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.