VTA Board allocates Measure B funds to controversial San Jose project
Orchard Elementary School has been the center of debate around pedestrian safety for the proposed Charcot Avenue Extension Project. File photo.

    The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority Board on Thursday approved $25 million in transit Measure B funds for a controversial traffic calming project in San Jose.

    Critics say the Charcot Avenue Extension project, which would cross over highway I-880 from Paragon Drive to Oakland Road, would endanger the safety of children at nearby Orchard Elementary School. The city plans to widen Silkwood Lane, the road immediately behind the school, to act as a connector. But hundreds of children cross Silkwood everyday to get to and from school, and the plan has created concern among parents.

    “The cars are going to go downhill on an overpass into a school crossing where we have 200 to 300 people crossing every day,” said Robin Roemer, a parent at Orchard Elementary School. “Then there is truck traffic coming from an industrial zone in North San Jose. I don’t even want to think about any accident with a truck like that.”

    Roemer has organized a parent-led effort against the project at Orchard. Last year, he collected more than 600 signatures in two weeks to halt the project and send it back for redesign.

    He told San José Spotlight that in addition to safety concerns, parents are also worried about air pollution, noise issues and the city invoking eminent domain to take a portion of the school’s playground for the road expansion.

    On Thursday morning, VTA spokesperson Holly Perez said the agency was aware of the concerns brought forward by Roemer. She added that the project had been approved for fund allocation by voters via the 2016 sales tax ballot Measure B.

    “It is being advanced by the city through the delivery process in accordance with the Measure B program guidelines and is included in all applicable transportation plans,” Perez said. “VTA staff has no basis for rejecting or de-prioritizing the project.”

    Jessica Zenk, deputy director of San Jose’s department of transportation, said that the funding from Measure B will be a key part of the project along with local transportation impact fees.

    Addressing safety concerns

    City transportation officials said the city is trying to be thoughtful with the design when it comes to safety and the city’s commitment to Vision Zero – a global endeavor to reduce traffic fatalities.

    “We’ve taken the project and really tried to design it from the pedestrian and bike perspective,” Zenk said.

    She added that the project will incorporate physically protected bike and pedestrian lanes throughout the overpass.

    “Part of Vision Zero is to make the locations that are high fatal areas (safe),” Division Manager Zahir Gulzadah said. “If you look at the crash data, (the area) is not great for pedestrians and bikes. To have a facility to connect it is key for us as we work toward Vision Zero goals.”

    Gulzadah and Zenk said that the city has worked with the school to address safety concerns and is considering installing a pedestrian crossing signal. They’ve also offered to provide funds to redesign the playground that will be lost to Silkwood Lane’s widening.

    However, Jaime Fearer, deputy director of pedestrian safety advocacy group California Walks, said she doesn’t think the pedestrian signal is substantial enough for traffic coming off of the bridge.

    “We can program signals to work differently at different times of the day,” she said. “I would love to see if there’s a study of a full signal at this intersection.”

    California Walks recently conducted a study to help improve pedestrian and bicycle safety in the Orchard Elementary School area. The report found that from 2013 to 2017, there have been 25 pedestrian collisions – including three fatalities and three severe injuries. Drivers not yielding to pedestrians was the largest cause of the collision.

    Next steps

    City officials are currently conducting an environmental review of the Charcot Avenue extension project, looking at issues such as air quality, noise and land use conflicts with Orchard Elementary School. Zenk and Gulzadah said the report will be released in June followed by community meetings.

    Contact Grace Hase at [email protected] or follow @grace_hase on Twitter.

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