California Walks will hold its fifth biennial pedestrian summit
October 18 @ 8:00 am - October 19 @ 5:00 pm
What: PedsCount! 2018 Summit Where: San Jose State University When: Oct. 18-19 Register to attend: Contact Emily DeRuy at 408-920-5077 and Robert Salonga at 408-920-5002.
Making the city more pedestrian friendly
Walking advocates and experts will discuss from sidewalks to scooters
By Emily DeRuy and Robert Salonga
With new apartment complexes and office buildings sprouting up across San Jose, pedestrian advocates want to make sure walkers aren’t just an afterthought as the city plots the future landscape.
On Oct. 18 and 19, the group California Walks will hold its fifth biennial pedestrian summit in San Jose to discuss the future of mobility — and the way everything from tech to culture influences how walkable a place is in the Golden State.
The nation’s 10th largest city
Pedestrians walk by restaurants and shops in San Jose’s Japan town on Jan. 30, 2018.
DAI SUGANO/BAY AREA NEWS GROUP ARCHIVES
has long been associated with urban sprawl. As the region morphed from the Valley of Heart’s Delight into Silicon Valley, developers spread out, creating a vast network of homes and shops and offices that most people traverse by car, not foot. The city wants to get more people out of their air-conditioned bubbles, but that’s not an easy task.
“There are a lot of kinds of barriers and challenges that are generations and centuries old,” said Chris Johnson, the program manager of Walk San Jose, a local walking advocacy group founded about a year ago. “For a lot of people, changing to walkability is a generational challenge.”
Sal Alvarez, an executive analyst in San Jose’s office of economic development, is working on a way to change that. Over the next few months, the city is launching a program to help people find their way around the city and show residents just how close — and walkable — some popular destinations are to each other.
If a resident typically drives to and from San Pedro Square Market and to and from SoFA Market, for instance, he might not realize that they’re only about a 15 minute walk apart.
The city, said Alvarez, who is participating in a panel at the summit, has created an interactive map and will put up totems downtown as part of a pilot program to help people get around. San Jose has also been upgrading its bikeways to encourage more cycling.
“I think we’re heading in the right direction in really promoting walking,” Alvarez said.
But walking advocates want to see San Jose do more to make walking a safer, better experience for people who aren’t in the heart of the city.
“Downtown has made more strides lately, and so have downtown-adjacent areas,” Johnson said. “Farther out, it gets patchy.”
Alvarez acknowledges that and says the city aims to expand its program in the future.
As that happens, pedestrian advocates want leaders to make sure vulnerable communities are considered.
“We have a traffic fatality rate that is higher than our murder rate in this city,” Johnson said. “Seniors, immigrants, and non-English speakers are disproportionately represented in pedestrian deaths.” Pedestrian traffic fatalities have declined somewhat since spiking to 24 in 2014, but 16 people were killed in 2017 and 13 of the city’s 34 traffic fatalities so far this year have involved pedestrians.
Charles Brown, a senior researcher with the Voorhees Transportation Center and a professor at Rutgers University who will deliver the keynote presentation at the summit, urges cities to consider historical and contemporary inequities as they build more walkable communities.
Low-income neighborhoods and minority communities are disproportionately likely to have insufficient infrastructure and residents may have concerns about police harassment and perceptions about crime that make them less inclined to walk, Brown said.
Cities need to offer staff cultural competency training, Brown said, and fix gaps in the sidewalk network and increase lighting. Many people, like service workers, don’t work traditional hours, he continued, and may be walking at night.
“When we say we want walkable communities for all, we need to truly mean that and ensure the policies and systems in place are working for all,” Brown said, “because if they are not, they are indeed disenfranchising many.”
In addition to equity, panels will cover issues such as how to make sure tech serves rather than hinders walkers.
Several people will also receive awards at the summit, among them Jorge Quiroz, Elizabeth Chavez and their family. The pair launched AileenQ to push for traffic safety after their 5-year-old daughter Aileen was killed in a San Jose crosswalk by a driver who failed to stop.
Summit organizers want more local residents to participate in conversations and policy discussions about how to make San Jose a safer, more enjoyable place for pedestrians.
“Communities are the greatest experts, in our experience,” Johnson said. “They know their challenges and strengths.”
What: PedsCount! 2018 Summit Where: San Jose State University When: Oct. 18-19 Register to attend: https://californiawalks.org/ pedscount2018/ (Friday is the deadline to register.) Contact Emily DeRuy at 408-920-5077 and Robert Salonga at 408-920-5002.