Businesses Speak on Willow Glen Road Diet

Willow Glen sign San Jose California June 2016

My family has lived in the pleasant Willow Glen neighborhood of San Jose, California, for almost twenty years. We have raised our kids here and I run my business Mentoring Standard out of my office in Willow Glen.  The people here are friendly and diverse, the local downtown on Lincoln Avenue offers good restaurants, shops, and services. Willow Glen homes – from small cottages to mansions – are famously charming with large, well-kept gardens on broad streets with big trees. Willow Glen earns its title as “San Jose’s Local Treasure“.

Regrettably, since 2014 there has been a fight going on about the Lincoln Avenue Road Diet imposed as a “short-term experiment” by a group for whom the main speaker has been Willow Glen’s outgoing City Councilman, Pierluigi Oliverio.  Starting around March 2015, the Road Diet on Lincoln Avenue changed a busy four-lane road with no bike lanes into a two-lane road with two bike lanes plus a turning lane in the middle. The San Jose City Council will discuss making the Road Diet (“Lincoln Avenue Pilot Project”) permanent at their 28 June 2016 meeting. Please join me there if you want your voice to be heard on this contentious local issue.

After a year of listening to my neighbors and local business people unhappily discussing the Road Diet, and reading passionate opinions online (for examples, see the Facebook pages: “Willow Glen Road Diet”, and “Stand Up for the Neighborhood – End the Willow Glen Road Diet”, and “Willow Glen Charm”), I decided to use my professional experience in data collection and analysis to clarify the discussion if I could, for myself if not for my neighborhood. This is my fifth post on this topic.

Last month, I contacted the San Jose Department of Transportation (SJ-DOT) for an update on their 1 June 2015 report. SJ-DOT published the new report today.  While waiting for the SJ-DOT report, I started listening to the local business owners, the individuals and families who offer goods and services on Lincoln Avenue between Minnesota and Willow.

Yesterday and today, I walked up and down Lincoln Avenue and had in-depth discussions with many local business owners and managers.  There was a range of opinions on the Road Diet but no one said that it improved business on The Avenue. The businesses I talked with were a mix: restaurants, retail stores, professional and personal services.  Some people I interviewed wanted their opinions to be quoted using their names and others wanted to be anonymous.  Several who asked to be anonymous said that Road Diet discussions had become so heated that they feared retribution or loss of customers.  I have respected each interviewee’s preferences below.

Thanks for those who took the time to share their thoughts, experiences, observations and opinions.  Much appreciated!

Road Diet – Stated Goals

Last year, the SJ-DOT reported in a community meeting 18 June 2015 that the Purpose of the Lincoln Avenue Road Diet is to:

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

In the Memorandum dated 6 June 2016 and published today by SJ-DOT Director Jim Ortbal, he writes: “Based on the one year of ‘after’ collision data, it is inconclusive whether the modified lane configuration has had a measurable long-term impact on traffic safety… the total number of crashes was higher than the year prior to the pilot project.” That is, there were 22 crashes during the last year, compared to 8 the year before.

Lincoln Avenue traffic is slower because of the Road Diet but drivers seem much more frustrated.    Maybe the traffic is calmer but the drivers are angrier?

Adding bike lanes did enhance travel for cyclists but cyclists using the sidewalks has decreased safety for pedestrians.

Based on my observations and what I have heard in interviews, the Road Diet has generally failed to meet its goals during the last year.  Many people told me that they thought that creating the Road Diet had more to do with property development requirements than with benefiting our neighborhood.

Summary of 5 Problems

In summary, the problems with the Willow Glen Road Diet sort into 5 categories:

  1. Traffic safety and speed: The Road Diet has slowed traffic on Lincoln Avenue; however, while some think the street is safer, there were many reports in interviews of driver frustration resulting in dangerous driving or speeding detours into surrounding neighborhood streets or parking lots.  SJ-DOT reported that there were 22 crashes during the last year, compared to 8 the year before.
  2. Parking:  Lincoln Avenue parking was a challenge long before the Road Diet. In some ways, the Road Diet made the parking problem worse (for example, in heavy traffic it is hard to parallel park, and also difficult to move from one full parking lot to another looking for an open space).  However, the presence of the bike lanes makes it easier to open your car door without hitting an oncoming car (but easier to hit a cyclist). The Road Diet did not address this problem.
  3. Bicycles: The Road Diet put two new bike lanes on Lincoln Avenue but they are lightly used.  Many cyclists are observed to ride on the sidewalk regularly, presumably to avoid the dangers of heavy roadway traffic.  It is legal to ride bikes on the sidewalk (except for a few streets in downtown San Jose) but not safe for pedestrians.
  4. Delivery trucks: Lincoln Avenue is full of business that need regular delivery of goods and supplies.  In the morning before most stores open, deliveries are easy but later in the day, trucks frequently have to park illegally in the center turn lane.  This compresses the regular traffic even more and creates a barrier for emergency vehicles trying to get into Lincoln Avenue. The Road Diet did not address this problem.
  5. Community Trust: The way that the Road Diet was managed caused anger and mistrust of city government among most of the people I interviewed.  In my post Willow Glen Road Diet – Failure Update, I included a 2014-2015 timeline from Allen Rice of how the Road diet was created and implemented, intentionally avoiding impact reviews. There has not been a community meeting about the Road Diet since 18 June 2015.  Many Willow Glen residents are looking forward to electing a new City Council representative in November 2016.  Of the five problems, this loss of trust has the greatest destructive potential for our community.

In my own opinion, the Road Diet could be made to work but only if all five of these problems are effectively addressed at the same time.

Road Diet restriping Lincoln Ave March 2015

Selected Quotes from Local Businesses

Those quoted are either business owners or managers on Lincoln Avenue in Willow Glen, between Minnesota and Willow.

Cathi Karns (of Whatnots & Dodads – antique and collectible store): “What we have seen is that Lincoln Avenue is not safer. There are more angry drivers. I was spit on by a driver recently when making a turn – I have never seen such rage. There was a fight between a driver and someone trying to cross the street recently. Some of my customers now avoid coming downtown. The Road Diet hasn’t helped anybody. More Lincoln Avenue businesses closed their doors this year. I see bicycles riding on sidewalks, not using the new bike lanes because traffic is not safe. People are driving faster and are more erratic. With the turn lane going in both directions, it is nicknamed the ‘suicide lane’. Ambulances have gotten stuck because of traffic and trucks in the middle lane. It was simpler when there were four lanes and people could move around.”

Anonymous #1 (retail store): “Less cars are passing on Lincoln Avenue, so spontaneous shoppers are lost. The Road Diet makes it harder to get in. Businesses chose to be on Lincoln Avenue because it was a good location but the Road Diet changed that equation. We need customers to see our windows, signage, what we offer. How can emergency vehicles get through when the center lane is often blocked by trucks? The Road Diet has made the traffic system fragile – there is nowhere to go because Lincoln Avenue is too congested. We need a transparent, honest evaluation of the actual data.”

Lincoln and Minnesota traffic accident 15 May 2015 Willow Glen

Chris (John’s of Willow Glen – restaurant): “Our lunch business was affected.  Customers with one hour for lunch before the Road Diet could drive here from work in downtown San Jose, Campbell, or Cambrian.  That business has dried up – it now takes too long to get here, park, eat, pay, and drive back.  We are seeing more people on the weekends, much busier than it used to be.  The area is growing and is a destination for families and young people to spend a day here.  John’s has not lost business, it is the same or up 5% but I would love to have seen what business would have been without the Road Diet. Parking is bad, there isn’t enough.  I have seen no increase in people riding bikes since the Road Diet.  Traffic is slower so it is probably safer. Pedestrians need to be aware when crossing Lincoln Avenue – they create a backup if they cross when the intersection ahead has a green light.  The way the Road Diet was handled, the lack of transparency in the process was a problem.  There were mistruths in what was promised and what was delivered. Commuters go onto side streets in the neighborhoods to avoid Lincoln Avenue.  Lincoln Avenue creates tax revenue.  A thriving downtown is important for the city and neighborhood.  Home values are higher.  We depend on our neighbors and they depend on us.”

Anonymous #2 (beauty salon): “Multiple clients have used the Road Diet as an excuse for being late for appointments. Drivers who are frustrated drive fast through neighborhood streets. I had a client hit by a car in the crosswalk by a frustrated driver trying to catch the light. Drivers overlook street crossers even when they carry a flag.”

Pedestrian crossing Lincoln Avenue Willow Glen with a flag 16 June 2016

Tanya Rios (Willow Glen Creamery – frozen desserts): “I have not had a single customer complaint.  The center lane comes in handy to turn into the Town Square parking garage.  It’s time management – I leave 15 minutes early if there is traffic.  After school there are always way more cars than expected.  It is life’s punishment for being in a rush.”

Anonymous #3 (professional services): “Driving is easier and it is easier to get into our driveway – crossing one lane of traffic instead of two.  Crossing the street is safer than it used to be.  There have been more traffic accidents since the Road Diet.  Where can trucks park but in the middle (turning lane)? Only in early morning can trucks park at the curb.  Our business offers professional services with no walk-in customers – so there was no effect by the Road Diet.  Business for clothing stores, restaurants, and spas is down because they need walk-ins.  Willow Glen Elementary School puts out so much traffic that people have to find alternate routes.  Commuters should use other streets than Lincoln Avenue.”

Truck parked in turn lane on Lincoln Avenue in Willow Glen 16 June 2016

Victor Martinez (Plaza Inn Mexican Food – restaurant): “It is a nightmare in the morning with the cars backed up to cross Minnesota Avenue.  People get upset and start driving faster – cutting in front of other cars. I have seen people get irritated and cut through the neighborhoods and parking lots, dangerously speeding trying to avoid traffic.  Business is worse.  It takes so long to get here during lunch that customers refuse to come here.  We are easily 20% worse in the last year, compared to before.  People ride bikes on the sidewalks and in the wrong direction – only using the bike lanes once in a while.  I don’t mind the two lanes but parking is worse.  We should have diagonal parking.”

Anonymous #4 (professional services): “I have seen runners use the bike lane but bikers use the sidewalks – the bike lanes are too dangerous.  Road Diets work in cities but not in neighborhoods like Willow Glen.  Crowds of people, bikes, and cars are in one small area – this is putting people at risk.  A few months ago someone had a heart attack and the fire truck could not get in to provide emergency care – they had to go around the block because of traffic. Lunch used to be my busiest time but not any more.”

Biker on the sidewalk on Lincoln Avenue Willow Glen 11 June 2016

Anonymous #5 (restaurant): “The Road Diet was not well thought out.  They did not do their homework. Parking is more difficult.  Trucks have to stop in the middle to deliver.  Lights, traffic light timing should be adjusted.  There is less speeding so it may be safer.  There are traffic jams and drivers are angry because the lines are so long and they can’t make a left turn. There have been more accidents and everyone has lost business.  The pedestrian lights do not go on when people cross the street and flags do not work – some people keep driving. The three month trial did not happen.  We got no option to vote. It’s all political, we can’t fight it. ”

Anonymous #6 (restaurant): “I enjoyed Lincoln when it had four lanes, people moved faster and it was not as congested.  The two lanes now has slowed everything down and traffic is annoying.  Safety-wise, it is more pedestrian friendly based on my own experience as a walker.  Traffic is slower but people being frustrated causes situations.  They just want to get there.  We definitely need more parking.  I have see more bicyclists, even bicycle parties, more community sense – but not for the commuters.”

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

Smile You're in Willow Glen sign 17 June 2016

Images Copyright 2016 by Katy Dickinson


Filed under Home & Family, News & Reviews, Politics

7 responses to “Businesses Speak on Willow Glen Road Diet

  1. Mitch Kahn

    Awesome write-up, thanks!

  2. So happy you are involved.

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