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Posts by: "Jaime Fearer"

WalkSJ Walkable Poster

As part of Cal Walks’ work, we foster connections between advocates at the local level and coordinate statewide policy advocacy with our local partners. Here in Santa Clara County and San Jose–where I’m based–we work both with a coalition of individual residents and community-based organizations as well as with city and county agencies.

This year, a large part of our San Jose focus will be our partnership with the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition and city staff as we work together on the first full year of Vision Zero implementation, and we’ll have more to share in the coming months.  We’re also getting our new encouragement program, Walk San Jose, up and running. We’re honored to receive support from The Knight Foundation–which recently announced its latest round of San Jose funding–for the Walk San Jose project. This project is also supported in part by the Santa Clara County Public Health Department’s Partnerships to Improve Community Health (PICH) project. The PICH funding covers, among other expenses, the translation of all the project materials into Spanish and Vietnamese.

The premise of Walk San Jose is simple: a series of community-identified walking loops across the city, each focused on a different neighborhood and its people, history, architecture, public art, natural resources, and more–the possibilities are truly endless. The loops are intended to be explorations of a community’s assets, as defined by the residents and community leaders themselves. The overarching goal of Walk San Jose is as simple as the premise: Let’s expose residents and visitors to our city’s diverse communities; let’s facilitate meaningful and actionable conversations among people on local issues, opportunities, and challenges; and let’s do this while promoting increased physical activity, community building, and advocacy for creating healthy, safe and vibrant neighborhoods–all through the lens of walking.

On January 12, we hosted a “Loops + Lunch” kick-off for stakeholders from across the city to begin to build support for the project and to gather feedback at this beta phase of the project.

While we debuted the first 2 loops at once, the remaining 4 inaugural loops will be established via community-led processes. The vision is that stakeholders will workshop to map their community assets, prioritize them for a loop, and conduct walk audits as a part of the planning process. One overarching goal of the project is to empower residents to have a voice in the processes that affect walkability and pedestrian safety, all while celebrating what makes these communities so wonderful.

Each loop will debut publicly with a celebratory group walk, culminating with reflective, connecting discussions over food and drink at an establishment within that neighborhood. After the debut walk, the loop cards will be available in shops, libraries, and offices throughout the community. The 4”x 6” loop cards are free, handheld, and self-guided. And if the design looks familiar, that’s because we’ve teamed up with City Fabrick, the nonprofit urban design studio that created the Walk Long Beach loop cards.

Please join me on a walk soon, and get in touch about how we can help curate a loop in your neighborhood.


In 2012, San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties had more than 11,000 collisions that resulted in injury or death. Though biking and walking only account for 1-3% of commuter trips, they make up 7-8% of injuries and fatalities. Last Wednesday, Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC) and California Walks debuted a new resource to help reduce these numbers to zero.

The Vision Zero Toolkit [PDF] outlines key steps that city staff and policymakers can take to adopt and implement a Vision Zero policy and plan, in an effort to improve traffic safety in their communities. The toolkit focuses on protecting the most vulnerable users, including people walking, people with disabilities, people riding bicycles, and those using other mobility devices.

In short, Vision Zero policies recognize that every traffic collision is preventable, whether through engineering, education, or enforcement. Sweden launched Vision Zero in 1997 with policies that have reduced the country’s traffic fatalities by nearly 50%. Vision Zero has gained attention over the last year, with the United States Department of Transportation “Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People, Safer Streets,” and San Francisco and New York City adopting Vision Zero policies and plans. Locally, the City of San Mateo and the City of San José have adopted Vision Zero policies this year as well.

From launching a public safety messaging campaign, to reducing traffic speed limits and installing red-light running cameras, the recommendations in the Toolkit are grouped into short-, mid-, and long-term steps categorized under five essential “E’s” to help cities use a phased approach to implementation: Evaluation and Planning, Engineering, Enforcement, Education, and Encouragement.

“The safer our streets are, the more people will feel confident to try a bike,” said Shiloh Ballard, Executive Director of SVBC. “When streets are safe for people walking and biking, they are safe for drivers and transit riders as well. We hope this Toolkit will help more cities move towards safer streets.”

The report also emphasizes engaging diverse communities who rely on walking, biking, and transit use and are most affected by traffic violence by incorporating two more E’s – Engagement and Equity – into their Vision Zero program.

“Vision Zero implementation should focus on including communities who are often underrepresented and disempowered in planning and other political processes,” said Jaime Fearer, Planning and Policy Manager for California Walks. “It is a key strategy of this Toolkit, and without their input and involvement, any Vision Zero effort will not be successful.”

“Traffic-related deaths and injuries are avoidable and intolerable,” said Daly City Councilman Mike Guingona. “The Vision Zero Toolkit for local jurisdictions provides a road map for protecting pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists. Such efforts are as important as any public health endeavor and must be prioritized as such.”

The Vision Zero Toolkit is free and the PDF is available both here and on SVBC’s website.

VZSJ logo-color

Last week the City of San José announced its Vision Zero plan, and on Tuesday, May 14, City Council unanimously adopted the new transportation framework. In doing so, the City has committed to prioritizing street safety and ensuring all road users—whether walking, biking, riding transit, or driving—are safe. The plan—prompted in part by a memo written the previous month by Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio—is guided by the core principle that traffic deaths are both preventable and unacceptable.

VZSJ_2014 Traffic Fatality DataWhile San José can boast that it is consistently among the safest cities in California and the nation when looking at traffic fatltiy and injury crash rates per 1,000 residents—the City’s injury crash rate is around half the national average—City leaders and traffic safety advocates recognize the need to do even better. Last year, 42 people lost their lives in traffic collisions, and half of those were pedestrians.


Evaluating latest available collision data (from 2010 toVZSJ_Safety Priority Streets 2014), the City has identified 14 major street segments that account for the highest frequency of fatal and severe injuries. In other words, just 3% of San José’s 2400-mile street network account for over 50% of all traffic fatalities and severe injuries. These “Safety Priority Streets” will be the top focus in the coming year, with dedicated funding and plans in place to make much needed improvements.

San José’s take on Vision Zero is unique in a number of ways. Mayor Sam Liccardo, Department of Transportation Director Hans Larsen, and Chief of Police Larry Esquivel all signed on to the initial plan. The familiar focus on Evaluation, Engineering, Enforcement, and Education are joined by emphases on Technology, Policy, and Partnerships.

A number of community partners are recognized in the plan—including California Walks—with the goal of community partners assisting in Vision Zero San José implementation, particularly the education and policy strategies. We are proud to say that California Walks has been invited to co-chair a new Vision Zero Task Force, led by Vice Mayor Rose Herrera, in partnership with our friends at Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. Now the work begins—stay tuned for updates!

You can read the full Vision Zero San José report here [PDF].

Crossing Prohibited Along El Camino Real in SunnyvaleCrossing the street shouldn’t feel like you’re playing a real-life game of Frogger. As it exists today, El Camino Real through Palo Alto, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Los Altos, and Santa Clara is not a friendly street. For people who walk or bike, it can be downright dangerous.

El Camino Real is wide and auto-centric (planned around cars), with long blocks, few crosswalks, fast car traffic, minimal pedestrian amenities, and little to no protection for cyclists. It is an uninviting, unpleasant, and unsafe place for people on foot and bicycle. In a recent forum organized by TransForm, California Walks, and other co-sponsors on the future of El Camino Real, many community members raised concerns about the lack of safety, vibrancy, and comfort for pedestrians and cyclists along the corridor.

Thankfully, with the El Camino Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project we have an opportunity to make El Camino a safer place for all the people who use it. The numbers prove without a doubt why we need this to happen—and as soon as possible.

The numbers tell a scary story—El Camino Real is a dangerous place for people on foot and bicycle.

If Only Frogger had a Complete StreetData from California Highway Patrol’s (CHP) Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System (SWITRS) between January 2008 and December 2012 confirms that 15% of all pedestrian and bicycle collisions within the cities of Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, and Mountain View are located along El Camino Real (see maps of where these pedestrian and bicycle collisions happen in Santa Clara County.)

Furthermore, three-quarters of all fatal and severe traffic collisions along El Camino Real involve people walking and biking. That’s not a typo, it’s a fact. Across the El Camino Real BRT Corridor—from Santa Clara University to the San Mateo County Line—the overwhelming majority of all traffic-related fatal and severe collisions involve pedestrians (58.3%) and bicyclists (16.7%). In the city of Mountain View, a bicyclist is injured every nine days.

But SWITRS data doesn’t include minor collisions where the police are not called, collisions on private property (including parking lots), or “near misses.” Research shows that less-severe collisions are underreported in comparison to severe collisions, so the actual number of pedestrian and bicycle related collisions along the corridor may be even higher in reality.

Not surprisingly, the top three primary collision factors are all symptoms of a corridor designed primarily for speeding cars, not for people, including: dangerous and infrequent crossing opportunities for pedestrians, unsafe car speeds, and drivers violating pedestrian right-of-ways.

We need to create a more pedestrian and bicycle friendly corridor as local plans seek to encourage more public transportation use and less reliance on the automobile along El Camino Real. Valley Transportation Authority (VTA)’s Pedestrian Access to Transit Plan: Existing Conditions Report found that 71% of VTA’s riders get to bus stops and rail stations on foot. As Mountain View resident Janet Lafleur recently reflected,

The current vehicle-oriented design along El Camino Real is so unpleasant and unsafe for people walking and biking that it encourages people to drive for short trips, sometimes just to cross the road. I see such potential for El Camino as a more vibrant destination. More people on transit, on foot and on bikes mean more shoppers with less parking required and fewer vehicles on the road.

One way to address the public safety issue on El Camino Real and encourage more walking, biking, and transit use is to create a “Complete Street” with high quality public transportation.

According to Smart Growth America, “Complete Streets are streets for everyone. They are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.” A Complete Street approach is in line with the guiding principles of the Grand Boulevard Initiative (GBI), which aims to create a corridor that “will achieve its full potential for residents to work, live, shop, and play, creating links between communities that promote walking and transit and an improved and meaningful quality of life.”

And evidence from across the nation shows that if you build it, they will come. In Pasadena, pedestrian and bicycle traffic along Orange Grove Boulevard rose by 9% and 20% respectively after a complete road transformation that included adding bike lanes.

VTA’s Bus Rapid Transit offers an exciting opportunity to make El Camino Real a safer, more complete street for all the people who use it.

El Camino BRT Concept Drawing
Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) recently released the Draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Assessment (DEIR) for the El Camino Real Bus Rapid Transit Project (BRT). The DEIR aims to identify the environmental impacts of the El Camino BRT project with a focus on level of service (LOS), or how quickly cars can travel. But putting the emphasis on moving cars quickly prevents investment in other transportation options, even if they would create less pollution overall—and it leads to building auto-centric environments like El Camino Real.

Thanks to new state guidelines focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation in an effort to combat climate change, in 2016 the emphasis for EIRs will shift from LOS to vehicle miles traveled (VMT) reduction. This means that instead of measuring a project’s impact based on how it could slow down cars, the environmental analysis will be focused on how it can reduce driving and increase other modes of transportation that are healthier for us.

El Camino Real’s DEIR was written under the old regulations, and thus relies on the outdated LOS metric. However, it does include some discussion of how the project could benefit pedestrians, cyclists, and other non-motorized road users. Some of the specifics include:

  • Stations with pedestrian amenities like real-time passenger information displays and larger waiting and seating areas.
  • Increased space for bicycles on-board buses.
  • Improved “bulb-out” stations that provide more sidewalk space for pedestrians near intersections.
  • Pedestrian refuges and shorter or additional pedestrian crossings in bus-only lane segments.
  • Marked bike lanes in each direction on bus-only lanes.

These proposed improvements are a step in the right direction, and they show how making the corridor more complete and safe for all road users can be implemented successfully. Given the statistics on how dangerous El Camino Real is for people who walk or bike, it is imperative that these changes happen—fast.

You can help make El Camino Real a safer place for everyone.

With your help, the future of El Camino Real can be brighter and better for everyone, whether we walk, bike, take transit, or drive. VTA is seeking input on the El Camino Real Bus Rapid Transit Project Draft EIR/EA and there are several ways you can call for Complete Streets implementation alongside the BRT:

  • Send your comments to VTA. VTA needs to hear from all of us who want to see a safer, more vibrant El Camino Real. Tell them how the El Camino Real BRT project can save lives by making it safer for people to travel along El Camino Real. The deadline has been extended to January 14, 2015 to ensure there’s enough time for comments—but why wait? Weigh in today.
  • Come to one of the final public meetings in Mountain View on December 3. The first meeting is at 8:30 a.m., followed by the second meeting at 5:30 p.m.

Don’t miss this important opportunity to keep our streets and communities safe, vibrant, and connected. If we all speak up for Complete Streets and BRT on El Camino Real, we can win better bus service and take an important step toward the day when everyone who crosses the street can safely get to the other side.

This blog was written jointly with Chris Lepe Senior Community Planner, Silicon Valley at TransForm and is cross-posted on the TransForum, Transform’s blog.