Op-Ed: San Jose Must Adopt New Transportation Technologies

Technology and traffic are pervasive and fundamental to urban life. As Santa Clara County grows in population, we have to start thinking about ways to leverage new technologies to manage traffic and better navigate our rapidly changing urban landscape.  

As a community leader in a fast-growing corner of San Jose, I am particularly interested in the intersection of traffic and emerging technologies. These tools, whether we use them or now, affect us every time we drive, take the bus or hop on the light rail.

But many people don’t realize the behind-the-scenes mechanisms of our regional roadways and transportation systems.

Last month, I attended the Intelligent Transportation Society of America's ITSAmerica2016 conference and trade show in San Jose. The mid-June event introduced me to some of the most advanced traffic and transportation technologies in the world today.

Of course, new technologies come at a price. Not just a monetary cost, but time, societal, environmental, political, personal—you name it.

Have you ever considered the cost in time when you wait at a red light at an intersection at midnight with no other headlights to be seen within half a mile? Those idle moments cost you time (personal) and gas (monetary) while unnecessarily spewing emissions from your tailpipe (environmental).

What if you run that red light, figuring no one else is around to see you do it? That would cost you even more time and more money—if you were caught. Even worse, what if you struck a pedestrian? Better to just sit it out and wait for the green light.

The above scenario could be a thing of the past if San Jose installed adaptive signal controls at that intersection. These devices can detect your car as the only one around and switch to a green light to let you drive on through. It could even detect that lone pedestrian and alter the signal accordingly.

Imagine the collective time saved if we adopted such a technology.

San Jose officially launched a state-of-the-art Transportation Management Center in April this year. I was fortunate enough to attend the grand opening, where I got to meet the system operators who work so hard to keep us all moving. They showed me how they use signal sequencing and timing at busy intersections in my part of town—the Valley Fair, Santana Row area.

This wasn’t my first look at San Jose’s elaborate traffic operations system, a system that needs constant updating to remain state-of-the-art. That should hold especially true in San Jose, the largest city in Silicon Valley.

As the transit liaison for the Winchester Orchard Neighborhood Association, I have the responsibility of staying up to date on the state of our roadways, new technologies and their potential applications as well as the traffic impacts of new developments.

In my neighborhood alone, we have several major developments on the horizon, including large-scale expansion at Valley Fair mall, Santana Row and the Century Theater site. We will also see new construction at The Reserve apartments, the old Toys R Us site and the Garden City property.

We can't forget Volar, that high-rise apartment building planned to extend as high as federal air space regulators will allow in proximity to San Jose’s international airport.

I can’t help but think of the firefighters at my local station, who have a huge amount of work cut out for them now and even more so once these projects are built out. Unless we keep our traffic technologies up to date, we will see gridlock that threatens to slow ambulance and fire truck response times. We can’t let that happen. We can’t let poor planning get in the way of the men and women who respond to life-threatening situations in our community.

The above projects alone will bring upward of $10 million in traffic impact fees, something developers have to pay the city to mitigate the inevitable impacts of new construction. In cash-starved San Jose, I believe that we should spend the traffic impact fees from each project only and completely within that given project’s vicinity.

I also believe that those fees should be spent first and foremost on ensuring the emergency vehicle pre-emption system works as flawlessly as possible. We should also spend them on technologies that can better enable our traffic system operators to move and manage traffic. Lives are on the line, not to mention our personal time.

How do we bring these new technologies to San Jose? Through policy changes? Through budget allocations? How do we keep our roadways as free flowing as possible for as long as possible?

It’s up to us, the public, to determine how to prioritize these improvements and to figure out the price we are willing to pay as individuals, neighbors and as a community.

In his welcome speech at the conference, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo told the audience about some of the technologies already in use in our city—electric car charging stations installed nearly 10 years ago, a new traffic management center and autonomous vehicle testing. He then invited innovators to use San Jose as a living laboratory.

“We have a lot of ambitions in Silicon Valley and here in San Jose, it's simple: to leverage this incredible technology that is all around to make San Jose the most innovative city in the country by 2020,” he said. “Here’s where we need your help. We would love to partner with you; please reach out to us. If you have technology that you would like to see tested and demonstrated on a stage that enables the rest of Silicon Valley to take notice—indeed, the whole world to take notice—we would love to be your laboratory. Please reach out to us, we look forward to partnering with you to help transform how we can improve mobility for the rest of the world.”

Next time you’re on the road or in the bus, think about the various technologies that make your commute possible. If you think there’s room for improvement, reach out to your elected officials and San Jose’s Department of Transportation to let them know that you’d like to have a say in our city’s transportation future.

Chris Giangreco is the Traffic and Transportation Liaison for the Winchester Orchard Neighborhood Association.

10 Comments

  1. People need to be educated about the connection between our ongoing population explosion (never before seen in human history) and all the unfolding environmental and societal crises we see all around us, the choking traffic congestion being just one of them. Our current trajectory is completely unsustainable. It can also be altered, but not if we just keep accepting “population growth” as a given.

    • Neither San Jose nor California nor the United States are anywhere near a “population crisis”.

      The Malthusians panicked about “population growth” because they relied on a simply minded food supply model.

      10,000 years ago, the human population of planet earth was probably 15 million humans, very likely limited by the MINIMUM food supply.

      But human invention (herding, agriculture, trade, capitalism) vastly increased the food supply, and enabled the planet to support 7 BILLION people.

      And human inventiveness has not reached it’s limit. It’s ongoing.

      An invention is available to all of humanity, and the more people there are the more inventions there are, and the more humanity is benefited.. So, contrary to what the Malthusians believed, more population is better.

      In fact, it has been asserted that over all of human history there is a broad trend that economic production PER PERSON increases as population increases.

      In other words, the more people there are, the richer each of us are on the average.

      800 years ago, a “rich” person lived in a stone building with no windows and no central heating. Today, poor people live indoors with central heating, indoor plumbing and big screen TVs.

  2. > If you think there’s room for improvement, reach out to your elected officials and San Jose’s Department of Transportation to let them know that you’d like to have a say in our city’s transportation future.

    Reach out to my elected officials?

    I can’t even get the lizards to return my emails and tell my how many police complaints the police department received from the public in connection with the George Soros community organizer anti-Trump riots.

    • Geez… wonder why they won’t contact YOU back huh?
      Maybe try being a little less of a jerk?

      • > Maybe try being a little less of a jerk?

        Well, then, YOU ask your elected officials how many complaints the PD received.

        They like you better.

        By the way, if you DON’T get an answer, can we conclude that they think you’re a jerk?

  3. Dear Guest,
    We have to think about leveraging new technology to manage our gridlocked streets. I think we need to leverage our traffic engineers out of a job and hire some plumbing engineers, they know something about flow control and avoiding stoppages.

    With words and names like community leader, Intelligent Transportation Society, and emerging technologies i’m guessing your an unelected member of one of too many social engineering nonprofit control freak organizations in the area.

    First thing you need to do is stop spending 80% of the transportation budget on a solution for 10% of the problem,
    Light rail and other public transport projects. I had 4 cars before I owed my first phone. America loves cars, get used to it. Cars represent freedom Independence and choice. Overcrowded cities represent confinement and loss of individual control.

    Traffic lights are a stoppage, in old places and new places I have been there there are no traffic lights, there are traffic
    circles very retro-progressive. Passenger trains are overhead or underground or are cool things like Disneyland’s Monorail otherwise passenger trains need to be confined to tables in the basement.

    “Adaptive signal control” since we don’t have a grid street system like New York we put in smart lights, that aren’t very smart and about the worst thing you can do to traffic, even a power failure works better. This could actually help at what my wife calls stupid $h!7 lights, that set you up to miss the next tree light. New York uses timed lights that keep things running at 35 mph in any one direction. Its old but it works.

    In my time in Europe, Japan and Las Vegas, progressive places, I found things like elevated sidewalks in downtown areas, with gardens and fountain. Fountains not being used by homeless people for bathrooms, we need to work on that too.

    Let’s see who gets to prioritize paying for this, Valley Fair, Santana Row, Garden City, Century Theaters how about the Winchester Mystery House. No I think this is a collective project. People in Alviso and the East side of San Jose need a new tax, after all they are the ones that create all that traffic across town getting to those expensive stores. We are an innovative city!

    How about putting in a tax for charging your electric car at one of those charging stations and a parking fee, and a use fee, and a road use fee, an ozone tax, and a taxon tax, and a lap dance tax, and a smoking pot fee.
    My personal favorite a riot tax for Sam Liccardo political enemies and opponent.

    Yes I’d like to have a say, I just did! Do you think anyone’s listening or are they writing contract to crones that are sending them nice Xmas presents every year?

  4. If one considers that streets and transportation has not changed since the advent of the automobile, it is no surprise that that traffic is stopped. We are using the same thinking as our great grandparents!

  5. Dear “Community Leader”,

    Since a big part of our streets are set aside for bicycle rights of way (bike paths), I suggest that every bicycle rider should pay an annual vehicle registration fee equal to 50% of the average fee for car registrations.

    I understand that 50% might seem high. But for one thing, they have never paid anything. They need to catch up. And it leaves a little room for negotiation.

    So maybe the unelected “community leader” who wrote this article would be so kind as to put this idea in front of the local cities? But if the “community leader” is too chicken to do that, he can at least suggest a vote of the people who pay the freight — the taxpaying public. That would be great. Let’s let the car drivers and bicycle riders debate and decide the issue.

    In the mean time, please speak for yourself. No “community leader” was ever elected by me. That fake title is just cover for another do-gooder, who thinks he has better ideas of how to spend our money than the people we do elect. They’re bad enough. But a self-appointed “community leader” would be much worse, being unaccountable to anyone.

    Do-gooders are a plague on our state. Please either run for elected office, or go away. We have enough problems without more busybodies.