New San Jose speed limits applauded, but still fall short
A new state law allows San Jose to reduce speeds from by 5 mph on specific streets to improve pedestrian safety. Drivers will have to slow down in Evergreen Village Square. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    Drivers will need to start pumping the brakes because speed limits are coming to some busy San Jose streets.

    The City Council this week approved speed reductions on smaller roads in specific San Jose business districts. The locations, which include Evergreen Village Square, portions of Almaden Avenue, Jackson, Post, Santa Clara and Willow streets, will require drivers to reduce speeds from 25 to 20 mph.

    In January, Assembly Bill 43 went into effect giving local governments the authority to reduce speeds by 5 mph on smaller roads that have lower speed limits and car volumes. The bill creates a new road designation titled “business activity district” for streets with speed limits 30 mph or under. These roads must have street parking, traffic signals or stop signs every 600 feet, uncontrolled crosswalks and at least 50% of the adjacent property has retail and dining that opens directly onto the sidewalk. Streets can have no more than four lanes.

    “The limitations are pretty specific,” Laura Wells, assistant director of the department of transportation, told San José Spotlight. “We are doing a thorough check again to find more streets, but these were what we could change now.”

    Councilmembers approved the speed deduction because data is showing San Jose’s streets have become increasingly dangerous across the city. On Tuesday, the same day policymakers approved the changes, three residents were killed in three different traffic-related incidents — two in East San Jose and one in the Blossom Hill area. Traffic fatalities reached record levels last year with 60 deaths, and this year is on track to exceed that. In the first three months of 2022, 24 people diedthree times higher than the nine who died by the end of March 2021. Sixty people were killed in 2015 and 2019 — the highest level of traffic-related deaths on record.

    Although reducing the speed by 5 mph may not seem like much, city officials said it can make a notable difference.

    “These are locations where there’s a higher presence of pedestrians and bicyclists,” Wells said. “The higher the speed, the more likely the pedestrian will face greater injuries.”

    Local business owners and employees in locations where the new speed limits take effect said they support the change.

    Stephanie Khong, a cashier at the Evergreen Coffee Company, located in the Evergreen Village Square, said a reduction may make drivers more attentive.

    “I always see people crossing the street and cars do not stop and it makes me scared for (pedestrians),” Khong told San José Spotlight. “Especially, there are a lot of small kids, so if they drive slower, maybe they can stop.”

    Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco, who represents part of the east side, said she’s disappointed that her district wasn’t included in the changes. Her district has some of the most dangerous corridors with some of the highest of traffic fatalities. Carrasco was particularly upset with the exclusion of the Alum Rock corridor that houses a lot of businesses and a concentration of senior homes across the street. Many of those dangerous streets such Alum Rock and Jackson avenues and McKee and King roads don’t meet the guidelines.

    “One of the complaints along the Alum Rock corridor is that people are just zooming through and it’s making it very difficult for customers to come out of the driveways as they’re exiting the businesses,” Carrasco said.

    Wells said some of San Jose’s more dangerous corridors may also see speed reduction, but it won’t be for a while. AB 43 allows cities to change speed limits on roads with high injury rates and near vulnerable populations, but the criteria of that law is still being defined by Caltrans. The agency has until June 30, 2024 to develop the guidelines.

    “That’s where the bill will have the biggest impact,” said Wells, who helped write the law. “But for San Jose and all of California, AB 43 will allow us to establish safer streets, safer speed limits to help improve conditions and reduce fatalities.”

    Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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