I was sitting inside a building I’d never thought to be in, on a hard bench in the front row. Directly across from me was an open casket. My eyes were fixed on the chestnut brown curly locks of my 18-year-old son’s beautiful hair.
The casket would be closed soon and I would never again gaze upon Kyle’s hair or twirl it in my fingers. I was memorizing the color, the texture, the way the light hit it. I needed to lock this in my memory.
Displayed on a hook above Kyle’s casket was his basketball jersey, No. 27. In a floral wreath upon the coffin stood the team basketball, signed by his high school teammates. Hidden inside the casket were his feet wearing his brand new pair of basketball shoes. Playing on a monitor was the slide show I had put together for his upcoming high school graduation party but now it was playing at his funeral.
How could this happen?
Every breath I took in was conscious and painful as I wondered to myself how I could get through this impossible day. How could I live the rest of my life without my child? My son Kyle was amazing and brilliant, a real creative thinker and a techie.
Kyle was killed in a pedestrian crash in San Jose in 2016, five months before his high school graduation. His future was gone in an instant, all from a preventable crash. I never realized until Kyle’s death just how unsafe it is to walk or ride a bicycle in San Jose.
Our city is car-centric and speeding cars are killers of human beings. Pedestrians and bicyclists are an afterthought, or not thought of at all. Our roads are wide, encouraging unsafe speeds and were built in the 1950s and 1960s at a time when the population was well below the current one million people.
Kyle’s crash occurred on Curtner Avenue, under the Highway 87 overpass. Curtner is one of those old San Jose roads that later had a highway built over it followed by a VTA light rail station, yet no one thought of the pedestrians and bicyclists.
Kyle took the light rail and found himself at a public transit stop with poor lighting, confusing crosswalks and no clear signage.
If research-based best practices were followed in the design of this public transit stop, there would be something called the “safe first and last mile” with clear signage, bright lighting and safe pathways for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Instead, our city places blame on the victims, the crash site is cleaned up and life goes on for everyone else without any changes to the site.
Eleven months after Kyle’s crash, another pedestrian was killed here. In May of this year, yet another pedestrian died. This is unacceptable.
Vision Zero is working on improving intersections in 17 priority safety corridors, which is important and also will take years to complete. In the meantime, we need our city leaders to understand the sense of urgency needed to prevent more deaths.
A rapid response team could be sent to the site after each fatality to see what could be done to prevent another fatality. There are several low cost measures that could reduce speed and increase visibility of bike lanes and cross walks.
I strongly encourage the residents of San Jose to get involved, write your elected officials, attend Vision Zero task force meetings.
Please help make San Jose safer for people who chose to walk and ride their bicycles. I speak out in the hope of preventing another mother from feeling the pain that I feel.
This Nov. 15 is World Day of Remembrance, an annual day dedicated to road traffic victims all over the world.
Here in San Jose, at the plaza in front of City Hall, safety advocates and victims’ families will be placing 247 pairs of shoes that represent each traffic fatality that has occurred in San Jose in the last five years. That is 247 precious human beings.
One of those pairs of shoes will represent my son Kyle.
Please remember him and honor his legacy by demanding change.
Gina LaBlanc is a retired Santa Clara County nurse and a member of San Francisco Bay Area Families for Safe Streets. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].