San José loves to boast that it wants to encourage and increase pedestrian circulation. It sounds nice. All cities absolutely have to make this claim these days in order to remain politically correct.
However, the reality is that there is no requirement that San José’s parks and recreation lands and trails provide or maximize pedestrian routes that are actually useful as a way of walking or bicycling from point A to point B.
At first, you might wonder why it would even matter whether or not a park or trail be transportationally useful. After all, it’s just a “recreation trail,” right? At least that’s how the City of San José sees it.
One particularly sad example in San José of a block of “park land” that fails to provide pedestrian connections between a residential area and its nearby commercial strip is the Los Lagos Golf Course, built around 2000. It didn’t have to be done this way.
Los Lagos Golf Course separates the west segment of Umbarger Road from the east segment of Umbarger Road. Before the golf course was built on the site as a San José park project, the land was designated as park land, but was undeveloped.
Since the golf course is only open to paying golfing customers, neighborhood residents living around Umbarger east of the golf course cannot walk the logicial short-cut through the golf course over to the Senter Road commercial area.
A short pedestrian-bicycle trail runs along Umbarger Road east of the golf course for a few blocks, but it’s nearly useless since it doesn’t connect to any other significant pedestrian or bicycle routes at either end.
The logical extension of the Umbarger Road trail (if the goal were to make it useful) would run through the golf course and connect to the disconnected western piece of Umbarger Road at Senter Road where the commercial plaza sits. However, a pedestrian-bicycle connection between the two areas was not included in the golf-course construction around 2000.
Without the short pedestrian-bicycle connection between the two pieces of Umbarger Road, the nearest detour to the Senter/Umbarger commercial plaza is at least a mile via heavy-traffic multi-lane roads much of the way. You get a choice between Tully Road or Capitol Expressway.
A significant improvement in pedestrian and bicycle mobility could have taken place here in this neighborhood by including an east-west connector trail when the park land was developed, but San José chose not to.
At this location, it would actually be easier than driving to walk through the golf-course area over to the Senter Road area for numerous people, if the trail had been built. It’s rare to hear a San José resident claim that a particular trip would be more practical to do on foot or by bicycle than by car, and this is an example why such comments remain so rarely heard.
San José staff can probably spin a few award-winning sentences claiming that the required pedestrian detours around the golf course are viable, efficient, safe and pleasant (that’s what they’re paid to do and they’re good at it), but real pedestrians and bicyclists passing through the area are likely to disagree.
It would be much easier for you to get in your car and drive from one side of the golf course to the other. Of course, San José won’t mind if you do, since it continues to be designed in a cars-first fashion. Further, we saw recently here that one of two crosswalks on Senter Road at the Umbarger intersection was removed during recent improvements (for cars, not pedestrians).
San José will go on making its claims about being a “green city” and a “smart growth city,” but the little patterns of routine development here like this tell a very different story about a city where you need a car and an exhaust pipe sticking out behind you to survive and where design and planning decisions continue to support this need.
Pedestrian circulation is absent between the east and west segments of Umbarger Road in San José due to the Los Lagos Golf Course “park land” that separates the two neighborhoods by design.