San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo claimed in a Facebook post last week that traffic-related fatalities in the city have dropped “by nearly 25%” since 2015 due to the “city’s commitment to Vision Zero and improved traffic signals, new radar speed display signs, better bikeways, and safer pedestrian crossings.”
Such a major reduction in fatal traffic crashes in San Jose would be welcome and noteworthy news, if only it were not completely imaginary, based on data cherry-picked to show such a result. Liccardo only arrives at a 25 percent drop because he uses traffic deaths from 2015 (60) and 2017 (46). 2015, the year San Jose adopted its “as soon as possible” Vision Zero Plan, also happened to be the deadliest ever, with 60 people killed in car crashes in the city.
In reality traffic deaths in San Jose are not going down, with every year since 2013 seeing at least 40 deaths. Since Liccardo was elected Mayor in 2014, an average of 50 people have been killed in car crashes each year. In 2017, 46 people were killed.
The city’s annual Transportation System Safety Report, last published in April 2018, identifies $28 million in grant funding they’ve manage to cobble together for safety improvement projects on 17 major streets, primarily in South and East San Jose. These “Priority Safety Corridors” only comprise 3 percent of the city’s massive 2,400-mile roadway network but are where 33 percent of fatal crashes and 27 percent of serious injury crashes occur. The report states the city has another $17 million in grant funding to spend on other streets.
Still killing nearly one person every week in car and train crashes, San Jose’s streets have a long way to go to achieve the city’s Vision Zero vision. While city reports don’t come out and say it directly, it’s clear that severe funding limitations for street safety improvements projects is the primary barrier slowing down well-intended efforts by city staff. Slashing the total number of city staff working on traffic law enforcement from 48 in 2010 to just 7 in 2017 doesn’t help either.
Speeding by car drivers in the most common cause of fatal crashes in San Jose, according to the city’s report. Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) light rail trains and Caltrain trains also strike and kill pedestrians and car drivers on a regular basis. On average, five bicyclists are killed in crashes with cars and light rail trains each year in San Jose.