San Jose council OKs $6.8 million to make city streets safer
City officials are taking measures to make San Jose streets safer after the number of traffic-related deaths reached an all-time high in 2019.

It’s been five years since San Jose joined a national effort dedicated to reducing traffic fatalities, but the city’s pedestrian and cyclist death toll hit an all-time high last year.

In an effort to reduce deaths, city lawmakers on Tuesday unanimously approved pumping $6.78 million over the next year into the Vision Zero plan, which seeks to eliminate traffic deaths through a variety of pedestrian and cyclist-friendly methods.

“One life is one too many,” Councilmember Maya Esparza said. “Many of those who are in our most vulnerable and underserved communities also face the most dangerous street conditions in our city. So whether you’re a driver or a pedestrian or cyclist, it’s a real issue.” 

The money will be used to create safer street layouts and bikeways on major city arteries, increase traffic enforcement staff, implement an awareness campaign in hotspot collision areas and invest in data tools, such as radar speed signs connected to a cloud service on busy corridors that city officials can use for collecting real-time traffic data.

In 2019, 60 people in San Jose were killed in a traffic collision — the same number of deaths as 2015, when the city joined the program — up from 52 in 2018, transportation department data show.

“We’re talking about human lives in the end, and that certainly affects all of us,” said Councilmember Raul Peralez, whose district in downtown includes one of the highest numbers of traffic deaths and collisions.

Pedestrians accounted for nearly half of all deaths, car passengers accounted for 32 percent and bicyclists made up 12 percent. Seniors were among the highest number of reported victims.

Transportation officials at Tuesday’s meeting said speed was a top factor, as 10 percent of pedestrians are likely to die from being struck by a car traveling at 20 mph. That figure jumps to 90 percent when a pedestrian is hit by a vehicle going 40 mph. The biggest dangers pedestrians face are cars running red lights, unsafe turning and a driver not yielding in a crosswalk.

Several bereaved people spoke about loved ones who have been killed in traffic incidents Tuesday, including Gina LeBlanc, who lost her 18-year old son Kyle four years ago.

“Immediately after my son was killed … life went on as usual for other people, yet my life shattered,” she said. “I don’t want any other mom to feel this.”

Other factors city officials said influenced the death toll were distracted, fatigued or intoxicated drivers, car-centric street design and a growing population of senior and homeless pedestrians lining the streets.

Police Chief Eddie Garcia said the city has increased enforcement with DUI checkpoints, a crackdown on street racing and issuing more than 1,200 traffic citations in December alone.

“If we wait, and we wait too long, we’re going to lose more lives,” Councilmember Pam Foley said. “We need to prioritize our resources to Vision Zero. We’re not saving lives. People are dying.” 

The city will also add a geospatial data tool to track analytics, integrating Vision Zero into the My San Jose app so residents can report unsafe streets, and partner with private companies like Waze to alert drivers of dangerous streets.

While Mayor Sam Liccardo said collecting data is important, he added that the city must be strategic about using its resources for specific Vision Zero initiatives, especially as the city redrafts its budget in the next few months.

“There’s a lot of emphasis right now on data collection but there’s a lot of data already out there,” Liccardo said. “What I’m hoping is that between now and the budget, what we’re going to see is this incremental spending on the program we believe is the most cost-effective way to save lives. I don’t want to be flailing — I want to be focused.”

The city will form a Vision Zero Task Force, chaired by Peralez, to oversee the program and create a team to build data-driven safety projects.

Contact Nadia Lopez at nadia@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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