Growing up in Willow Glen, I have long heard people discuss how many vehicle lanes there should be on Lincoln Avenue. For some, the ideal would be to reduce vehicle traffic from four lanes to two, with the potential to add a middle turning lane or bike lanes. In doing so, we would be emulating other cities such as Campbell, Los Gatos, Mountain View, and Saratoga. The sentiment seems to be that two lane business districts feel quaint, pedestrian friendly, and become a more desirable location to shop and stroll.
For others, the viewpoint is “leave it alone.” Lincoln Avenue has a much higher volume of cars (approximately 20,000 vehicle trips per day) than the aforementioned cities, and the street configuration surrounding Lincoln Avenue is different as well. Significantly, an undesirable consequence of reduced lanes would likely be increased traffic on neighboring residential streets.
The City of San Jose has been down this road before (no pun intended) when confronted with a similar situation on Hedding Street downtown. In this case, the goal was to downsize the street from four lanes to two. The City paid for an extensive and costly study called an Environmental Impact Report to justify the change. While EIR’s may be undertaken with the best of intentions, they cannot capture in words and charts the real-life gridlock or the impact of higher traffic volumes on historically quiet streets. After Hedding was altered, I received an earful from many upset residents that felt the new street configuration caused too much congestion, and diverted too many cars into the surrounding neighborhoods. Had we instead conducted a temporary trial period FIRST instead of blindly following the conclusions recommended in the EIR, we would have been able to experience the impacts up front, with enough time for community input expressing either delight or dismay with the change.
With lessons thus learned from the Hedding Street debacle, I put forward a budget proposal that was approved by the city council back in June 2014 to allocate funding for Lincoln Avenue improvements. It is my intention, with support from both businesses and residents, to run a 60 day pilot, where Lincoln Avenue between Minnesota and Willow would be funneled into one lane in both directions. This would allow the city of San Jose to monitor and measure traffic volumes on Lincoln Avenue and the surrounding streets, both before and during the pilot.
This could be accomplished for approximately $25,000, with most funds allocated to setting and removing traffic devices, and the staff time required to monitor and measure results. An EIR would likely cost upwards of $100,000. To actually implement the change to two lanes on Lincoln Avenue would come with an additional unbudgeted and undetermined price tag on top of the EIR costs, and, once implemented, would be permanent and near impossible to change in light of community opposition.
I presented the pilot idea at the October monthly meeting of the Willow Glen Business Association, as I feel the opinion of merchants in particular is key, since they are directly impacted by access and traffic restrictions along our neighborhood’s main shopping corridor. I also presented the pilot concept at the most recent meeting of the Willow Glen Neighborhood Association. I have asked both groups to consider this proposal, and to provide a thumbs up and or thumbs down to me at their November meeting(s).
Ultimately, rather than sitting idly by for many years to come debating the topic of how many lanes there should be on Lincoln Avenue, I feel we should try a practice run, which would show impacts in real time, and for a comparatively small amount of money. It is my hope that we can work together as a community to make a decision based on actual experiences rather than the projections contained on the pages of a government-sponsored EIR report.