San Jose Makes Saint James Street More Dangerous

Maximizing Traffic Volumes Still Trumps Complete Streets at SJDOT

San Jose has designed larger curb radii into the newly widened Saint James Street, creating a new hazard for pedestrians. No crosswalk is included on the north side of the Saint James & Market street intersection. Image: City of San Jose
San Jose has designed larger curb radii into the newly widened Saint James Street, creating a new hazard for pedestrians. No crosswalk is included on the north side of the Saint James & Market street intersection. Image: City of San Jose

Construction on San Jose’s huge North San Pedro plan is well underway. It removes a one-way, four-lane S-curve segment of Julian Street just east of Highway 87 and restores several blocks of the city’s original street grid.

Removing that nasty S-curve and replacing it with a grid is good, but much of the North San Pedro plan still screams “car traffic first.”

For example, the largest intersections along the new Saint James Street don’t even have all four crosswalks and sidewalk curb radii have been enlarged, exposing pedestrians to greater danger from higher-speed automobile traffic than before the street’s reconstruction. At Market Street, no crosswalk is included on the intersection’s north side, and three of the intersection’s corners are being enlarged with greater curb radii. Crosswalks are also missing on the west side of the intersections at Terraine Street and the Highway 87 interchange. [PDF]

The $25 million street reconstruction project aims to create space for new housing and office developments within walking distance of the city’s entire downtown core, complete with reconstructed sidewalks, new street lights and street trees, and a one-block linear park on San Pedro Street north of Julian. Nearly 1,500 housing units will be constructed there.

San Jose is widening Saint James Street to fit four general traffic lanes west of Market Street. The city's design to maximize auto traffic capacity introduces additional safety hazards. Photo: Google Street View
San Jose is widening Saint James Street to fit four general traffic lanes west of Market Street. The city’s design to maximize auto traffic capacity introduces additional safety hazards. Photo: Google Street View

Additionally, there are no bike lanes on any of the reconstructed streets. Planners say there’s no space–even though most of the streets will retain a curb-to-curb width of 40 feet, with parallel parking on both sides. Saint James Street is widened from two to four lanes west of Market Street and then to six lanes on the final block approaching Highway 87. In addition to widening Saint James Street, a fourth lane will be added to northbound Notre Dame by removing parallel parking spaces there. 

Expect bicycling westbound on Saint James Street through the Highway 87 interchange to become even more hazardous than it was on the Julian Street S-curve. The old design required bicyclists to merge two lanes to the left on the S-curve segment to avoid the double right-turn–lanes that become on-ramps onto Highway 87 southbound. The new design requires bicyclists to merge into the left-most of three lanes in the block before Highway 87, because the right two lanes feed onto the highway.

San Jose's new Saint James Street design prioritizes auto traffic capacity over safety for people walking and bicycling. Image: City of San Jose
San Jose’s new Saint James Street design prioritizes auto traffic capacity over safety for people walking and bicycling. Image: City of San Jose

That said, San Jose isn’t planning markings or signs to guide bicyclists through the city’s labyrinthine and hazardous highway interchange design. City officials recommend that bicyclists take a circuitous multi-block detour to the south on Saint John Street and Almaden Boulevard that crosses under Highway 87–a route which also has no markings or signs to help bicyclists find it.

City officials say designs were drawn up and finalized years before the San Jose’s General Plan (2012), Complete Streets Policy (2015), and Vision Zero Plan (2015) were adopted to more explicitly prioritize bike and pedestrian safety. The outdated North San Pedro Plan street designs were never reviewed to ensure they meet current city policies and design standards before construction began. With real estate development projects dependent on San Jose’s street reconstruction schedule, city officials are reluctant to modify street designs that have already been approved.

San Jose staff are considering whether modifications can be made before construction is finished in early 2017.

  • disqdude

    Larger curb radii are a necessary evil. Trucks and buses need them to maneuver on two-way streets. Switch a street from one-way to two-way? Curb returns sometimes need to be enlarged. This is also a necessary trade-off when eliminating channelized right turns (pork-chop islands).

  • Stephen Inoue

    Andrew – thanks for writing this article!

    With the road alignment being designed to accommodate the huge high density housing projects here it is crazy to not reevaluate the need for bike and pedestrian safety.

    Current and new residents alike will be walking to San Pedro Square Market, Guadalupe Gardens, Little Italy and the SAP center the city really should revisit safe bike paths and pedestrian cross walks at these new intersections.

  • thielges

    Which street is being converted from one-way to two-way? I see a one-way segment of Julian being removed, but it is not replaced with anything aside from an extension to Terraine St.

  • disqdude

    Yes, so now large vehicles will have to use St. James Street instead. They won’t just go away when Julian Street becomes a two-way street.

  • thielges

    OK, got it. So you mean that traffic on the former one-way Julian segment will now route to the current two-way St. James. Though wouldn’t westbound traffic still prefer Julian and cut-over to the interchange in Terraine? St. James is two-way for only a couple of blocks and then switches to eastbound only at the park.

    Westbound traffic currently travels on St. James, so there’s nothing new in that direction.

    I’m not seeing any justification to increase the corner radii other than to increase traffic speed. There are only localized flow changes.

  • Andrew points out some very important missed opportunities, not the least of which is fixing that truly hideous merge across three lanes of traffic for those traveling to Little Italy and the Guadalupe River Trail on the east side of Hwy 87.

    I can kind of understand some of the tradeoffs WRT lane width and turns since this plan pre-dates (the yet to be implemented) changes to CEQA LOS rules, but missing that crosswalk across Market Street, which has important pedestrian destinations on all four corners, is almost criminal.

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