Questions raised about pedestrian safety in SJ after 2 killed by cars over 6-hour span

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- In the South Bay, hours apart and just miles from each other, two pedestrians were killed by cars in San Jose.

The first happened around 6:15 p.m. on Sunday, at Almaden Expressway near Curtner Avenue.

Then roughly six hours later, a second person was hit before 1 a.m. on Monday, at Quimby and South White Roads.

People walking through the bustling streets of San Jose told ABC7 News they've learned to take safety into their own hands. Eric Banks said he's doing what he can to avoid collisions with cars.

"You have to pay attention when you're walking, because drivers, they're distracted," Banks said. "You can't depend on the drivers to pay attention to you, because they're not making eye contact like they're supposed to."

The San Jose Police Department (SJPD) shared additional information about each of the incidents. They explained on Sunday night, a woman driving a Toyota Camry hit a man walking across Almaden Expressway, from Canoas Garden Avenue.

Then at 12:56 a.m. on Monday, officers said a man was walking outside of a marked crossing area across Quimby Road, near South White. They said the man was hit and killed by a driver in a Chevy Camaro.

"Both of those are streets that the City's identified as priority corridors for San Jose," Nikita Sinha said. "Where we see a lot of our fatalities and severe injury crashes."

Sinha is with Walk San Jose, a branch of California Walks.

She advocates for safer streets across San Jose, specifically. Sinha said Walk San Jose works with City leaders, urging them to pay more attention and work with the community to develop safer solutions.

"We've collected a lot of data on what geographies in the city are priorities. It's just a matter of using that in a strategic way to actually make physical changes on those streets that are going to slow cars down," she explained.

Sinha added, "It's not just about the collected data from one year to the next. There's really a human impact to every single one of these experiences- whether it's a fatality or somebody who's survived."

She stressed, beyond collecting data, the city must do something.

She shows us, behind every statistic is someone.

"This is from January of this year," Sinha said as she read off a yellow poster board. "A 57-year-old man died after he was hit at Almaden Exwy & Camden Ave."

These yellow boards by California Walks are posted in a Department of Transportation (DOT) conference room at San Jose City Hall. The posters serve as a reminder.

"They tell us the tale of how these people perished on our roads," Colin Heyne with the City's DOT said. "These are specifically people walking and biking- our most vulnerable road users."

Heyne pointed to the City's Vision Zero initiative- San Jose's goal to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries.

According to Heyne, San Jose was the 4th city in the United States to adopt a Vision Zero goal. He said it acknowledges that traffic fatalities should not be an acceptable consequence of getting around town.

When asked about the two most recent car versus pedestrian deaths, Heyne said, "Unfortunately, we do often see a spike in Fall and Winter months."

He explained, the days get dark sooner and the weather gets worse.

Additionally, he explained, "For whatever reason, we see this uptick at the end of the year."

So, he said the City is looking into engineering solutions. Specifically, options that would force people to change their dangerous behavior.

"These are, for the most part, avoidable fatalities," Heyne continued. "They are tragedies that come because somebody made a bad decision to not pay attention- to look at their cell phone, to drink and drive. To not be careful, not be alert. And so people can make better decisions and avoid these fatalities."

"We can also make it difficult for peoples' behavior to lead to fatalities. So, that comes through engineering solutions, though those can be slow and costly," Heyne explained.

He pointed to the Better Bikeway SJ implementation that was meant to fix problem corridors in the short-term. "While we try to get the money to do these longer-term projects," Heyne said.

Also, San Jose DOT has pushed a Fight the Spike campaign. "We're asking people to help us fight this spike in traffic fatalities. We've been deploying changeable message boards around town, at some of our more hazardous corridors. You may have seen signs that say, 'Slow down. Speed kills people.'"

Even with that effort, Heyne said, "We're probably going to meet the same number of fatalities as we did last year, but we don't have to continue. We don't have to go farther."

The push for pedestrian and bicyclist safety is a big test in a city the DOT said was built for vehicles.

"Trying to walk back some of those high-speed, high-capacity roadways so they are built for people, rather than just getting your car from A to B is going to be a long challenge," Heyne concluded.

According to SJPD, Monday morning's collision is the City's 50th fatal collision, 52nd victim, and 23rd vehicle vs pedestrian fatal collision of 2019.
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