(This article was contributed by VTA Senior Transportation Planner Adam Burger)
Imagine a Downtown San José designed to be more sustainable, to combat climate change, to decrease vehicle miles traveled and vehicle emissions, to decrease automobile-caused cyclist and pedestrian deaths, and improve equity by expanding access to opportunity. Those are the goals guiding the Downtown Transportation Plan that San José staff have been working on in collaboration with VTA for the past year. After extensive community outreach, collaboration with community-based organizations, and a lot of analysis, the staff is putting forward a transformative vision for Downtown with an online open house that will run through mid-February.
The Plan’s proposals are bold, including:
- Re-envisioning Santa Clara Street from Diridon Station to 11th Street as San Jose’s “grand boulevard,” a street with a rebuilt pedestrian realm, bus-only lanes, and transit signal priority.
- Making transit faster and more reliable with bus-only lanes on transit corridors, transit signal priority, and exploring ways to make light rail travel through Downtown faster including a tunnel or moving all tracks onto First Street.
- Establishing a cohesive network of bicycle priority corridors crisscrossing Downtown, providing safer travel and better access for those on bicycles and scooters.
- Closing sections of some streets to vehicle traffic to create pedestrian plazas.
- Closing freeway onramps/offramps that encourage driving and are currently barriers to safe walking and cycling.
The Downtown Transportation Plan is structured around street types, which are official designations of the primary (though not the only) purpose of a street. This approach makes clear how road space should be designed, how the curb should be used, and what the pedestrian realm should be like. For example, a Primary Bikeway designation signals that the safe, expedient movement of bicycles and scooters takes priority over other ways of traveling but does not prohibit them. On such a street, a vehicle travel lane or on-street parking lane could be converted into a protected bicycle lane.
The Downtown Transportation Plan aims to create a downtown for people first. Broadly speaking, it proposes to allocate more street space to transit, bicycling/scooting, and walking and less space to cars. These changes are intended to encourage travel by safer, more space-efficient, and more environmentally friendly ways of travel.
These changes are bound to be controversial in a city that is otherwise designed to encourage travel by automobile, but the Downtown Transportation Plan team stresses that continuing automobile-favoring design would lead to the same undesirable results we have today and be incompatible with a densifying Downtown where space-efficient travel will become increasingly important. The team also clearly heard a desire for a different vision for Downtown from the public. Automobile access to Downtown would remain on all streets where cars are allowed today, except for those that might be converted to pedestrian plazas or paseos.
What do you think of these ideas? The Downtown Transportation Plan team is hoping their proposals meet the needs of a city with changing goals and are seeking your input on their ideas. Are these proposals right for Downtown San José? Let San José staff know by submitting your comments at the Online Open House website.