Road Diet Controversy in Willow Glen

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The Road Diet has caused a great deal of energetic debate in the Willow Glen neighborhood of San Jose, California, most recently among the 500+ who attended the public discussion at Willow Glen High School on 18 June 2015.  Most of the discussion was about:

  1. Bad for Business: The Road Diet trial has reportedly had a very negative effect on local businesses (particularly in the 0.4 mile downtown area on Lincoln Avenue between Willow Street and Minnesota Avenue).  Many small business owners at the meeting spoke of a significant decline due to customer frustration with traffic congestion.  Several spoke about shopping elsewhere to avoid the intermittent Lincoln Avenue gridlock.
  2. Good for Bikes: Several in the bicycling community reported their satisfaction at having a new bike lane, even if it does not connect yet to other bike corridors.
  3. Driver Frustration caused by increased traffic congestion on Lincoln Avenue was a common topic.
  4. Data, Analysis, and Interpretation: Questions were raised by many about Road Diet data – as well as concern about key elements (like accidents, pedestrian traffic, and parking) not being measured at all.

Here is a summary by the Willow Glen Business Association about the Road Diet:

In Fall 2014 District 6 Council Member Pierluigi Oliverio proposed that the City of San José Department of Transportation (DOT) implement a trial road diet on Lincoln Avenue in Spring 2015.   The trial was completed in March, April and May 2015.   You may read the DOT’s reports about the trial here:

What is a Road Diet? Watch this video to learn about road diets.

A recent news story “San Jose: Lincoln Avenue ‘road diet’ divides Willow Glen community” reported on how the Road Diet is polarizing this small community.

Council Member Olivierio wrote (in November 2014) that he backed the Road Diet to help the Willow Glen business district “…feel quaint, pedestrian friendly, and become a more desirable location to shop and stroll.” According to Interim Director Jim Ortbal of the Department of Transportation (DOT), the purpose of the Lincoln Avenue Road Diet was threefold:

  • Improve safety for all users
  • Create a calmer traffic environment
  • Enhance travel for people walking and biking

DOT staff reported at length on traffic volume and speed data for 45 locations in the Willow Glen area.  However, on 18 June, the DOT was not able to present information indicating success on any of the three goals.  For example, DOT said they could not report on safety because it would take one to two years of data collection to determine patterns.  When pressed, DOT staff said that there were about the same number of accidents reported to the police.  Some speakers (including myself) testified to the current situation causing dangerous traffic congestion and frustration for both drivers and walkers at certain times of day. Other members of the public said that they felt safer walking in the area as a result of the Road Diet. DOT reported a small increase in bikers but they did not measure walkers.

A group of four Stanford University Public Policy graduate students conducted their own Analysis and Recommendations for Lincoln Ave Road Diet.  Their recommendations were:

  • Clarify and prioritize the goals of the road diet to better gauge whether the road diet successfully achieves its policy objectives.
  • Determine the road diet’s impact on Lincoln Avenue businesses by gathering and analyzing pre- and post-diet data on business sales receipts.
  • Survey area residents to gauge perceptions of the road diet’s impact on livability.
  • Gather more pedestrian and bicycle traffic count observations over a longer time period to determine if the post-diet increases are statistically significant.

Some of the best suggestions I heard at the 18 June public hearing were:

  • Create a pedestrian scramble at both Willow/Lincoln and Minnesota/Lincoln rather than making walkers wait for two long lights.
  • Get rid of the Road Diet middle passing lane (that some were calling the “suicide lane” and others said was often blocked by parked trucks making deliveries), allowing just one lane in each direction, then increase the available parking with diagonal striping, and maybe widen the sidewalks at the same time.
  • Build a parking structure (for example in the now-empty lot on the corner of Willow/Lincoln) to reduce the number of cars circling trying to find a place to park.

The DOT is asking for a quick decision on the success of the 3-month Road Diet so that they can know what to do when they repave Lincoln Avenue in October 2015.

Click here to see the entire Willow Glen Road Diet Series.

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Images Copyright 2015 by Katy Dickinson

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6 Comments

Filed under News & Reviews, Politics

6 responses to “Road Diet Controversy in Willow Glen

  1. Richie hazen

    Great blog….informative

  2. I live in a town in New Jersey that is considering a road diet. Could you give me some feedback?

    I’d like to know what the results of the road diet in Willow Glen were for the trial period.

    Was traffic as bad as predicted?
    How was business affected?
    Were the roads safer for pedestrians?
    Are more people using the bike lanes?
    Will the road diet continue or revert to the old configuraton?

    Thanks!

  3. Pingback: Willow Glen Road Diet Failure | KatysBlog

  4. Pingback: Businesses Speak on Willow Glen Road Diet | KatysBlog

  5. Pingback: Willow Glen City Council Election, June 2016 | KatysBlog

  6. Pingback: Suggestions to Improve Willow Glen Road Diet | KatysBlog

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