Seven traffic-related deaths in the past year have finally prompted the city to take action at a busy intersection in Central San Jose.
Monterey Road and Curtner Avenue—part of one of the most dangerous thoroughfares in the city—will have barriers installed as part of a safety pilot program. City officials estimate the cost to be between $30,000 to $50,000 and will be installed early next year.
City workers will report back on the program’s effectiveness at a later date.
The San Jose City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the pilot program, first proposed by Councilmember Maya Esparza last month. Her district includes the intersection.
“This intersection has become a problem, particularly at night. I do that drive when I see my mom at weird hours of the day and night,” Esparza said. “Particularly when I do that drive late at night on a Friday and Saturday night I see a lot of erratic driving. We’re doing the prevention and the other part is the justice.”
City officials also discussed installing traffic cameras at intersections—an idea that is still under consideration. Officials plan to consult with the San Jose Police Department regarding privacy concerns and video storage before bringing the idea to council for approval. Four cameras at the intersection would cost approximately $35,000, according to the city.
The area near Monterey Road and Curtner Avenue has seen seven car and pedestrian collisions this year—six of them hit-and-runs. These include a drunk driver who killed a pedestrian in March, a hit-and-run that killed a woman in April, a crash that killed a homeless man in July and a hit-and-run that killed another homeless resident last month.
“This is one of the most terrible ways to lose loved ones,” Councilmember Sylvia Arenas said.
Councilmember Sergio Jimenez asked city officials if current cameras located atop traffic lights record video. John Ristow, director of the city’s department of transportation, said approximately 300 intersections have recording cameras, but are not high resolution and are mainly used to count pedestrians.
“The city has been grossly negligent in protecting residents on public streets,” said resident Andrew Boone. “You’ve refused to fund fixing the streets. The Vision Zero plans have correctly recognized that it’s the width of the streets that is the main cause of serious crashes that result in serious injuries and deaths.”
The city has worked for years to lower pedestrian fatalities. In 2015, San Jose launched Vision Zero, an initiative aimed at eliminating traffic deaths, after 60 people died in traffic accidents the previous year. Sixty people died from traffic-related causes in 2019, tying with 2014 for the most deaths in a quarter-century. Last year, as COVID-19 kept more people off the streets, the city recorded 49 traffic fatalities.
The pedestrian fatalities and accidents vexed councilmembers who have seen reckless driving in their own districts.
“What can we do to get our residents to slow down and care about (other) residents?” said Councilmember Pam Foley, sharing her involvement in a hit-and-run accident earlier this year. “It frustrates me that we even have to have this conversation.”
Monterey Road is one of San Jose’s largest and most dangerous streets, accounting for nine of the 65 most dangerous intersections in the city according to a 2019 study. The road runs through San Jose to the southernmost parts of Santa Clara County, including Coyote Valley, Morgan Hill and Gilroy. But it also goes through densely-populated neighborhoods where people exceed highway speeds.
Councilmember Raul Peralez, a former San Jose police officer, said he frequently stopped reckless drivers on suspicion of driving under the influence on Monterey Road.
“We can put in traffic calming measures, but the enforcement aspect is extremely important,” he said.
The safety pilot program also calls for increased outreach to the homeless encampments on that stretch of Monterey Road, as two of the victims from hit-and-runs were residents of the nearby homeless community. According to Ristow, the city has already begun outreach to the encampments for traffic safety.
Residents hope the pilot program will help with dangerous driving.
“I don’t know why they drive so recklessly, but they drive recklessly throughout the whole city,” said resident Theodoro Garcia, who lost his mother when he was younger in a hit-and-run accident. “Let’s not focus on just one corner. It’s a citywide problem… When someone kills your mom and starts driving away, I know how that feels. Something has to be done here.”