San Jose wants equity in new transportation services
A row of Link e-scooters in downtown San Jose. File photo.

Scooters. Drones. Shuttles. A fleet of transportation ideas is spreading in San Jose, and the city wants to make sure everyone benefits.

The City Council approved an action plan last week for emerging mobility services—shorthand for new transportation technologies and programs proliferating in San Jose. The services range from bike share programs to autonomous delivery vehicles.

At the heart of the plan are recommendations for how San Jose can integrate novel transportation services in communities historically neglected by the city. Some of these include specific pilots, such as creating a community ride share program. Some programs are already in progress, one being a $2.25 million grant from the California Air Resources Board for San Jose, Oakland and Richmond to design mobility hubs that include electric car sharing and EV chargers that serve low-income families.

Planners recommend the city continue to ask residents about what they want.

“Equity isn’t only an outcome, it’s also a process,” Ramses Madou, division manager of planning, policy and sustainability in San Jose’s Department of Transportation, told San José Spotlight. “People want to be part of the decision-making about what happens in the neighborhood.”

This is especially important because one overwhelming piece of feedback the city received is that residents want to be consulted on projects, according to Laura Stuchinsky, the city’s emerging mobility program lead.

“With any of these (transportation) services, we need to be looking at the totality of experiences that people are having,” she told San José Spotlight, referring to inclusivity of social issues, such as housing and safety.

San Jose is actively working on several transportation plans to improve mobility around the city and meet its climate goals. The downtown transportation plan is considering how to reduce driving and revive foot traffic in the urban core. City leaders also have explored eliminating parking space requirements for new downtown developments to reduce the carbon footprint.

Impractical transit

Through the equity task force, the city has already learned some forms of transportation aren’t practical for residents. Peter Ortiz, president of the Santa Clara County Office of Education who served on the equity task force, said residents in East San Jose are skeptical of scooters. Ortiz is running for the District 5 San Jose City Council seat.

“It doesn’t necessarily work for the single mother who needs to drop her kids off at school—she can’t have her kids jump on a scooter and drop them off,” he told San José Spotlight. “Or for the family that wants to go grocery shopping—they can’t necessarily jump on an e-bike and go to the local grocery store and pile on their goods.”

Examples of transportation alternatives discussed in San Jose’s emerging mobility plan. Image courtesy of San Jose.

Another task force member, MyLinh Pham, CEO and founder of the Asian American Center of Santa Clara County, said some residents don’t see bike sharing as viable because it takes too long to travel between different parts of the city—and non-English speakers struggle with ride share programs that aren’t multilingual. She said it may make more sense for the city to focus on improving its existing public transit system, such as adding more benches and covered shelters at bus stops.

“Before we even talk about emerging mobility in terms of thinking of the new ways of transportation, we should at least improve what we have,” she told San José Spotlight.

Rosalinda Aguilar, acting president of the Guadalupe Washington Neighborhood Association, told San José Spotlight the streets aren’t designed for bikes and scooters. Aguilar’s overriding concern is traffic safety, which she says the city has neglected in her neighborhood.

“In supporting even more bikes or scooters, I’m concerned we’re adding more traffic without first addressing the traffic issues we have without them,” she said, adding she’s been pushing the city to give her neighborhood simple fixes, such as speed bumps and speed monitor displays to reduce vehicle collisions.

Advocates are eager to see if the city can deliver solutions for the broad range of needs of people with disabilities. Aaron Morrow, chair of VTA’s Committee for Transportation Mobility and Accessibility, told San José Spotlight he’s asked VTA about expanding alternatives to its paratransit service—a shuttle program some residents complain is too slow. He said the city could partner with private companies to come up with new services, but thinks this will be challenging.

“How do you open it up to a broader market?” he said. “No one disability fits nicely in a pretty package… how do you make it equitable across the board?”

Stuchinsky emphasized the emerging mobility plan is supposed to work with and complement the city’s other transit goals—such as the downtown transportation plan. She also noted transportation solutions can address other social problems, such as housing developed next to transit corridors.

“You can see how when you put all of these things together you can make huge changes that make it possible for people to take advantage of more services,” she said.

Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter.

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