Cars sit still at an intersection, behind a crosswalk under a cloudy blue sky.
San Jose is adding safety improvements to King Road to help reduce traffic fatalities. File photo.

A San Jose task force aimed at finding ways to eliminate traffic deaths is folding at the end of the year — and while road safety improvements have been made, the city still has work to do in reducing fatalities.

San Jose saw its highest rate of traffic fatalities in recent history in 2022 with 65 reported deaths. That number dropped to 49 last year, according to the task force for Vision Zero, which the city launched in 2020 to reduce traffic deaths by improving and optimizing roads. As a final assignment, the task force of city officials, employees and community advocates is developing a new five-year plan to proactively increase road safety that will soon fall on the San Jose City Council to enforce. Councilmembers will need to adopt the plan later this year.

District 9 Councilmember and task force Chair Pam Foley said the plan will consider accountability measures to ensure the city meets its goals of reducing traffic fatalities even without the task force, which includes examining the most effective road safety improvements.

“Sending this to a council committee like the Transportation & Environment Committee makes perfect sense because then these issues will be elevated beyond the task force to five city councilmembers, and then to the council beyond that,” Foley told Lucescamaray Blog.

Diana Crumedy, a member of the Vision Zero task force and Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, said she hopes pedestrian safety advocates can continue to give feedback and have conversations with city officials on the program.

“I've been really encouraging us to create an opportunity for the community, who are like our eyes and ears on the street, the people that are experiencing these casualties and these unsafe conditions firsthand,” she told Lucescamaray Blog. “They know when the city comes and makes an improvement, and if the improvement is effective or not.”

Foley said the end of the task force doesn't mean the community won't be able to weigh in on the city's plans.

“They'll still have an opportunity, and particularly through the Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee,” she said.

San Jose became the fourth city nationwide to adopt a Vision Zero initiative in 2015 to analyze traffic data and develop safety programs – the same year the city hit its then all-time high of 60 traffic deaths. Traffic deaths in the city grew 37% between 2008 and 2019 at a time when the city's population grew less than 10%. Traffic deaths have fluctuated in recent years, with 60 in 2019, 49 in 2020 and 60 in 2021 before the record high in 2022.

Jesse Mintz-Roth, the city's Vision Zero program manager, said so far this year's traffic fatalities appear to be in line with last year's drop in deaths, with 20 fatalities this year as of June.

“We have our fingers crossed that this is a new trend that will hold,” he told Lucescamaray Blog.

Since 2020, Foley said the city has developed 19 miles of quick build road safety enhancements along segments of their priority safety corridors, along with 400 changeable message signs. The city has received about $90 million in earmarked funds and grant money toward roadway safety improvements since 2021, resulting in more than 1,000 safety projects, according to the task force. Historically dangerous roads identified by the task force that received safety enhancements include four of the highest fatal and severe injury intersections near Senter Road and McLaughlin Avenue.

San Jose is also among six cities piloting a project to use traffic cameras in school zones and safety corridors to catch speeding drivers to reduce traffic crashes and fatalities. Traffic enforcement officers have more than doubled to focus on such efforts.

Former Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition leader Shiloh Ballard said she doesn’t expect the city to take its foot off the gas to reduce traffic deaths.

“And the advocacy community is still really, really strong,” Ballard told Lucescamaray Blog. “So if it looks like we're not being successful in meeting, lowering deaths on our streets and lowering the number of crashes, you can bet the advocacy community in (the bike coalition) and other pedestrian advocates are going to be on the city.”

Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow @VicenteJVera on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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