Unhoused Traffic Fatalities in San José: Vision Zero Program Manager, Jesse Mintz-Roth

"This data analysis is a first step toward building a program that will pilot new kinds of pedestrian safety improvements"

Jesse Mintz-Roth, Vision Zero Program (San José Department of Transportation)

For this installment of Stories from You, we're excited to feature a story from Jesse Mintz-Roth, Vision Zero Program Manager at San José's Department of Transportation (SJ DOT). SJ DOT noticed an increase in unhoused people dying as pedestrians in traffic fatalities, leading to an in-depth data analysis project of traffic fatalities involving unhoused neighbors between 2018 and 2022.

The Vision Zero team constantly monitors and analyzes current and growing trends in the city’s traffic fatalities. During the pandemic we noticed a shift among the vulnerable road users. Before the pandemic, older adult pedestrians was among the most notable subgroups. During and after the pandemic, unhoused pedestrians were growing at such a noticeable rate that we wanted to know more about where and how they were happening. Working with the Santa Clara County Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office, we used their definition of unhoused to identify the cases. In Spring 2023, a Data Equity Fellow working under the San Jose Information Technology Department (Leila Doty) joined our team to assemble this data analysis, leading to the data showcase on the City’s Open Data Portal. We are interested to learn how other cities are working on this growing issue.

This study evaluates the 51 traffic fatalities in the last five years (2018-2022) in San José in which an unhoused person has been a victim, primarily using autopsy data from the Santa Clara County Medical Examiner Coroner. The Medical Examiner Coroner has a data dashboard  showing public data since 2018.

Thanks to Data Equity Fellow Leila Doty, Vision Zero Data team Thao NguyenKaushalya Gunasena, traffic safety coordinator Cordell Bailey and our engagement partners Frank PoncianoJocelyn Banuelos, and Ngan Nguyen at Winter Consulting.

Unhoused Traffic Fatalities are a Rising Trend in San José

Map showing unhoused traffic fatalities across San José

Unhoused traffic fatalities are a rising trend in San José, with unhoused traffic fatalities more than tripling from five in 2018 to 17 in 2021. In addition to exploring general descriptive statistics about unhoused residents, we also explored the hypothesis that specific roadway geometry, land use, and infrastructure setups may correlate with higher likelihood of traffic fatalities among unhoused people in San José.   

In contrast to more well-known Bay Area unhoused populations in densely populated city centers like Downtown San Francisco, which is known for encampments on sidewalks, some of the unhoused unsheltered communities present differently in San José. In San José there are growing encampments along creeks and rivers outside downtown, as well as along large, landscaped areas that line physically larger roadways like County Expressways and Freeways. 

A San Francisco article noted "homeless people make up less than 1 percent of the city's population, yet account for 22 percent of recent traffic deaths."  Streetsblog wrote: "An analysis of three years of pedestrian deaths in the county surrounding Las Vegas, meanwhile, found that unhoused pedestrians were  21 times more likely to die in a crash than residents with a stable roof over their head, and 27 times more likely to be killed than a Sin City visitor."

Few cities have written about how to address the rise because for most municipalities it is a sensitive topic. The issue presents differently in different places, and data about it is limited. To situate the data San José does have about the issue of unhoused people in traffic fatalities, it is useful to know: how large the city's unhoused population is, how it has grown, and how deaths of unhoused people have grown in recent years.  

The County of Santa Clara's Office of Supportive Housing conducts a Point-in-Time Count every year of the County and of the City of San José. In 2022 there were 10,028 unhoused people in the County, of which 6,650 were in the City of San José. As of 2022's Point-in-Time Count, there were 6,650 unhoused people in San José, an 11% increase from 2019 (Santa Clara County). Of them, 1,675 (25%) were sheltered, and 4,975 (75%) were unsheltered.  

There has been over 100% growth in deaths of the County's unhoused people (2019-2022). In 2022, there were 356 deaths of unhoused people compared to 172 in 2019 (Santa Clara County). These years include the pandemic.  


We found that 71% of unhoused traffic fatalities are pedestrians and 92% of those unhoused victims were sober. 92% of drivers involved in those crashes were also sober.

Graph that shows the unhoused traffic fatalities by mode of travel


82% of unhoused traffic fatalities occurred at night (5 pm to 8 am). Of these nighttime crashes, 39% occurred between 9pm and 1am.

Graph that shows unhoused traffic fatalities by Day/Night


80% of unhoused traffic fatality victims are male, which conforms with national data where men are the overwhelming majority of unhoused individuals in Point-in-Time Counts across the country (National Alliance to End Homelessness). Overall, San José's residents are 31% Hispanic, 35% White, 38% Asian, and 3% Black according to the U.S. Census. For unhoused traffic fatalities, Hispanic individuals comprise the greatest share of unhoused traffic fatalities at 18 victims (35%), Black individuals are overrepresented at 14% of unhoused traffic fatalities, and Asian individuals are underrepresented at 14% of unhoused traffic fatalities.

Graph that shows unhoused traffic fatalities by Race

Where are the crashes happening?

Our data analysis took into account where unhoused traffic fatalities occurred in relation to: 

  • Vision Zero Priority Safety Corridors: 19 of 51 (37%) unhoused traffic fatalities fell on Vision Zero Priority Safety Corridors. 
  • Equity Index: 30 of 51 (59%) unhoused traffic fatalities fall within census tracts with a combined equity score of 7 or greater and five census tracts included 2 fatalities, each tract with a score of 9 or 10. 
  • Council Districts: We found that unhoused traffic fatalities are unevenly distributed across Council Districts. 
  • Hypothesis Zones*: 25 of 51 (49%) unhoused traffic fatalities fall within hypothesis zones.

* Hypothesis Zones are areas with unhoused encampments, select retail and grocery, and 35+ mph streets.

The San Jose Vision Zero team did in-person engagement at multiple sites, working with Winter Consulting’s multilingual staff (Spanish and Vietnamese) in June and July 2023 at 2 locations: the Tully Library parking lot next to the encampment along Coyote Creek (6/15/23) on Tully Road and the Home First Little Orchard shelter (7/27/23) to begin to surveying our unhoused neighbors about their lived experiences crossing San Jose streets in places near where several unhoused traffic fatalities have occurred.

Next Steps

This data analysis is a first step toward building a program that will pilot new kinds of pedestrian safety improvements and add unhoused pedestrians to known types of Vulnerable Road Users (alongside more well-known types like school-aged children, older adults, and people with mobility impairments).

Our next steps following this analysis for the San José Vision Zero program are:

  • Expand in-person engagement with a more robust survey to better understand how our neighbors experiencing homelessness’ experiences do or don’t align with the findings of the data analysis.

  • Work with SJ DOT engineers to design and test pedestrian safety improvements in top unhoused traffic fatality locations.

This Story From You was coordinated in collaboration with UC Berkeley SafeTREC. The opinions and perspectives expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of SafeTREC.

Jesse wearing blue rimmed glasses, a red striped shirt and a hat, smiling next to a sign from the Slow Down campaign

Jesse Mintz-Roth

Vision Zero Program Manager

San Jose´ Department of Transportation

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