Mayor Liccardo: San Jose Road Fatalities Need Focused Response

A week ago, we lost a 25-year-old resident Diego Castanon to another tragic roadway fatality. According to news accounts, Diego rode his Yamaha motorcycle off Story Road near Capitol Expressway and collided with an electrical box and light pole on the curb.

Our families have lost loved ones in traffic-related deaths at an unprecedented rate in recent months–23 such deaths in 2022 alone. San José consistently has had less than half the rate of fatal and injury crashes as the rest of the nation, yet the horrific toll in recent months demands our attention.

Why now? Some point to our sparse police enforcement, but San José’s thinly staffed police department has only grown in recent years, as we’ve added a net gain of nearly 200 officers since 2016. There are larger forces at work, to be sure; traffic fatalities jumped nationally in major cities during the pandemic, and much has been written about the troubling spike in fatalities despite a decline in driving through the pandemic. The causes of this national trend–higher rates of intoxicated driving, growing distraction from smartphones, and pandemic-driven mental health issues – do not submit to simple solutions from City Hall.

Yet we must take whatever local action that we can to prevent preventable tragedies. What kind of action? Calls for simplistic solutions can masquerade for real problem-solving, particularly when communicated through press releases, campaign emails and in front of TV cameras.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo

Of course, we need more cops enforcing traffic laws.  The Council recently approved my March Budget Message, calling for a substantial budget increase for more police officer hiring, for everything from walking beats to traffic enforcement. Yet merely throwing more resources at complex problems, without a clear strategy, accomplishes little beyond exhausting those scarce resources faster.

We need to be focused, not flailing.

A focused approach to public safety becomes particularly imperative for San José, which has the most thinly staffed police department (and City Hall) of any major U.S. city, and has an expansive, 2,800-mile network of roads to manage.  Our stretched police department faces an increase in violent crime, and a need for more officers in critical units such as patrol, sexual assaults and domestic violence investigations. Like all major cities, San José has endured plenty of crises threatening public safety in recent years–a pandemic, floods, civil unrest, drought, grid shut-downs, mass shootings, wildfire smoke and the like. Rather than merely reacting, we must focus public safety dollars on actions that provide the most life-saving benefit.

Focus requires using data to help us better understand how to deploy enforcement, street improvements, technology and other resources to maximize safety.  Here’s some data–some surprising– that should inform our strategy, based on fatalities we’ve tracked since January of 2021:

  • Almost half (49%) of the citywide auto-related deaths occur on only 17 roads–typically high-volume connectors like Almaden, Hillsdale, McLaughlin, Monterrey, Senter, Tully, and White Roads–on which we have dedicated resources and enforcement as “Priority Safety Corridors.”
  • About three-quarters of roadway deaths in San José have occurred at night. 
  • Also about 75% of pedestrian fatalities occurred while the victim crossed a road outside of a marked crosswalk.
  • Speeding appears associated with about 30% of our fatal collisions
  • Men overwhelmingly (73%) are the drivers in fatal collisions
  • Traffic collisions victimize seniors far more than anyone else, including children. The average age of a pedestrian victim in San José is 56, and of a cyclist victim is 59.

Additionally, here’s what we more we know from studies nationally:

With this and other data focusing our efforts, I’ve publicly articulated five strategies we’re implementing to improve roadway safety, several of which emerged in the March Budget Message that the city council unanimously approved:

1.Fill SJPD’s Vacant Traffic Enforcement Positions

The police’s understaffed traffic enforcement unit has a dozen vacant positions; before we spend budgetary resources to merely add vacancies, let’s accelerate the filling of those vacancies to get officers out on the street, and we’ll focus on our 17 priority safety corridors where we can save the most lives.  Click here to read more.

2. Innovate Enforcement with Automated Speed Cameras 

On March 28, I’ll testify before the California Assembly in support of legislation to eliminate the state's prohibition on the use of automated speed enforcement, which 14 other states and numerous cities use to more effectively reduce speeding and reckless driving.  Click here to read more.

3. Reconfigure and Redesign Streets  

Focusing roadway improvements on our 17 priority safety corridors can protect pedestrians, prevent dangerous maneuvers, and slow speeding.  Using quick-build designs that we’ve piloted in recent years can reduce cost, accelerate implementation, and scale safety improvements citywide.   Click here to read more.

4. Improve Lighting 

The conversion of yellow sodium street lights to LEDs will improve visibility for drivers and other road users at night; with more than 50,000 lights converted, we will complete the remaining 14,000 this year.  Click here to read more.

5. Incentivize Safer Behavior 

The rapidly developing field of behavioral insights can help us learn how to induce better driving–and safer walking.   We’re deploying familiar tools, like programmable radar signs and trying new approaches, using automated speed detection and driver notification.   Click here to read more.

Through these and other focused strategies, we can make San Jose safer, but it’s not all up to the cops.  Rather, it will take all of us–as drivers, cyclists and pedestrians — not to mention parents, teachers, and many others to change the behaviors that put everyone at greater risk

Sam Liccardo is Mayor of the City of San Jose. This opinion piece has been updated to correct the number of added officers.

11 Comments

  1. Seems like the spike in traffic fatalities coincides with the implementation of the “Road Diets” and the Mental Health/Homeless Spike. Perhaps there is some coloration since those two phenomena are occurring simultaneously and nationally in all our large cites.
    Something to consider i would say.

  2. Failed traffic mitigation plans, failed “reimagining police,” failed large cities, failed mayors, failed Democrat policies.

    Shockingly, the press seems to be oblivious to the difference between unicorn virtue signaling and actually managing our cities and counties. Slogans solve squat. Buzz words and “virtue programs” are worthless. However, they do line the pockets of the well connected.

  3. I can’t speak to the motorcyclist who rode his bike into the electrical equipment but for most of the traffic deaths I’d guess they follow a similar action to what I’ve seen. A homeless or downtrodden person enters the intersection completely ignoring the fact that there is a cross walk and that the cross walk has signs to indicate when the pedestrian traffic is allowed to cross. I’m sure everyone else has seen the same things. Why we ignore facts and instead try to say we need more cops is kind of crazy. Cops don’t enforce jaywalking laws anyway.

  4. I agree that trying to add additional officers will not remedy these situations. All I see are officers parking in low traffic areas so that they can play with their phones and if you dare question them, they become hostile. I see them congregate by the Reid Hillview airport all the time hanging out with 5 or 6 other patrol cars on our tax payer money and they want additional funding? I see cars running red lights and speed through busy intersections all the time. That’s when I ask myself where are the cops when you need them. I chose to be an engineer but still think to myself how I wish I’d been a cop so I could nab these idiots.

  5. If you were a cop, you would open yourself to all kinds of potential bad outcomes every time you pulled someone over, not the least of which is your own death.
    Knowing this, and knowing that the City Council, City Manager, City Attorney and District Attorney will not have your back if there is even a perception of error on your part; Why in the world would you ever pull anyone over in the first place???
    Better to sit in a parking lot and wait for a call you are required to answer instead of self initiating a potential disaster for yourself.

  6. I’ve been witnessing horrible driving. A couple weeks ago I saw FOUR cars in a row run a a red light. Completely green on my side. Two days later a motorcycle came between cars up to a red light I was waiting at. He slowed down and went through the red light. Red lights and stop signs mean nothing to so many!

  7. Perhaps the solution is to be done with virtue signal politicians and start enforcing the traffic laws. Eliminate the wasteful spending in the “Goal Zero,” feel good, rubber stamp program and put more SJPD officers on the street. Lock up repeat DUI offenders, impound unregistered cars (and cars with stolen or fake license plates), impound uninsured cars when the driver is stopped for a serious violation, impound cars driven by people who have had their licenses revoke or suspended, etc., etc., etc.

    Or we could go the other way and make things even worse by appointing VP Kamala Harris as the new San Jose Traffic Czar. 😂

  8. Ironic that Liccardo was leading the charge, as a councilmember doing Chuck’s Reed’s bidding, who was responsible for hundreds of layoffs, resignations, early retirements, and SJPD officers going to other cities, and now comes out with a plan to cut pedestrian fatalities. You helped bring on this situation, Liccardo. Not only your wholesale dismantling of the best police department in the United States at one point, but your ridiculous social policies and imposition of bike lanes at the risk of pedestrians in some cases. Liccardo is, however, the king of showboating, latching on to the teat of the latest social unrest or pedestrian fatalities, an interjecting himself in the press, while playing the role of the white knight, proclaiming all the new policies and laws he would impose if in charge, trying to continue his political career at some other level.

  9. Dear Mayor Liccardo:

    Some advice: You can ignore reality, but you cannot ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.

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