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Sunnyvale Approves Vision Zero Plan, Critics Think More Needs to be Done

Sunnyvale is moving forward with its Vision Zero Plan, a set of policies designed to make the city streets safer for pedestrians and bicyclists, but critics say it’s not doing enough.

On July 30, the City Council approved the plan by a 6-1 vote with Sunnyvale City Council Member Nancy Smith dissenting.

“Of course I support it, but I worry that it’s going to slow down the progress with that change,” said Smith.

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The change Smith is talking about has to do with the rewording of Guiding Principle 3 of the Vision Zero Plan. The original wording included the phrase “safety takes priority over efficiency” but Vice Mayor Russ Melton proposed that the phrase be rewritten to say, “Safety is a primary consideration in the development of transportation projects for all users.”

“I feel like my colleagues made it ‘Vision However Many Cars There Are in Sunnyvale’ instead of Vision Zero,” said Smith. “I felt it was so weak in terms of protecting the safety of all cyclists that I didn’t vote for his changes.”

The Vision Zero Plan was adopted with the rewording in place.

Daniel Howard, a member of the city’s Planning Commission and a strong proponent of the Vision Zero Plan, wasn’t happy with the rewording or some of the other decisions the City Council made.

“It was frustrating for Vision Zero advocates to hear members of the Council spend a lot of effort trying to explain that Vision Zero needs to include a lot of education and passing out bike helmets,” said Howard. “To my understanding, Vision Zero is intended to make the infrastructure of our streets safe for everyone, in part by guiding people to safe behavior by design.”

During the public comment period of the July 30 City Council meeting, Howard along with a few other members of the community advocated for a “quick build” approach to be added to the Vision Zero Plan. Quick build is a process where cities will build a prototype of their safety measures in one small area before they roll it out to the city as a whole.

Howard says during the meeting, city staff argued quick build projects take a lot of staff time and the city must ensure they’re done safely. Ultimately, quick build was not added to the Vision Zero Plan.

But the city says it is doing more than just Vision Zero to help make streets safe for pedestrians and bicycles.

The Department of Public Works Transportation and Traffic Division is working on a Roadway Safety Plan that will identify areas in need of attention and develop potential safety improvements.

It is also working on the Active Transportation Plan, which will combine the current Bicycle Plan, Pedestrian Safety and Circulation Plan, and the Safe Routes to School Plan into one document.

“The plan will help the City strategically invest in programs and identify projects that will improve connectivity and continuity to the existing bicycle, pedestrian and Safe Routes to School networks within the city and with neighboring jurisdictions, with the goal of improving safety and access for all road users,” said Assistant City Manager Teri Silva via email.

Recent accidents along Sunnyvale’s High Injury Network — roads identified by the city where the most injuries occur — have brought even more attention to the problem.

On July 23, a 13-year-old on a bicycle suffered minor injuries when she was hit by a car near the intersection of Remington Drive and Sunnyvale-Saratoga Road. That same day, a 15-year-old was injured on Fremont Avenue near Highway 85.

Smith is hopeful that more can be done in the future.

“I think that the plan and the staff’s intention are to keep this as a working document so my hope is that the changes won’t slow down measures to improve safety for bicyclists and pedestrians,” said Smith.

Learn more about Sunnyvale’s Vision Zero Plan on the city’s website: sunnyvale.ca.gov/news/topics/visionzero/default.htm

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6 Comments
  1. sjd 3 months ago
    Reply

    “quick build projects take a lot of staff time”

    A lot of staff time to trial public safety projects to see how well they work, and make design changes before they become permanent? We can’t have that now can we?!

    Council seems to be ignorant of how Vision Zero is supposed to work. This isn’t it.

  2. Carolyn Potter 3 months ago
    Reply

    I feel that this may be a good idea…but the walkers and bicycles need to be aware of their surroundings and follow the rules and pay attention to traffic too. So many times that I see someone riding in the wrong direction or crossing at a diagonal near an intersection! It’s hard for a person in a car to foresee this. Walkers should also watch for cars and Not be looking down at the phones!

  3. Jo 3 months ago
    Reply

    I walk about an hour every day in a different sections of the city .
    My number one observation is how fast cars are driving. Yes, someone would say
    I am going the speed limit. Yesterday, my husband had to run across the street because of the speed of a car coming around the corner. Today, a cars vision was obscured by a parked car, and they crossed into the sidewalk I was walking on.

    I certainly understand why a adult cyclist would get on the sidewalk, but they are going fast too.

    So, I would say speed too fast for conditions will be a major concern for your efforts

  4. John Baxter 3 months ago
    Reply

    I think what the council was trying to do was to leave more responsibility to bikers and walkers rather than focusing entirely on changes to streets, which too often leads to severe road diets and very poor traffic flow. Safety is not all about slowing cars, and it’s unlikely we can get to zero injuries and deaths unless everyone cooperates. Visionmn Zero has too narrow a focus on car speed and too rarely seeks balanced solutions fair to all.

  5. John Cordes 3 months ago
    Reply

    This description of ‘quick build’ could be better. “Quick build is a process where cities will build a prototype of their safety measures in one small area before they roll it out to the city as a whole.”

    I think a better definition is “Quick build is a process used by cities will implement temporary infrastructures improvements cheaply and quickly in a prototype fashion so they can make roads safer faster. Quick Build projects like protected bikelanes typically cost 1-10% of the cost of permanent infrastructure and can be implemented in a few months instead of years waiting for funding.

  6. Linda Reynolds 2 months ago
    Reply

    Do we know the circumstances of the accidents with the 13 and 15-year olds? Do we need better instruction for young bicyclists? Should we have a “driving test” for bicyclists as we have for drivers to evaluate their proficiency? Or were the drivers negligent? Were they ticketed or arrested?

    Personal comment/observation; I live near the intersection of HWY 9 and El Camino. There used to be a right turn for northbound vehicles on HWY 9, but now have a huge concrete patch with no right turn lane, apparently to protect pedestrians who may step in front of a vehicle turning right. It shouldn’t be a surprise that traffic backs up at that light. But drivers have discovered the little residential neighborhood where I live as a “shortcut”. This is what drivers will do, and it is my belief that these possible detours should be researched BEFORE a major roadway changes the traffic flow. This small neighborhood is full of kids playing, folks walking their pets, and residents trying to back out of their driveways – and those who’ve chosen this shortcut are in a hurry. It strikes me as bad planning.

    The safety of pedestrians is important, no doubt, but eliminating right turn lanes and sending traffic into residential neighborhoods is not a good trade-off. Bigger, brighter DON’T WALK signals, perhaps with continuous audible warnings would have been sufficient in my opinion. I expect we’ll be losing more right turn lanes as traffic continues to worsen.

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