The Mercury News

Death of 18-year-old son sparks cry for safer San Jose streets

- By Gina LaBlanc Gina LaBlanc is a San Jose resident and member of San Francisco Bay Area Families for Safe Streets.

My son Kyle LaBlanc had just turned 18. He was energetic and brilliant, an inventor and a techie. He was looking forward to being the DJ at his high school Valentine's Dance, and graduation was only five months away. He planned to study computer networking in college to one day work for Google.

Then came a speeding tow truck driver cutting across his path. His future was destroyed in an instant, and my life was shattered — all because of a preventabl­e traffic crash in San Jose.

Kyle was near the light rail station at Curtner Avenue and the Highway 87 underpass, headed for home. The lights were out. It was a dark, January night in 2016. The crosswalks were confusing, and there were no signs for pedestrian­s. He walked down a dirt path that should have been a sidewalk, and to avoid a puddle, stepped into the bike lane. A tow truck driver, traveling too fast for the wet and dark conditions, cut across the bike lane toward the freeway onramp and struck Kyle.

He died a few hours later in my arms, at Valley Medical Center where I had worked for most of my nursing career.

There are no words to explain the kind of pain a mother feels when losing her child. My hope in speaking out is to prevent others from feeling this pain.

Over 42,000 traffic deaths occurred last year across our nation. Imagine one jumbo jet crash with 400 people dying every four days for an entire year! We should be horrified and outraged by the human roadway toll. And yet a level of complacenc­y has settled into our local government­s and communitie­s that is unacceptab­le.

On average, San Jose police respond to 20 crashes a day, 10 of which involve an injury and over one per week resulting in a death. A record 65 people died on San Jose streets last year — almost twice the number of homicides in the city. Of these 65 fatalities, 32 were pedestrian­s.

These are not statistics we have to live with. The emotional toll on families such as mine, as well as our emergency responders, lasts a lifetime. When crashes result in injuries, chronic health and mental health issues can be debilitati­ng.

These crashes are not inevitable. They are preventabl­e.

San Jose adopted a Vision Zero plan to reach zero traffic deaths in 2015. Zero is not an impossible goal. It has been done. Hoboken and Jersey City, in New Jersey, both reported zero traffic deaths for 2021. Evidence-based research shows that redesignin­g roads to calm traffic can save lives. Traffic engineers know that narrower roads, improved lighting, protected bike lanes and highly visible crosswalks cause drivers to reduce speed and become more aware of vulnerable road users. Creative strategies are being put in place in cities across the United States — and we can implement these here, too — but our city must provide the appropriat­e funding to make a difference. Zero traffic deaths is the only morally acceptable goal.

Our new mayor and the City Council have an opportunit­y when proposing this year's city budget in coming weeks. They must show that they care enough about safety and people such as my son Kyle and so many others in the seven years since his death to prioritize necessary funding for the Department of Transporta­tion. A Vision Zero plan is already approved and in place. What's needed is the funding to make these necessary changes, with a sense of urgency to prevent more injuries and deaths.

My heart breaks for the preventabl­e loss of life on San Jose's roads. All these people matter. Kyle matters. Please write to your City Council members and Mayor Matt Mahan and let your voice be heard: Please demand that they prioritize traffic safety in the upcoming city budget.

 ?? COURTESY OF GINA LABLANC ?? Kyle LaBlanc, 18, was struck by a tow truck and died in 2016.
COURTESY OF GINA LABLANC Kyle LaBlanc, 18, was struck by a tow truck and died in 2016.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States