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South Bay Cities Still Have the Asphalt Bug

Santa Clara County want to depress a two-mile segment of Lawrence Expressway below grade to increase auto traffic capacity at a cost to taxpayers of $540 million. Photo: Andrew Boone

Santa Clara County wants to depress a one-mile segment of Lawrence Expressway below three intersections to “address existing and forecast traffic congestion” at a cost of $440 million in future sales tax dollars. Another $100 million is proposed to depress Lawrence Expressway under Homestead Road. Image: Santa Clara County

“Induced demand” is the idea that building and widening roads doesn’t make traffic better–it makes it worse. Late last year Caltrans finally acknowledged that, yeah, it’s probably true that all the work they’ve been doing for the past few decades has been for naught.

Not everyone got the memo. The Valley Transportation Authority (VTA)’s proposed half-cent sales tax, which is supposed to fund everything from buses to Caltrain to bicycle routes, could also open the floodgates to billions of dollars in continued highway expansion. That’s because Palo Alto, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Cupertino, Campbell, Saratoga, Los Gatos, and Monte Sereno have included a total of $1.5 billion in auto traffic capacity expansion projects in their draft proposals on where to spend the money [PDF]. That means $1 billion will go to county expressways and another $500 million on state highways and local arterial roadways.

San Jose’s funding priorities [PDF] include $650 million countywide for reconstructed highway interchanges “to support economic development,” including $320 million for six expanded interchanges. Even more money could be sunk into traffic capacity expansions on city streets via a “local streets and roads” category intended for repaving but which also can include lane additions and signal modifications. The North County and West Valley cities have proposed $1 billion for local streets and roads, while San Jose has proposed $1.8 billion.

In other words, more and more asphalt.

“As a voting member of the VTA Board of Directors, I think expressways are extremely important,” said San Jose City Council member Johnny Khamis at the city’s February 9 review of the sales tax. “I take an expressway every single day to work because I can’t get on Highway 87 because it’s too congested!”
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Two Bay Area Cyclists Cut Down By Drivers in One Day

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Goettingen Street lacks any design measures to discourage speeding. Image via Google Street View

While out with friends last night in West Portal, I mentioned that a cyclist was killed in San Francisco that morning. One of my friends corrected me and said “no, it was San Jose.”

My heart sank as I realized two Bay Area bicyclists had been cut down in separate incidents.

In San Jose, a bicyclist was struck by a pickup truck driver near Martial Cottle Park, as reported by InsideBayArea. “It does not appear that speed was a factor,” said San Jose Police Sergeant Todd Lonac. “It just appears to be a tragic accident.”

Ruling out excessive speed alone, however, does not absolve the driver. We still don’t know if texting or some other form of distraction was a factor. It’s too early in the investigation and not enough information is available for the cops to tell the public it was a faultless “accident.”

In Portola, meanwhile, a 63-year-old bicyclist was killed by a 26-year-old motorist who was apparently speeding and driving on the wrong side of Goettingen Street. The case was extreme enough that the SFPD arrested the driver on “suspicion” of vehicular manslaughter.

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Today: VTA Board Could Enshrine Road Expansions in Sales Tax Measure

Santa Clara County’s proposed 20-year sales tax could go toward making dangerous mega-wide roads like the Lawrence Expressway even wider. Photo: Santa Clara County

The Valley Transportation Authority Board of Directors today could enshrine road widenings in its 20-year transportation sales tax, proposed for the ballot in Santa Clara County in November 2016.

The agenda for today’s 5:30 p.m. board meeting includes approval of the sales tax measure language, which includes goals [PDF] to “provide congestion relief” and “relieve roadway, highway, and expressway bottle necks and minimize traffic in residential neighborhoods.”

“In the past this goal was met with roadway widening,” wrote Gladwyn d’Souza, transportation committee chair for the Sierra Club’s Loma Prieta chapter, in a letter [PDF] to the VTA board stating the organization’s concerns about the language. “Subsequent analysis has shown that the relief is temporary due to induced driving.”

The sales tax proposal, called Envision Silicon Valley, would fund at least two decades of transportation infrastructure projects in the South Bay, including the BART extension to San Jose, a network of bus rapid transit lines, a county-wide trail network, and safety improvements for walking and bicycling.

But widening Santa Clara County’s already-dangerous expressways to “relieve bottle necks,” even as traffic declines, would work against San Jose’s goals to reduce driving and end traffic fatalities, as called for in San Jose’s Envision 2040 General Plan and Vision Zero plan. Ninety-three percent of traffic fatalities occurred on major city streets and county expressways last year.

“It’s a fact that our transportation systems have been designed in the past to move cars efficiently,” SJ Transportation Director Hans Larsen told the City Council when it approved the Vision Zero plan on May 12. “This is a change in paradigm to say that safety is the top priority.”

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San Jose to Adopt Vision Zero But No Target Date to End Traffic Deaths

Vision Zero San Jose As Soon As Possible Logo

San Jose’s Vision Zero plan doesn’t set a target date to eliminate traffic fatalities, only declaring a goal of “ASAP” — as soon as possible. Image: City of San Jose

The San Jose City Council is expected to adopt a Vision Zero plan [PDF] tomorrow, making it the third major city in the Bay Area and the tenth in the nation to commit to ending traffic deaths. But San Jose isn’t setting a timeline to achieve this goal.

“For years, San Jose created a roadway system exclusively for cars — not for people on bikes, pedestrians, or transit,” said Mayor Sam Liccardo in a statement. “Vision Zero is San Jose’s commitment to prioritize street safety and ensure all road users – whether you walk, bike, drive, or ride transit – are safe.”

Unlike San Francisco and New York City, which adopted ten-years goals, San Jose’s version of Vision Zero doesn’t include a target date. Instead the plan calls for an end to traffic fatalities “ASAP”:

Vision Zero San Jose purposely has avoided setting a particular timeline as a practical matter and has instead chosen to pursue Vision Zero goals, as soon as possible (ASAP). The history of change particularly with regards to state and federal policy makes 10-years seem “unrealistic.” However, the urgency for safe streets makes a 10-year goal seem “too slow.” For now, our goal is to continue to make progress with advocacy, action and results, ASAP!

“While we understand concerns that a 10-year timeline may be too ambitious,” said California Walks Planning and Policy Manager Jaime Fearer, “we need to commit to a date for our goal, even if it is 15 or 20 years.”

Elijah Alvitre, 3, was killed in a crosswalk at Vine and Oak streets. The driver who struck him faced no legal penalties. Photo: Legacy.com

Dozens of supporters, including friends and relatives of people killed by reckless drivers, packed a committee meeting last week to plead for an end to the city’s traffic violence.

“Anything that can be done to improve safety should not only be considered but embraced, to help prevent this from happening to anyone else,” said Jenny Alvitre, whose 3-year-old grandson Elijah was killed in November 2013 by the driver of a pickup truck. The driver was not cited or charged for failing to yield to the 13-year-old girl pushing Elijah’s stroller in a crosswalk, hitting both of them, as well as a six-year-old girl holding the older girl’s hand.

Just hours later, 14-year-old Bianca Valdez was killed by a driver while walking across White Road near Hyland Avenue in east San Jose. A week later, 17-year-old Anthony Garcia was killed by an SUV driver while riding his bicycle on Branham Lane in south San Jose.

The death toll on San Jose’s dangerously-designed streets has risen in recent years, and a growing proportion of victims are killed by drivers while walking and biking. In 2013, 44 people were killed on San Jose streets, and 42 in 2014. In both years, 21 of the victims were killed while walking. Most fatal crash victims in SJ are now people walking or biking. That wasn’t the case between 2008 and 2012, when an average of 31 people were killed each year, 46 percent of whom were pedestrians or cyclists.

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San Jose Council Calls for Banning Sidewalk Cycling on Five Downtown Streets

Cyclist on Sidewalk Passing Seniors

Bicycling on Santa Clara Street’s sidewalks in downtown San Jose will remain legal, but will be banned on 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and San Fernando streets. Photo: City of San Jose

Last Tuesday, the San Jose City Council voted unanimously (9-0) directing the city’s transportation department to draft an ordinance prohibiting bicycling on sidewalks along five streets in the city’s downtown: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and San Fernando. The ordinance would except children aged 12 and under, adults transporting children of those ages, and police officers.

The ban is intended to improve safety for pedestrians, as some fast or careless cyclists have recently struck and injured seniors on sidewalks in the increasingly popular city center.

“It’s obvious that bicyclists travel faster than pedestrians, even on the sidewalks,” said Senior Citizens Commission Vice-Chair Marie Hayter at the meeting in support of the ban. “Pedestrians have an expectation of safety.”

The new ban is much less extensive than that proposed in September by the San Jose Department of Transportation (SJDOT), which included all downtown streets with bike lanes plus Santa Clara Street, for a total of ten miles of streets. Pressure from bicyclists opposed to the ban, and local transportation advocacy groups, convinced SJDOT to focus only on streets with “high pedestrian activity”, namely Santa Clara, San Fernando, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th streets.

Sections of San Fernando, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th streets, marked in red on this map, where bicycling on sidewalks will be banned. Image: Andrew Boone / Google Maps

City Council member and Mayor-elect Sam Liccardo proposed excluding Santa Clara Street from the ban, and to permit adults transporting children ages 12 and under to ride on sidewalks. The city’s proposal did not include that exclusion.

“On Santa Clara Street, there’s no safe on-street option for cyclists,” said Liccardo. “Obviously with [Bus Rapid Transit] being constructed, that’s something we all need to be thinking about.”

“I heard from several moms who are concerned about the fact that when they are transporting very young children, they need to have a very slow place to do it,” reported Liccardo. “And obviously, it’s easier on the sidewalk.”

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VTA Cuts Alum Rock and Santa Clara BART Stations From Funding Plans

An artist’s rendering of the proposed Five Wounds Urban Village, which would redevelop an industrial site with new housing, office, and retail space around a new Alum Rock BART Station. Image: Taeker Planning & Design

Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) officials announced on October 6 that they would not seek federal funds in 2015 to construct Alum Rock and Santa Clara BART stations planned as part of the transit system’s extension through downtown San Jose. The move sparked an outcry from neighborhood leaders and elected officials, who have worked in community planning efforts for over a decade to anchor new compact, walkable urban centers with the transit stations.

A $2.3 billion, 10-mile extension of BART to Berryessa in northeast San Jose, from its current terminus in Fremont, is currently under construction and scheduled to open in late 2017. Another $4.7 billion is needed for an extension from Berryessa to Santa Clara’s Caltrain Station, through downtown San Jose, which had earlier been slated to have four stations. VTA planners say the extension would get a better chance of winning a $1.1 billion New Starts construction grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) by cutting the $1.3 billion cost of the Alum Rock and Santa Clara stations from the grant application.

“This is a radical change from what we understood from VTA for the last nearly-15 years,” said Terry Christensen, the Friends of Five Wounds Trail’s executive director and long-time resident of the Five Wounds/Brookwood Terrace neighborhood. VTA first proposed the Alum Rock station for that neighborhood in 2001.

The locations of future BART stations planned for the rail transit system’s extension to Santa Clara, through downtown San Jose. Image: Valley Transportation Authority

While FTA’s policy guide for scoring New Starts transit projects requires that funded projects “be supported by an acceptable degree of local financial commitment, including evidence of stable and dependable financing sources,” cutting the two stations still leaves the BART extension $1.7 billion short of its construction budget. Cutting the stations also hurts the project’s ratings on other factors FTA scores on: mobility improvements, particularly for car-free households; economic development effects, or the likelihood of attracting transit-supportive development;, environmental benefits like reduced vehicle miles traveled; and congestion relief.

VTA is now pursuing a “phased station implementation”, first constructing BART stations only at Diridon and Downtown by 2025, and later adding the Alum Rock and Santa Clara stations when an additional $1.3 billion for their construction somehow becomes available. VTA planners are also proposing to relocate the proposed Alum Rock Station, if and when it is ever built, to Santa Clara and 23rd streets to trim another $165 million in tunneling costs from the project.

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Committee Punts San Jose Sidewalk Cycling Ban to City Council

Seniors, most in favor of an ordinance to prohibit cycling on sidewalks in downtown San Jose, wait to address the city’s Transportation & Environment Committee on Monday afternoon. Photo: Andrew Boone

After hearing over an hour of public comments on Monday afternoon both strongly supporting and opposing a ban on cycling on sidewalks in downtown San Jose, the city’s Transportation and Environment Committee chose not to recommend to the City Council any ordinance that would restrict sidewalk cycling. Seniors, speaking in favor of banning cycling on downtown sidewalks, far outnumbered younger residents, who urged enforcement against reckless cycling rather than an outright ban.

“This March, our friend Ms. Nee was walking in the morning and was hit by a bike, and she died the next day,” said former Senior Citizens Commissioner Margaret Young, who also described a September 2013 incident in which another senior was hospitalized after being struck by bicyclist while waiting for a city bus. “I’m asking you to protect our seniors. Give us a safe sidewalk and a safe San Jose.”

“The [Senior Citizens] Commission strongly urges an ordinance prohibiting bicycle riding on a defined section of the streets in downtown San Jose,” said Chair Joyce Rabourn. “There are signs all over the place, ‘Walk Your Bike’, and they totally ignore it,” complained downtown resident Ann Webb.

Despite the signs, San Jose’s existing ordinance regulating sidewalk cycling does not prohibit it, but states instead that the operator of a bicycle shall, “upon approaching a sidewalk or the sidewalk area extending across any alleyway, yield the right-of-way to all pedestrians approaching on said sidewalk or sidewalk area,” (San Jose Municipal Code 11.72.170).

Buses and other vehicles often park in and block San Fernando Street’s buffered bike lane, which is partly located in the door zone of parked cars. Photo: Richard Masoner

The ordinance, suggested by Department of Transportation (SJDOT) Director Hans Larsen, would prohibit anyone over age 12 from riding a bicycle on the sidewalks along a total of ten miles of city streets in the “Greater Downtown area.” Most of those streets have bike lanes, except for busy Santa Clara Street, which has five lanes, no bike lanes, and no plans for bike facilities. The proposal would also set a citywide speed limit of 5 mph for bicycling on any sidewalk.

Opponents of the ban at the meeting agreed that fast bicyclists should ride in the street, but that motor vehicle traffic is a much greater hazard, and that a ban would punish bicyclists who ride on sidewalks to avoid unsafe traffic conditions.

“I’ve been hit while riding in the street three times by cars — once I was in a bike lane,” said downtown resident Melanie Landstrom. “It’s dangerous to be shoving bikes into the street.”

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San Jose DOT: Ban Sidewalk Cycling Downtown, 5 MPH Speed Limit Elsewhere

Santa Clara Street Car Traffic

Santa Clara Street in downtown San Jose, where SJDOT is proposing banning anyone over age 12 from bicycling on the sidewalks. Photo: Google Maps

On Monday afternoon (October 6), San Jose’s Transportation & Environment Committee will review a proposal by the city’s Department of Transportation (SJDOT) to ban bicyclists over the age of 12 on sidewalks along ten downtown streets, and to set a speed limit of 5 mph for bicycling on every other sidewalk citywide.

The city has been inching towards a sidewalk cycling ban ever since it was first proposed by City Council member Sam Liccardo in March 2013, following complaints by downtown residents who said “they’re afraid to walk on the sidewalks because adult men zip by at unsafe speeds, startling them with a series of near-misses,” and cited injuries suffered by pedestrians. Jack Licursi, Sr., owner of a barber shop on Santa Clara Street, was hospitalized due to a fall he suffered after a bicyclist collided with him when he stepped out of his shop and onto the sidewalk.

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“Public education materials” that SJDOT concluded were unsuccessful at convincing sidewalk bicyclists to share the street with auto traffic. Image: City of San Jose

A coalition of local non-profit groups, including the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC), Silicon Valley Leadership Group, Greenbelt Alliance, and TransForm, supported an ordinance that would define and prohibit reckless bicycling, but opposed an outright ban on sidewalk cycling.

“[A ban] would criminalize a healthy behavior (bicycle riding) being undertaken by those who likely do not ride in the street because of health, age, or safety concerns,” wrote Corinne Winter, Jessica Zenk, Michele Beasley, and Chris Lepe in a joint April 2013 letter.

SJDOT concluded that “Walk Your Bike” signs, pavement markers, and banners installed in late 2013 haven’t convinced enough bicyclists to join the fast-moving bus and truck traffic present on many downtown streets, and so now proposes a sidewalk cycling ban instead. Anyone over the age of 12 could be ticketed for bicycling on the sidewalks of Santa Clara Street and on every street with bike lanes within the “greater downtown area”: Almaden Boulevard, Woz Way, and San Fernando, 3rd, 4th, 7th, 10th, and 11th streets.

But traffic conditions, even on streets with wide buffered bike lanes, present too great a hazard for many people to safely navigate by bicycle. These include high-speed traffic, large vehicles like trucks and buses, cars merging across the bike lanes to make turns or park, and vehicles blocking bike lanes that force cyclists to merge into adjacent traffic.

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San Jose Candidates Campaign at Bike Party, Bike Life Festival

Don Gagliardi and Sam Liccardo at Sep 19 2014 San Jose Bike Party

District 3 City Council candidate Don Gagliardi (left) and Mayoral candidate Sam Liccardo (right) get ready to roll at San Jose Bike Party on September 19. Photo: Andrew Boone

Mayoral candidate Sam Liccardo and District 3 City Council candidates Don Gagliardi and Raul Peralez all sought to demonstrate their support for improving cycling conditions in the state’s third-largest city at both September’s San Jose Bike Party and the inaugural San Jose Bike Life Festival.

Gagliardi and Liccardo both spoke briefly to the over 2,000 bicyclists gathered in the ample County Government Center parking lot ahead of San Jose Bike Party’s 18-mile “Science Ride 2” on September 19. Both candidates presented themselves as leaders who have defended, and will continue to promote, innovative bicycle infrastructure like the green buffered bike lanes installed on Hedding Street in June 2013, along the ride’s route.

“I’m the candidate who doesn’t just talk the talk, I ride the ride,” said Don Gagliardi, who says that he often talks up better bike infrastructure, even to voters who complain to him that new buffered bike lanes have slowed car traffic downtown. “I tell them: I’m sorry, I’m for the bike lanes because that’s our future.”

“There’s a lot of antipathy out there for bicyclists,” continued Gagliardi. “The way we meet that, is bicyclists get political consciousness… and you vote for candidates that support you, and that ride the ride.”

Mayoral candidate Sam Liccardo pointed to Hedding Street’s buffered bike lanes, which the San Jose Mercury News has repeatedly criticized since their installation last year.

Hedding Street San Jose Buffered Bike Lanes

A road diet created 1.5 miles of buffered bike lanes on Hedding Street in June 2013. Photo: Colin Heyne, Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition

“There are lots of people who criticize [Hedding Street’s] bike lanes, including my opponent, Dave Cortese,” said City Council member and Mayoral candidate Sam Liccardo. “I hope you’ll support those elected officials who have the courage to push for more bike lanes, more trails… more bike infrastructure.”

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Sidewalk Cycling Ban Again Proposed for Downtown San Jose

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A bicyclist navigates between pedestrians on a downtown San Jose sidewalk. Residents have complained of reckless behavior by cyclists on sidewalks for years. Photo: City of San Jose

San Jose Department of Transportation (SJDOT) officials announced at a community meeting Wednesday evening that a downtown sidewalk cycling ban is again under consideration, explaining that the “Walk Your Bike” signs and banners installed in December 2013 had largely failed to convince bicyclists to ride in the streets rather than on sidewalks.

Three members of the city’s Senior Citizens Commission spoke in support of a ban, describing the serious safety hazards that some bicyclists riding on downtown sidewalks have posed to pedestrians.

“I’ve been hit twice on Santa Clara Street,” said Commissioner Martha O’Connell. “If I get hit by a bike, it’s a serious thing for me and a lot of other seniors. Bikers come so close to [pedestrians] that they actually touch their jackets when they pass them.”

O’Connell and other commissioners have diligently documented with photos and written statements the hazard posed by cyclists riding too fast and swerving on downtown sidewalks. “Adult bicyclists continue to ride recklessly on the downtown sidewalks while the bike lanes remain largely empty,” O’Connell wrote in March 2013, in support of a ban on sidewalk cycling.

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One of 140 “Walk Your Bike” signs installed on sidewalks in downtown San Jose in June 2014. Photo: City of San Jose

In an effort to shift bicyclists from the sidewalks, SJDOT blanketed downtown with “Walk Your Bike” signs: 140 green signs and 170 blue pavement markers. No city ordinance was passed requiring cyclists to walk bikes on sidewalks, though. Educational banners installed downtown also encouraged cyclists to walk on sidewalks and ride in the streets. But SJDOT counts taken at three locations showed no significant shift in sidewalk cycling between December 2013 and August 2014.

“At this point we really haven’t accomplished enough behavior change to say it’s successful,” summarized Active Transportation Manager John Brazil. “Now we’re looking at recommending some type of ordinance to the City Council’s Transportation & Environment Committee.” Under the proposed ordinance described by Mr. Brazil, anyone 13 years and older could be ticketed by the police for cycling on any sidewalk in San Jose’s “Downtown Pedestrian Priority Zone”, a high pedestrian traffic area bounded by Almaden Boulevard, 4th Street, St John Street, and San Salvador Street.

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