Schools concerned about speeding motorists on nearby streets can ask San Jose to lower the speed limit from 25 mph to 15 mph. But all but the first three will need to pay for the safety measure.
The San Jose City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday, November 15, to take advantage of a state law that allows local jurisdictions to lower the speed limit near schools from 25 mph to 5 mph in zones 500 feet from school grounds. But the cash-strapped city has set aside just $27,000 for the service, which will be offered to three of 190 eligible public schools.
Other schools can request lowering the speed limit but will need to pay the estimated $3,000 to $9,000 for an engineering report, council action and sign replacement. Enforcement of the new limit will be limited because of staff cuts in the police department.
Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio introduced the policy change at a meeting of the council’s Rules and Open Government Committee in August. Since then, he said he had heard from 60 schools that were interested in the 15 mph speed limit.
The idea was presented to educators involved in the School/City Collaborative, and got a lukewarm reception. Several council members expressed concern at Tuesday’s meeting that speeding wasn’t as much of a problem as bad maneuvers behind the wheel – illegal u turns, cell phone use, double parking, causing congestion and not watching out for children who are being dropped off at school.
“I don’t think we can legislate behavior,” said Councilman Pete Constant.
But for the schools that want to try it, “We shouldn’t stand in their way,” said Oliverio, who pointed out that San Francisco recently decided to lower the speed limit at all of its schools. But the process is being paid for through a transportation grant.
Councilman Sam Liccardo noted that most of the accidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists occurred on major streets instead of on the smaller residential streets that next to schools.
“Are we going to be diverting scarce resources from other critical needs?,” Liccardo asked.
Transportation Director Hans Larsen answered that lowering the speed limit this was just another tool that could be used to make streets safer in school zones. Another project in the works would encourage walking and biking to school, and “feedback” signs that flash how fast a car is driving have been effective in slowing traffic, Larsen said.
After lengthy debate, and a few remarks in support from residents, the council agreed on making a policy change, start with three schools and open the option up to others. Funding for the voluntary program could come from the schools, but also grants, parent organizations, neighborhood groups or council offices, Mayor Chuck Reed proposed in a memo signed by Oliverio and Councilman Don Rocha.
Vendome Neighborhood resident Tina Morrill suggested to the council to also think about educating parents on proper driving behavior and “use the community “ for data gathering and perhaps funding a new sign or a few hours of an off-duty officer to enforce the new limit.
“Around the school zones, it’s nuts,” she said. “Something needs to be done.”
Schools interested in the program should submit a letter to the city’s Department of Transportation, including information on the number of children who walk or bike to school and conditions that would make the school a good candidate.
After schools are selected, a streamlined engineering evaluation will be conducted to comply with state law, the issue will return to the council in February for action and signs will be replaced in March. A brief evaluation of the speed limit drop will be available at the end of the school year, and a more thorough evaluation a year later.
For questions, contact Laura Wells, Transportation Deputy Director, at (408) 975-3725.