How can San Jose improve public transportation? The city wants to know
San Jose adopted the goal of having 15% of all trips made by bike by the year 2040. Photo courtesy of Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition.

    Transportation officials in San Jose are asking residents to help craft the future of the city’s public transportation to increase accessibility, reduce greenhouse emissions and improve quality of life.

    A survey on the city’s website is encouraging the public to share what transportation changes would improve the city and increase options for getting around San Jose. Results from this survey, which ends September 30, will inform the city’s Access and Mobility Plan, which will become San Jose’s citywide transportation plan.

    “This is where we’re asking the big questions,” said Ramses Madou, division manager for planning, policy and sustainability in San Jose’s Department of Transportation. “How do we bring San Jose from its current, mostly car-focused transportation system, to meet the city’s goals of cutting in half the rate at which people drive by 2040?”

    Questions on the survey include “Why do you choose not to ride the bus more often?” and “Why don’t you bike more in San Jose?” as well as “Have you tried electric bikes?” and “Would you try electric bikes?”

    Some of the department’s goals include fast-tracking a bike plan headed to the City Council Oct. 6, accelerating the development of buses and light rail and making more areas pedestrian friendly. They’re also gauging the public’s interest in “micro-modal” forms of transportation, which include e-bikes and e-scooters. All of these ideas would work towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions in San José, 63% of which come from transportation activities.

    The department also wants to increase safety. There were 60 traffic fatalities in the city  in 2019, just as many as it had five years ago when it first adopted the Vision Zero plan to eliminate traffic deaths. Of those 60, 29 of those were pedestrian deaths.

    Timeline for the plan

    Once the city’s Access and Mobility Plan is crafted, there will likely be a short-list of to-do items for the city to complete within the next five years. But it’s also meant to work with the city’s General Plan, which lists its goals leading up to the year 2040.

    That includes being making San José a “bike and walk first city” Madou said. Although San Francisco has the claim to fame for being “transi first,” Madou said, San José should be able to do the same with the right plan. Despite the fact that Santa Clara County’s first BART station opened only a few months ago this year, connecting San José with Milpitas.

    Experts say that San José is on the right track.

    “There are many ways San José has taking a leading position in California — and in the country — in thinking about how we can evolve our transportation system into one that gives people convenient travel options other than driving,” said Dr. Asha Weinstein Agrawal, a research associate with Mineta Transportation Institute. “How San José gets to that goal is, of course, the challenge. Unlike San Francisco, San José is very spread out, which means it’s hard to run efficient transit service that serves everyone and yet is not extremely expensive to provide.”

    Agrawal said that the city will need to work to incorporate those “micro-modal” forms of transportation, like e-bikes and e-scooters.

    These methods are not for everyone, Agrawal said, but for many people “these modes could work just fine.” Encouraging ownership of these devices — and not just renting them for short trips around town — could make a difference in how people get around, she said.

    “A couple of things need to happen in parallel to make micro-mobility (work),” Agrawal said. “It will be essential for the city to take the bike network that it already has, greatly expand that, and figure out ways to harmoniously integrate into that lane all forms of bicycles — electric kick-scooters and other micro-mobility devices.”

    He said the plan to create bike lanes around San Jose has to be expansive.

    “To get a major increase in bicycling and micro-mobility use, San Jose needs to have an extensive connected network of facilities with no gaps,” Agrawal said. “If there are gaps in bike lanes, for example, many people won’t feel safe enough to bicycle at all, even if those gaps are only very short.”

    About 250 people have filled out the survey so far, and the city is hoping for at least 1,000 participants. The deadline to participate is Sept. 30. Access it here.

    Contact Madelyn Reese at [email protected] and follower her @MadelynGReese

    Editor’s note: A previous version of this story erroneously referred to Asha Weinstein Agrawal by the wrong gender. We regret the error.

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