‘Road Diet’ Comes to Willow Glen

I grew up and still live a block away from Willow Glen. I vividly recall morning walks to Willow Glen Elementary School, weekend strolls to LaVilla Delicatessen for sandwiches and ravioli, and family dinners at John’s, Round Table or Taiwan. For a 10-year-old kid, it was common practice to walk or bike down Lincoln Avenue—alone or with friends. Parental supervision consisted of a reminder to “be safe." Their only worry was one of us crossing the street without looking both ways.

Times have changed.

Over the past 30 years, as San Jose has continued to grow, new housing in Almaden Valley and Blossom Valley has led to more commuters making their way north to job centers. Many of them now use Lincoln Avenue as a thoroughfare, which it was never intended to be. With two lanes of traffic flying in each direction, and a paucity of bike lanes in the area, Downtown Willow Glen is a treacherous place to shop, stroll or bike. The past few years have been peppered with collisions and injuries, even fatalities, because of a lack of safety and drivers who have no desire to slow down. But that’s about to change—at least for three months.

In response to years of community requests to calm traffic and improve safety, the city of San Jose is conducting a three-month “road diet” trial on Lincoln Avenue between Minnesota and Coe avenues. The trial is set to begin this weekend as the current lane markers are ground up and replaced with a new temporary alignment.

A road diet reallocates street space to better accommodate all users. Road diets have been successfully implemented by communities across the country, including local examples in Morgan Hill, Fremont and San Francisco. This short video provides a great introduction to the concept. For this trial, Lincoln Avenue will be converted from a four-lane street to two lanes with a dedicated center lane for left turns and bike lanes in each direction. The idea is not just to improve safety, but to also move traffic through our downtown more efficiently and consistently.

As a local resident and board member of the Willow Glen Neighborhood Association, I was asked to serve on the Road Diet Working Group (RDWG), which was formed to provide feedback to the city's Department of Transportation on the size, scope, potential impacts and other facets of the trial. The RDWG is made up of Willow Glen residents, parents and business owners, and it includes board members from WGNA and the Willow Glen Business Associations. A complete list of RDWG members and affiliations can be found here.

Following a well-attended community meeting in November to introduce the road diet trial and receive initial feedback, the RDWG has met with DOT staff on a regular basis. Throughout this process, the RDWG solicited and received hundreds of questions, comments and concerns from community members through group and individual meetings, sidewalk conversations, phone calls, emails, webform responses and Facebook posts. That input was relayed directly to DOT staff and helped inform many of the changes to the trial plans.*

Findings from the trial will be presented for feedback at a public meeting currently scheduled for June 11. If the trial is deemed successful by the community, the road diet will be made permanent as part of a repaving project on Lincoln this fall. Traffic volumes will be measured before, during and after the trial at 45 locations throughout Willow Glen in what DOT is calling the largest traffic data collection effort on any road project in San Jose history.

The RDWG invites community members to continue sharing their input during the trial by sending us an email or using this simple form. More information, including answers to frequently asked questions, can be found at www.willowglenroaddiet.com.

Thus far, our community seems to have mixed opinions about the project. For my part, I’m excited about the potential to make the neighborhood where I grew up more walkable, bikeable and beautiful, not just for myself and current residents but for our children. Like many of us, I’ll wait to pass final judgement until the trial has a chance to play out.

* Author's note: The RDWG strongly advocated that the road diet extend further south to Curtner Avenue to alleviate impacts to side streets and divert more traffic to larger thoroughfares. Due to budget constraints, this extension will need to be addressed at a later time. The DOT remains open to working with the community on this project, and we expect to hold them to that.

Peter Allen was born and raised in San Jose and lives in Willow Glen. He is a board member of the Willow Glen Neighborhood Association and vice chair of the city of San Jose Arts Commission. Follow him on Twitter at @pjallen2.

45 Comments

  1. I’m excited about the potential to make the neighborhood where I grew up more walkable, bikeable and beautiful, not just for myself and current residents but for our children.

    Yah but you moved out to Berryessa right? (BTW I think the lion statues are bitchen!)

  2. Driving in a crowded downtown environment is always difficult. Drivers are naturally distracted. They’re looking for parking spaces, store fronts, road signs – you name it – in addition to trying to look out for pedestrians and bicyclists.

    Los Altos installed blinking lights in cross walks at several locations along San Antonio Road to allow residents to cross that street relatively safely to get to their downtown. It is sometimes hard to see pedestrians, they can blend in with trees and parked cars, or be obscured by the car’s roof pillars. However, when the cross walk starts flashing after the pedestrian hits the button, most drivers notice and stop for the pedestrian. I lived in Los Altos before and after the installation of the blinking lights in the cross walk and saw a noticeable change in the way drivers reacted to pedestrians. I believe it was a positive and easily implemented safety improvement.

    I understand that San Jose refuses to consider putting flashing lights in a cross walk, and that refusal makes no sense to me.

    • I understand that San Jose refuses to consider putting flashing lights in a cross walk, and that refusal makes no sense to me. Guess you haven’t been on Lincoln Ave, New. They have such flashing signals there.

  3. The overwhelming feedback at the February public meeting was that the plan for the road diet was not communicated to the vast majority of Willow Glen residents, those residents’ concerns were not considered before approving the trial, and no commitment has been made to mitigate the impact of additional traffic and/or speed of traffic on residential streets as a result of the road diet.

      • Wow, SJOUTSIDETHEBUBBLE, someone should pop yours. It doesn’t always have to come down to rigid ideology (yours) and name calling.

    • You’re exactly right! I keep informed and never heard or saw a notice anywhere. I don’t live close to downtown, over by Curtner. I think it’s going to prove a real mess. I’m changing banks then I won’t have to go down there again.

    • The major complaint by Michael Mulcahy, Larry Ames, and the WGBA was the speed of cars on Lincoln Ave. The speed limit is 25 mph, and realistically you can’t go lower. If speed is the problem, cutting the number of lanes in half is not the solution…enforcing the speed limit is. I moved to WG in 1980 and quickly found out that “car”, “traffic” , and “parking” are four letter words to the yuppie crowd that lives in WG, an elitist group of whom constitute the WGBA and WGHA, all of whom know better than we do what’s good for us all. Do the WGBA, WGHA, and Pierluigi think that by cutting traffic lanes in half the cars will just evaporate? I don’t. They’ll just use adjacent neighborhood residential streets, such as Blewett, which parallels Lincoln from Willow to Minnesota. Blewett has had speed bumps for many years due to speeders using it to cut through when Lincoln had four lanes. Imagine the chaos now that there are only two lanes. The stated goal is to reduce speeding on Lincoln, as if any sane person calls 25 mph speeding. The actual goal is to drive cars off Lincoln Ave by making the driving experience way too frustrating—a strange goal for a business district. Perhaps they believe they can survive with just the customers who can walk there from their homes.

      • > I moved to WG in 1980 and quickly found out that “car”, “traffic” , and “parking” are four letter words to the yuppie crowd that lives in WG, an elitist group of whom constitute the WGBA and WGHA, all of whom know better than we do what’s good for us all.

        JohnMichael:

        You’re living in a nascent Portlandia.

        Some friendly advice: GET OUT OF WILLOW GLEN BEFORE ITS TOO LATE!

        Here’s a glimpse into your future:

  4. So instead, the drivers that would have used Lincoln Ave will be cutting through the surrounding residential neighborhoods and driving like idiots. It is like being on a 500 calorie a day diet, while being hooked up to an IV of McDonald’s milkshakes.

    • South San Joseans can use Meridian Avenue, Almaden Exwy, HYWY 87, Almaden Road. There are plenty of other options.

      • I live off Lincoln and use it daily so it is not just “South San Joseans” that this will impact. Also all those roads you named are jammed packed as it is so the added traffic will affect us WG residents too if we ever god forbid want to leave the neighborhood. WG is close to two major freeways and contrary to popular belief we are not a gated community, if you want that move to the hills. I am a San Jose native and grew up and still live in WG I know family and friends that live up in cambrian or south sj neighborhoods that commute for work and I know that they will just use the side streets and then WG residents will complain about that. This will not detour people from going through “our” neighborhood it will only make traffic worse. On a side note I actually talk to many business owners on Lincoln and they are not happy because this will not increase traffic to downtown Willow Glen if anything it will decrease it and how many businesses and restaurants have we seen close and open in the last five years alone in WG? a good amount.

        • It’s meant to decrease THROUGH traffic, but I don’t know that your conclusion is necessarily correct. At any rate, it’s an experiment. If businesses lose money, you better believe that they’ll be the first to be screaming bloody murder and demand this be taken down. Wait and see. You may actually find out you like the results. I’m personally not convinced of its benefits, but I’m willing to try.

      • Cucinaclas,
        You live in a fantasy land if you think people won’t take the quickest route possible, even if that means driving like bats of hell through a residential neighborhood. This road “diet” is a joke. There are plenty of drivers that live in Willow Glen that will also now drive through residential neighborhoods to come and go, and avoid Lincoln. Just an idiotic idea.

        • For pity’s sake why don’t you all pipe down, stop predicting doom or success and just see what happens. I agree with Eric. It wouldn’t be necessary to modify conditions on Lincoln at all if people were responsible and respectful enough to slow down in the first place.

          • So by your logic, the road diet will force irresponsible drivers onto other streets, including the local neighborhoods, as alternate routes. Make Lincoln safer and the neighborhoods more dangerous. Brilliant.

        • Its ok if people speed around through surrounding neighborhoods as a shortcut. PLO can ask SAM who will have Chief Larry send out a few SJPD motor enforcement teams to issue citations. Just like back in the day when they had all those neighborhood calming projects to slow people down. On second thought there is only one motor team in the city. LOL Maybe TAPS security can pull traffic duty as well. Someone get ahold of Madison who can contact her buddy Tam Truong to set it up!

  5. Not sure what you are talking about in the refusal to have flashing lights installed as there currently are several along Lincon, there also used to be prior to the diet caution signs in the middle of the road. Guess we can caulk it up to you being new to the area.

  6. With any diet, you can either cheat (use side streets) or make the effort (endure a few minutes of delay) to make Downtown Willow Glen a far better place. We’ll soon find out what is important to those who frequent WG – driving as fast as they can, or enabling the creation of a far more friendly and inviting Downtown Willow Glen.

    • The biggest problem of “Downtown Willow Glen” is that it’s just one segment of Lincoln Avenue. Until there is some serious rezoning done (which as I understand it can’t happen because WG is really just a San Jose neighborhood that doesn’t have that capability) it will never be able to compete with Campbell or Los Gatos. No bars, no nightlife, sidewalks roll up after 9, but 12 banks, 25 hair/nail salons, 32 gyms and probably a half dozen places to get your reiki realigned.

  7. You can’t complain about the excess traffic, while courting all of the new businesses, retail development, and storefronts. Want to make pedestrian crossings safer? Install actual crosswalks with stoplights. Want less traffic on a arterial street? Provide alternative routes that connect to established highways. Short of closing the Lincoln/Almaden Expressway ramps, Lincoln will always have through traffic. Want less road congestion, quit promoting this walking mall/Santana Row feel.

    What really bothers me is the way our local politicians have sold out the safety of the Residential Streets to cater to the commercial interests. All the banter about Willow Glen pride, hometown feel, safe communities goes out the window when we want a Los Gatos type downtown. Think about how traffic is out there on Santa Cruz ave, and that is nowhere near the volume of cars that use Lincoln as a connecting street.

  8. By the way, “road diet” is a really stupid term. It is s-o-o-o-o “Pajama boy”.

    It conjures up your nurturing mother doing what’s good for you: “Eat your peas”.

    Why not just call it what it is: micro-authoritarianism.

  9. As a frequent northbound AM and southbound PM Lincoln Ave. driver, I’ve always been pleasantly surprised just how well the traffic keeps moving. Leave it to our self styled, self important urban planner types to screw up one of the few remaining things that still work well.
    If you sincerely want to get at the root of traffic, congestion, and hazardous bicycling conditions then stop pushing for more and more high density and affordable housing.

  10. There was an alternative to all this, it was called “slow down on Lincoln and stop hitting people”. Apparently this went clear over the heads of too many drivers, so this was the next logical step.

  11. I am glad to see a road diet on Lincoln. The current road is not that safe for bikers or pedestrians, especially the kids walking to Willow Glen elementary. However, the stretch between Minnesota and Coe isn’t where the diet is most needed, because cars there already drive pretty slow. It’s the stretch from Curtner to Minnesota where cars like to speed where a road diet will do the most good. I regularly cross Lincoln Ave near the Stone Church and it can be scary.

    To the people concerned that a road diet will cause congestion on side streets: that’s the point of the study! Most places road diets have been tried the traffic fears haven’t come true (with some exceptions).

  12. No, no, NO! The people of Morgan Hill do NOT like this, at all. Major FAIL.

  13. I love how it took me 23 minutes to get from The Table to Starbucks this afternoon. This “diet” is fantastic. Thank you WGNA!

    • Yeah, great huh? Same way today with little traffic…take the afternoon to get to the bank. Do these people even live in this neighborhood?

  14. Friday’s evening commute:
    The drive home had confused drivers forcing the right away and I witnessed the center lane being used as a passing lane.

    In front of my home:
    Friday commute had cars going 50 MPH + down Glen Eyrie honking their horns at other drivers and colorful language with friendly hand jesters.

    I’ll walk down to Lincoln when I want to visit other wise I have started using Meridian to get to and from the freeway. Sorry WG =(

  15. It is very funny how those that live around Lincoln Ave expect commuters to use Meridian Ave as an alternative. There are plenty of people that live right on or around Meridian Ave too. Why should the “road diet” (a moronic term) be on Meridian Ave, and force commuters to use Lincoln Ave instead? After all, one can take Lincoln Ave to get on Almaden Ave to the south, and both 280 and 17/880 to the north, and 87 to the east. The residents of Willow Glen, especially around Lincoln Ave are very special people. They are both enlightened and entitled all wrapped up in a eco friendly ball. They want to know why the police aren’t out en masse, enforcing their very special road diet on Lincoln Ave. If a police officer is God forbid having a cup of coffee on Lincoln Ave, the fine WG residents will be overloading their phone service carrier calling Luigi. Oh no, then the Truancy Abatement Officers, who were pulled from the eastside to provide burglary suppression to the almost equally special people of Almaden Valley, will get reassigned to enforce the road diet for Willow Glen. I say we need “road diets” on Bird Ave and Meridian Ave to provide those areas relief. Widen Lincoln to 3 lanes each way, get rid of the vastly underused bike lanes, and shove that traffic right into the heart of Willow Glen and onto the freeways.

  16. This from the Willow Glen Business Association regarding diverting traffic from Lincoln Ave to Meridian Ave, aka the road diet: “There were concerns about overloading Meridian Ave and we were told by the experts that Merdian could handle addrtional traffic and would not rise above the acceptable level.” Wow, there are many more people that live on Meridian Ave than Lincoln Ave. Apparently their safety is not as important as those on Lincoln Ave to either the WGBA or Pierluigi. Hopefully those in and around Meridian Ave are outraged and their voices will be heard, as they certainly weren’t in this matter.

  17. wait and see? So far many minutes spent bumper to bumper from Minnesota to Willow, hundreds of engines idling and running, more smog, more gas used. Commented to the wife in the car last evening not coming down here anymore “unless” we have to. Curious after this experiment what impact on business downtown is? Another item for consideration-I go to work early around 5:15 am and signal lights are not set on timers yet. Sit at stop light all alone with zero cross traffic for 2 minutes at 5:15 am in the morning-there is a need to put the signal lights on timers. The concept of pushing drivers blocks away to previously quiet streets seems to put bad drivers in another spot. Make sense? I’m all for enforcing existing law leave the 2 lanes.

  18. We’re now like downtown Campbell.
    Traffic on Lincoln has gotten so congested that it is backed up almost to Pine in the mornings which makes crossing it almost impossible. What’s going to happen is people will just avoid going downtown, which will hurt business massively. The other alternative is re-routing through nice quite streets like Settle Avenue which will be a nightmare for those folks. A bad and thoughtless decision for our quaint little downtown.

  19. Has this started hurting any of the businesses? Me and some co-workers liked going to Stumpy’s and the Villa Deli but have been caught in really bad traffic since the “traffic diet”. We can’t do it any more because it wastes our lunch hour. The last time we ate in WG was a few days ago and it took us about 20 minutes to get out of gridlock, about half of that stuck in a parking lot. Also a couple of the girls in our office said they couldn’t go to Aqui’s for lunch any more for the same reason.

  20. It’s so nice to stand in my front yard on Glen Eyrie where the neighborhood kids play and watch cut thru traffic fly by at 50 and 60 mph. What a great plan, “A Diet for Lincoln Avenue”. Did anyone bother to ask, where are those pesky little “fat cars” going to go? Any traffic expert would have told you, “into the neighborhoods!” So now that is has been scientifically proven, is it time to stop the trial before someone gets hurt!

    And as sit here typing those words that, I hear in the background, yet another car racing by. Oh, and don’t bother to contact the San Jose Traffic Division, they have over a month long waiting period for any response to any requests due to Police staffing shortages.

  21. I love the change! My family and I feel much safer biking down Lincoln for dinner or a Saturday stroll. It also just feels like it functions better! Walking across all four lanes waving an orange flag hoping drivers would slowdown and see us always made me uneasy. Crossing just the two lanes is less stressful.
    Our household is embracing the change! Makes downtown Willow Glen more accessible to people who actually live in the neighborhood.