The challenges involved in making our roads safer are multi-fold and necessitate an inclusive, transparent process that draws on the strengths of diverse organizations and individuals. As the official tagline for Vision Zero San Jose states, “It Takes All of Us.”