San Diego’s mid-city neighborhoods are getting a new, faster bus service this year.
The idea was to create a bus line that mimicked the trolley, but cost a fraction of the price.
But the mid-city project is much less ambitious than when it was originally conceived. Now that it’s been scaled down, it’s lost a lot of the very elements meant to make it attractive.
“Bus rapid transit” (or BRT) has been a trendy planning solution for years, used in the U.S. and around the world to provide high-end transit at a discounted price. But SANDAG, the regional transportation planning agency, made concessions on some key elements when putting together its network connecting downtown, Escondido, South Bay, mid-city and the Golden Triangle – particularly on the mid-city line that connects SDSU to downtown.
How the Mid-City Rapid Got Slowed Down
The concept of a fast and convenient bus that would lure new riders in the mid-city area began about 10 years ago, as the Showcase Bus Rapid Transit.
It would have had lanes dedicated exclusively to the new buses and cyclists on El Cajon Boulevard and Park Boulevard, bypassing street traffic. And it would have ticket vending machines that would have allowed riders to pay before boarding, speeding up the process by freeing drivers from transactions and letting riders use both doors.
We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?
I live on Lincoln Avenue and the traffic is a bearable now it's so noisy it takes people forever to get across town makes no sense to route the traffic this way. Why would Sandag do a project like this it's like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Sure the bus gets from El Cajon Boulevard to downtown A few minutes faster but the price is so high for those of us who have to commute and live in Hillcrest/North park we have more traffic noise pollution not to mention the air pollution from the car stopping and going in traffic now. Is there anything that we can do?
Sandag did nothing to take any concerns from businesses and the business associations of Hillcrest, North Park and City Heights. In all the community meeting Sandag held (which were very poorly advertised, or notice given to attend) I can honestly say 2 people that rode the bus were in favor of this project. 100% of the businesses stated would get behind the project if it was a street car or light rail system only. Bus ridership is down 8% (MTS online report) And Sandag need to increase the current ridership 4 X from 4,000/daily to 16,000 daily to pay for this project.
I was told by a SANDAG supervisor this project would be going through no matter what, even if no one wants it. They have a budget to use and if they don't spend it they wouldn't get the same federal money for the following year. At the final meeting SANDAG refused to answer questions in a group setting. Sandag would take the individual asking a question about the project to another room to answer our questions without everyone able to hear.
No traffic studies were done as requested. Granted, construction is still ongoing, however, the traffic has become unbearable on Park Blvd. and Lincoln Ave. Lincoln was not set up to handle that amount of traffic.
most other cities have bailed on their BRT projects as they didn't generate enough income to support.
One question I had that they couldn't answer was why is there not a trolly/light rail from downtown/convention center/gaslamp area through uptown to mission valley as was planned over 30 years ago? it would bring tourists to uptown and mission valley and conventioneers to downtown.
@e_russell Which "the Trolley" are you referring to?
@e_russell The biggest problem w/ CA-style sprawl is bad connections btwn the squiggly intra-superblock streets & the gridded arterials
@theGreaterMarin I've noticed w/ the Trolley that little housing is walkable from stops. Always a last mile (or 2) of car-oriented sprawl.
@theGreaterMarin The SD Trolley
Did SANDAG know that MTS did not have the operational budget to operate the pre-boarding ticket kiosks before they designed "The Rapid". Pre-boarding tickets were promised to the public all the way up until last year, when we were told MTS decided it couldn't afford to operate them. How could this major component of a Rapid Bus not be budgeted for?!
This project demonstrates that we need to raise more transportation issues in our public discourse. As the City looks to densify urban infill communities along transit corridors, new rapid transit options are a MUST to enable more people to choose a car free lifestyle. For projects to be truly Rapid (dedicated lanes, etc.) we need strong local political leaders (like Councilmember Gloria!) who see the long term value of transit, and who will also stand up and encourage the public to support more local funding to increase transit operations/frequency. If there is no transit revenue measure on the ballot in 2016, we won't be able to have the transit service increases envisioned by the SANDAG board in the 2011 when they greatly increased transit funding.
Backtracking on faster service is a mistake if one wants to increase the share of transit ridership. Fewer stops versus an all-stops local isn't much time savings, though an increase in frequencies is helpful. This service really needs dedicated lanes, fare collection before boarding, and signal priority for buses. Those measures would make travel times both faster and more reliable. The new BRT services should open up the possibility for me to commute by bus and I want to do that, but efforts to keep the service slower are not helpful if I am to make that switch. I don't expect nor need commuting by bus to be as fast as by private vehicle, but it can't take all day either.
Streets need to be for more that just private vehicles. There needs to be room also for transit, bicycles, and pedestrians. But as long as these other users continue to be treated as second class at best, it's going to be difficult to get people to make the switch to other modes that would most likely occur without the almost total car-centric focus of current policies.
Let me preface this by saying I'm a bus person. I don't have a car, I live in North Park and use MTS daily. I would be in favor of dedicated transit lanes for a rapid mid-city line IF there were going to be more funding for MTS's general operation of the service, not just one time capital funds for the construction project. If the frequency can't be any greater than it is now, it is not worth inconveniencing the other vehicles on El Cajon Blvd - including the other bus on that road - for the relatively few trips that the bus makes. On weekdays there are a little over 90 trips a day. Sounds like a lot, but when you consider the number of other vehicles on that road it's not much. On Sundays there are only 32 trips per day! Definitely not worth screwing up all the rest of the traffic for a bus to go by every half hour.
@Jennifer Reiswig Hi Jen, looks like frequency will increase (from http://www.sandag.org/index.asp?projectid=317&fuseaction=projects.detail):
Frequent Service: Service frequency will be upgraded on the Rapid to every 10 minutes in the peak period, and every 15 minutes in the off-peak.
Thank you for the follow up Andrew. There was a large hole in the last article and I think this article adds needed information.
@Joshua Brant Glad it helped. Sorry for missing this element for you in the earlier story.