With nine deaths in 2021 so far, San Jose seeks to reduce traffic deaths
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.

In just the first three months of 2021, nine people died on San Jose’s streets and city officials are scrambling to find solutions to make the roads of America’s 10th largest city safer.

San Jose in 2015 launched Vision Zero, an initiative that aims to eliminate traffic deaths, after 60 people died in traffic accidents the previous year. Sixty people died in 2019, tying with 2014 for the most deaths in a quarter century. Last year, as COVID-19 kept more people off the streets, the city recorded 49 traffic fatalities.

The majority of the deaths this year occurred along Hillsdale Avenue, McLaughlin Road, Monterey Road, Story Road, Jackson Avenue, S. White Road and S. First Street — all roads the city has deemed dangerous and in need of improvement.

The most recent death happened Sunday when a motorcyclist driving near Hillsdale Avenue veered off the road.

“Every traffic fatality is a tragedy,” said Vision Zero’s program manager Jesse Mintz-Roth.

Mintz-Roth said 30% to 40% of fatal and severe traffic-related injuries occur on a mere 3% of the city’s roads.

Given limited city resources, he said Vision Zero is focused on redesigning the 56 most fatal miles of roadway, known as the “high injury network.” A map of hazardous roads can be found on the city’s website.

A map of San Jose’s most dangerous roads courtesy of the city’s Vision Zero website.

Many of the city’s most dangerous roads are at least three lanes wide and have speed limits of above 30 miles per hour. Mintz-Roth said speeding is the top known factor leading to traffic deaths and injury in San Jose — and wider roads encourage speeding.

Redesigns to improve safety along those roads include narrowing roadways to encourage cars to slow down, installing protected bike lanes, widening sidewalks and creating slightly longer turn cues at major intersections.

The Vision Zero team is also planning a number of “quick-build projects” — which can be completed in 1 to 2 years — to rapidly test safety measures along major thoroughfares.

The city’s Senter Road project in East San Jose is the transportation department’s first major quick-build effort to narrow the busy street from three lanes to two. The project will also add brighter LED lights and protected bike lanes, which put a barrier between cyclists and vehicles.

The San Jose City Council also implemented a new plan this month, called En Movimiento, which prioritizes bike and pedestrian infrastructure in East San Jose.

According to Vision Zero data, there were seven bike fatalities, 21 pedestrian fatalities, 19 vehicle deaths and two motorcycle deaths in 2020 across the city. In 2019, there were seven bike fatalities and 19 vehicle deaths. But there were more pedestrian deaths in 2019 — a total of 29 — in addition to five motorcycle deaths.

Mintz-Roth said San Jose had two unusual deaths last year resulting from bike-on-bike collisions along the Guadalupe River Trail. A combination of downhill speed increase and low visibility within the underpass can contribute to unsafe conditions, he said.

The city added warning signs near the underpasses to encourage riders to take caution and reduce speed.

Vehicles, however, pose the biggest danger when it comes to cycling safely in San Jose.

Earlier this month, a driver making a right turn fatally struck an unidentified bicyclist. In January, Jose Francisco Gastelum, a 36-year-old cyclist, was killed on S. 1st Street and Reed Street.

A Mineta Transportation Institute survey found that speed is the number one factor for why people choose their mode of transport.

Shiloh Ballard, executive director of the Silicon Valley Bike Coalition, said the most important measure the city can take is forcing cars to slow down.

“Bikes under the current system are never going to be able to compete with cars — nothing is going to compete with the speed,” Ballard said. “We have to enact policies that are going to make it a little uncomfortable to always default to the car.”

Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.

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