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[whitespace] Minnesota Ave. residents speak out against speeders

Willow Glen--Denise Brady never expected that buying a house in Willow Glen would put her dog's life in danger. But two days before Christmas last year, Brady was loading her dog, Woobie, into the back of her Ford Explorer, when he was clipped by a car speeding past her home on Minnesota Avenue

Woobie is up and running again today. But traffic problems persist on the residential stretch of Minnesota that runs between W. Alma Avenue and Willow Street, curving north off of the busier four-lane arterial that is a major east-west route through the middle of Willow Glen.

Neighbors call their stretch of the street "the quiet Minnesota," and they're not happy that many motorists use their street as a shortcut between Willow and Alma. More than 30 Minnesota Avenue residents showed up for a Sept. 14 meeting at Willow Glen Elementary School to talk about the issue with city officials Fiscalini assistant Melinda Waller, traffic engineer Sam Koosha and Sgt. Dennis Dolezal of the San Jose Police Department's traffic enforcement unit.

In response to the complaints, the city will begin a speed-reduction program on the street, but some neighbors said they wanted to have the street closed to through traffic.

Residents who live near the street say they have complained about the excessive speeds and the resulting danger for years. After fielding complaints, District 6 Councilman Frank Fiscalini's office asked the city's Department of Streets and Traffic to conduct a study and to see what could be done.

For the study, the city Streets and Traffic Department positioned a radar speed detector on Minnesota near Dorothy Avenue for a 24-hour period. The detector recorded 1,140 cars traveling down the 25 miles per hour limit road at an average of 29 miles per hour. More than 15 percent of the cars were going faster than 35 miles per hour.

Residents say that at least three people have been killed by speeders on this road in the past 20 years. Kids aren't allowed to play in the front of their houses, for fear that they will be next. But Brady didn't know about this when she bought her house here two years ago.

"I paid the price for a Willow Glen home when I moved here," Brady said. "That seems unfair. If I wanted to live [elsewhere] in San Jose, I'd just deal with it."

Instead, Brady said she's been fighting for a solution for the past year and a half. "If I don't get something done through this, I'll sell the house," she said.

The problem seems to have many causes. Koosha said that the lack of nearby crossing intersections encourages higher speeds. There are only two speed limit signs posted on the street and they are not very prominent.

Additionally, residents said the street is wider than most residential streets.

According to neighbors, the street used to be narrower, with trees lining the sidewalks as in other Willow Glen neighborhoods. But the trees were removed in the early '60s because they needed the street as a bypass road. When Highway 87 was completed, the project also created Lelong Street, that runs parallel to the freeway.

Neighbors say Lelong (which isn't residential at all) should function as a bypass road, so their stretch of Minnesota can live up to the "quiet" part of its name. Koosha confirmed that speeds are higher than they should be on the residential section of Minnesota.

Because of that, Koosha said that conditions on the street could make it a candidate for the city's Neighborhood Automatic Speed Compliance Program, or NASCOP.

The program is one of a number of initial steps the city can take to address traffic problems. During peak speeding hours, determined by street residents, a van with automated radar and a digital camera records the speeds and license plates of passing vehicles on the street. Violators are then mailed a citation. Signs are posted on the street to alert drivers that their driving is being monitored.

The neighborhood has already gathered enough signatures to submit an application for the program, and Koosha promised to begin processing their application immediately.

Demand for the program, which has proven successful since it was first piloted in 1995, is high throughout San Jose, so it will be at least four to six weeks before it can begin on Minnesota. But neighbors say it's not enough.

"Most of us are looking for more long-term solutions," said Minnesota Avenue homeowner David Frutos. Frutos said many neighbors would like to see the street blocked off at Willow Street.

Some had hoped that this meeting would allow them to begin that project and were openly disappointed when told that they would have to go through several different levels of traffic problem solutions before such a change could be considered.

Instead, they learned about the city's three-tiered policy for responding to traffic problems. The neighborhood has already begun the process, now that it has completed a traffic study and has been officially recognized as a problem area.

Neighbors are now offered basic solutions, including high-visibility crosswalks, a radar trailer that displays drivers' speeds, restriping the roadway to make the lanes appear narrower, more and larger warning signs and the automated radar program.

Residents, however, are already talking about measures such as adding speed bumps, making Minnesota a one-way street, or closing it off altogether. These solutions, Koosha said, are only available to them if the initial responses fail to improve the situation in six months.

"It takes so long to go through the process," said neighbor Ellen Santomauro. "We get tired out."

Koosha said that some of the solutions the neighbors suggested, such as additional stop signs and crosswalks, would not address their speeding problems but are intended to deal with high volumes of vehicles.

He did say that additional and larger speed limit signs could be installed on their road; those could be expected in about three weeks.

Before the meeting ended, Sgt. Dolezal reminded residents that theirs isn't the only neighborhood with problems and cautioned that they could be ticketed along with other motorists if there is increased traffic enforcement in the area.

"If you call and get caught, you're fair game, just like anyone else," he said.
Kate Carter

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Web extra to the September 21-27, 2000 issue of Metro.

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