Op-Ed: We Must Make San Jose Safer for Pedestrians, Cyclists

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].

11 Comments

  1. > 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.

    Yes. Blcycling in San Jose is NOT safe.

    > Vision Zero is working on improving intersections in 17 priority safety corridors, which is important and also will take years to complete.

    Vision Zero is NOT the answer. It’s not about safe transportation. It’s about control.

  2. San Jose will never be safe for bicyclists or pedestrians for the same reason some coastal areas will never be safe for human activity: intrinsic, unalterable hazards. The city is spread out too wide to allow a lessening of traffic or driving speed; the haphazard layout, poor maintenance, and lack of policing along main thoroughfares guarantee disaster; the diminished awareness of self-absorbed and otherwise distracted drivers represent an ever-increasing threat; the poor driving skills of clueless immigrant drivers defy the threat assessment skills of even the most cautious and savvy of bicyclists and pedestrians.

    That said, I’m sure Mayor Sam and his equally arrogant associates are having a swell time re-imagining traffic safety.

  3. It seems silly to think that all of these people (your neighbors, friends, community) who work day in and out on this would be doing it because they needed to control you.

    So what is the answer, sjoutsidethe bubble?

  4. where we live on S10th St (Keyes and 10th), I regularly see people (on 10th St) driving the wrong direction (on a one way street). or maybe they are thinking ‘why do I need to go the long way’ to make a correction. I ride my bike and see people going through stop signs and making illegal turns (without stopping) every single day. I grew up in New Jersey (last century) and we used to have this thing called: Police Officers who drive around and ticketed people for poor driving (and loud cars without mufflers). Imagine that. Ain’t going to happen in San Jose. Also the amount of speed racing is incredible. Between 9 PM and 2 AM you can hear constant racing like it’s Indy 500. There simply aren’t enough cops on the streets and I guess the old ‘two cops in a car patrolling’ is a thing of the past. I never see it. Plus the helicopter tends to focus on an event and circle for way too long vs going and looking/preventing the next car racing event / traffic incident … welcome to the 3rd world. it’s basically not solvable because most of the police money goes to the retirees. just saying: that’s the honest truth. it’s a broke system without sufficient dollars left for more officers on the street. it seems the police can only react, they don’t have the staff to prevent.

  5. > Also the amount of speed racing is incredible. Between 9 PM and 2 AM you can hear constant racing like it’s Indy 500.

    Interesting.

    Also a problem in my neighborhood. And a problem of MUCH local consternation and commentary.

    I am told that SJPD policy is NOT to pursue the racers. So, the scofflaws go about their dangerous business unimpeded.

    I am told also, that if SJPD has a license plate number, they might visit the residence of the (usually youthful) perp and have a chat.

    A thought occurred to me: why couldn’t the police employ the now unused speed cameras and snap photos of the perps in the act of lawbreaking and then amp up the number of home visits . . . and car impoundments?

    Car impoundments apparently DO occur and are a sufficiently costly experience that a perp or his rich daddy might get the message to desist from the lawbreaking.

  6. Just another political diversion to make us think the city is or could actually do anything about some of these problems. Whether it’s homelessness, traffic deaths, crime, or public art, the City politicians are merely spending our money on what amounts to a little more than political ads about their ability (And compassion) to effect any change. They continue to ignore the actual cause of the problem while finding dozens of other faux problems to attack. Take homelessness for an example. They continue to ignore the core problem which amounts to about 70% of the homelessness – – addiction and mental illness. Instead they would spend millions building ridiculously small projects that have little to no impact on the issue.

  7. I am appalled at the lack of policing in the city of San Jose. I regularly see drivers speeding on residential streets making it unsafe to even step out of your car when parking at a curb. My heart breaks for this mother who lost her son. The leadership at the City starting with the mayor and his business backed city council is only guaranteed to continue with the status quo – no police service for traffic, or other emergencies that residents in other cities receive. Vote Nov. 3rd to take back our city from wealthy developers, out of town business owners, and the union backed police department that protects their members even when not performing their jobs!

  8. Changes to our streets that would have prevented this beautiful child’s death are proven and entirely within reach. Vision Zero strategies are showing success in the US and worldwide. Kyle was no different than any one of us, our children, our parents. The street he was walking on was an invitation to reckless driving and crashes. It was not designed for a person, but for cars going fast. What we need here is political will.

  9. I’m a San Jose resident and I called 911 several months ago because some teenagers decided to take advantage of the Covid-empty streets by driving extremely recklessly around the neighborhood. I called 911 three times and the 911 operators as soon as I mentioned reckless driving, the 911 operators would immediately transfer me to the non-emergency line, which went to voicemail. The third time, I begged the operator not to transfer me because I felt that the reckless driving was a threat to public safety and he snapped at me that it was a noise complaint, and transferred me again. I was really disappointed in SJPD. Apparently it’s not an emergency until people are lying dead in smoking metal.

  10. There definitely needs to be more done for cycling safety. Too many people are getting hit by cars. But there are other more pressing issues faced in our city that are also of concern. There is an attorney/ therapist, who I will only call V. (for anonymity), who has been stalking and poisoning me. There is an active police investigation into this matter. The experience has caused me to realize that there needs to be more awareness around this type of assault. It is much simpler to poison a person than one might imagine. And if it is done by someone like V. (who is quite bright and capable), then it will be difficult to connect the suspect to the crime, even your doctors and poison control believe that you have been poisoned. We need to start bringing more awareness to how it’s done and how to avoid it when you are going through a legal dispute. Maybe we should put this necessary information on posters that can be placed in courthouses across the county, especially in the Family Justice Center.

  11. I’m sorry for your loss. A parent should never have to bury their child.

    Yet in your grief I hate to say I disagree with you. It’s probably the last thing you want anyone to do.

    I think the real heart of the issue is careless driving, inexperienced driving, and lack of enforcement. Other factors might include we have too many people on the roads, and despite recommendations from the MTC to have people telecommute more, Sam Liccardo has gone against that putting the environment, and peoples well being, no make that lives at stake. It’s one of the few times I’ve been super critical on Sam about an issue simply because he’s putting profit ahead of all else.

    We have a lot of careless drivers. People looking at their phones, people on drugs. Recently we had a city council candidate that severed a man at the waist while on prescription drugs. (BTW SJI, what’s going on with that?) People going way too fast in residential areas.

    We also have a lot of inexperienced drivers. People that have transplanted here, people that don’t have a license or insurance driving around. Just yesterday I had a car with expired tags driving erratically around me and cut me off. The DMV might be at fault here as well, it seems like the barrier to getting a license to drive a one ton murder machine is too low.

    Finally we have a complete lack of enforcement. SJPD needs to start actively policing trouble areas, school zones and giving out tickets.

    None of this has to do with lane diets, speed bumps, or anything else vision zero champions.

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