There are a lot of good things in SANDAG’s draft regional plan, the document that maps out our transportation system for the next 35 years. Unfortunately, they are scheduled to occur too late to create a world-class transportation system for the 21st century.

Commentary - in-story logoThe good: The regional plan calls for increasing transit frequency so that trolley cars will arrive every seven minutes, up from the current 15 minute intervals. The plan contemplates a new trolley line linking Otay Mesa, up through the 805 and 15 corridors, to the jobs center in Sorrento Valley. These improvements will keep our streets from being congested while providing green, affordable and convenient transportation choices.

The bad: We shouldn’t have to wait so long to see this happen.

The major trolley improvements won’t occur until the second to last phase of SANDAG’s draft plan, ending in 2035. Plans outlining growth trends in our region show that transit is needed sooner to provide transportation to new and aging residents.

A recent report published by Circulate San Diego and TransForm detailed that SANDAG has substantial flexibility to accelerate transit and active transportation (walking and bicycling) projects into earlier periods of their plan, without changing the list of projects approved by voters in 2004 through the TransNet ballot measure. Unfortunately, a majority of the SANDAG board appears unwilling to accelerate construction of transit lines.

However, there is still time and opportunity to change course. SANDAG is currently considering a region-wide quality-of-life revenue measure in 2016 to fund transportation projects. If successful, it could be a game-changer, and generate more resources for the region.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

With additional resources, SANDAG will have substantially more funding flexibility to advance transit and active transportation projects into earlier periods of the plan. If the regional plan represents what SANDAG is willing to support today, the quality-of-life measure should represent our aspirations for tomorrow.

The regional plan already assumes a quality-of-life measure that generates a quarter-cent sales tax over a 30-year period. Yet, SANDAG’s public board discussions have contemplated a half-cent sales tax over a 40-year period – more than twice the quality-of-life revenue contemplated by the regional plan. New resources can be leveraged to advance transit into earlier periods than the plan’s current timetables.

Transit and active transportation projects are crucial to economic development – they reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide safe, affordable connections between where people live and where they work and play. They are also crucial to the region’s economic competitiveness to receive future transportation funding.

State and federal funding for transportation is increasingly tied to projects that focus on public transit and giving people opportunities to get around without relying on cars. A quality-of-life measure, properly designed, can help ensure San Diego’s continued competitiveness for those funds.

The regional plan will be a living document, subject to amendment and update. It is a continuation, not the final word in San Diego’s transportation plans. A quality-of-life measure can instill SANDAG’s regional plans with new energy – and new funding – to improve our region’s transportation network into the future.

SANDAG should only move forward with a quality-of-life measure if it prioritizes and funds more public transportation projects. Voters deserve the opportunity to choose a future that reduces greenhouse gasses, grows our economy and improves transportation choices for all San Diegans.

Colin Parent is policy counsel for Circulate San Diego.

    This article relates to: Opinion, Regional Planning

    Written by Opinion

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    John H Borja
    John H Borja subscriber

    There is no question that San Diego has done a great job in managing growth. On one scale you have the very worst, Houston, at ten. San Diego, in my unqualified opinion is hovering around a 5. It would be lower except we have cities that do not want to cooperate with the concept of mass transit. And, here, I'm indicting Chula Vista. The City saw sugar plums and fairies when big spenders came and wanted to construct homes in the previous decade. And, the City got stuck really bad in the real estate bubble. But, the real issue is that while all that money was coming in, no plan for the high traffic density appeared. Or, if it did, it was swiftly dumped. So, the Mission Viego, Irvine model of sterile canyons of roads and homes with no apparent rest stops along the way became the plan in Chula Vista. Analogy: Some person said granite counter tops, then everyone buys granite counter tops. The real missing piece was how to accomodate a very rapidly aging population who would need to rely on cars less and less and newly graduated high school students needing transportation, but  not able to afford a car.  Chula Vista went for high end. High end is good only if the infrastructure is in place to support the snooty members of our society. It's not. Chula Vista needs a rail spur on one its main traffic arteries that lead east and west. And, bus servce has to increase by more than 100% to accomodate people and reduce frustration. Kaiser Permanente is planning a school for doctors. Chula Vista has announced it would be open to a major university. The way things are now, Chula Vista is not ready for that. Chula Vista can't handle the parking problems at Southwestern College. Look, we all have  nearly 60 years of experience with how European cities have establish mass transit. In the U.S. we have three great examples of mass transit initiatives that work: New York, Chicago, and San Franciso. Sure, ok, those plans were not enough. But, they are still enough for the center of those cities, not the suburbs.

    Yes, "global warming, ecology, yadda, yadda". Practicality. That's the bottom line. Right now a single mother of 3 is hog-tied to working or getting medical help for her children. So, she takes them out of class to travel three hours to Children's hospital just to wait another 3 hours for someone to see one of her children for an ear infection. Who loses? The mom with lost wages. The mom for losing her job by the callousness of her Taco Bell boss. The Children who didn't attend school. 

    And, the school for losing A.D.A. Here's a real dream. The mom takes the day off and visits the doctor with one child while the two siblings continue to attend at school because they can ride a city bus and get to school on time. And, they can get home at a reasonable hour. How do I know that this can be done? I lived in Madrid as a child.

    George in BayHo
    George in BayHo subscriber

    If we want more people to ride mass transit, why aren't we building the new stations where people already live?  

    There are fewer than 200 homes within reasonable walking distance of the new station that will be built at Balboa Avenue & Morena.  It's surrounded by cliffs, freeways, and railroad tracks!  So it's just a park n ride ... doesn't get people out of their cars!

    Greg Martin
    Greg Martin subscriber

    @George in BayHo A recent report drives home that point.

    "If we build it, they will come. For many years, that was the mantra of rail transit planners. Just build the rail line, and development will happen around the stations. And then more people will ride, and the system will be a good investment."

    "But in California, too often that hasn’t been the case. Much of our prime real estate within an easy walk (half-mile) of urban rail lines has been wasted — a victim of bad planning, poor market conditions, and/or restrictive local zoning."

    "Overall, Santa Clara’s VTA and San Diego’s MTS systems scored the worst in the state, with many auto-oriented, derelict station areas, including along highways. After MUNI, BART was second and LA Metro Rail and Sacramento RT were tied for third, in terms of highest average score."

    San Diego’s Gillespie Field Station, located in a car-dependent and otherwise barren wasteland, received an F—scoring poorly across the board."

    Kevin Swanson
    Kevin Swanson subscriber

    SANDAG and the government organizations participating in running it, need to focus on using existing infrastructure more effectively and efficiently instead of building more that falls apart. This means looking at implementing solutions such as a 15 person automated electric shuttle released this month in France

    If they wait for Qualcomm or others in Silicon Valley to develop comparable systems the problem will continue to grow. A fleet of these types of vehicles crossing neighborhoods would significantly reduce auto use. Integrated into longer transit options, solutions begin to emerge. An automated electric Bus system that stops at transit centers served by electric shuttles makes more sense than adding another lane for single occupancy vehicles.

    Roy Benstead
    Roy Benstead subscribermember

    SANDAG should get moving with the present first, before getting into the distant future. One glaring example is the early morning commute on SR 52 west. Their planning was so far out of whack, that they have arranged for six lanes of traffic to merge into two lanes at the intersection of SR 125 and Mission Gorge Road. There are four bridges that need to be widened just west of there in order the get the traffic moving properly. The pavement already exists between these bridges, but is unusable and has been for several years.

    These bridges need to be widened NOW. not when SANDAG has it scheduled to be done, in 2045. 


    Judith Swink
    Judith Swink subscriber

    @Roy Benstead Yes, it's scheduled in the RTP for decades in the future but the reality is that SANDAG (local governments) doesn't build any of that new infrastructure - they are State highways & bridges thus the responsibility of CalTrans.

    Michael Robertson
    Michael Robertson subscribermember

    Cars are awesome. They get more efficient, personalized and safer every day. Still the government nannies want to push people to 1800s train technology which is slow, inefficient and doesn't actually take you where you want to go. And bikes? Might as well be promoting skateboards.

    Uber is mass transit that works. Add Waze and you have intelligent routing. Instead of dictating to citizens how they should travel, the government should respond to what citizens do. 

    Here's what SANDAG should do:

    1) Smarten stop lights. 

    Dumb stop lights cost us billions in wasted time and fuel and cause more pollution. With even a tiny bit of smarts - much less than the avg smart phone - they could increase efficiency of transit 35%. 

    2) Build new transit using actual traffic congestion to identify biggest needs. 

    Instead of telling where people should live and travel (near transit stops), the government should respond to needs. Those needs are easily identifiable by examining travel data from Google Maps, Waze or other nav systems. Where the biggest slowdowns are impacting the most people they should make investements. 

    3) Kick down regulations blocking free market innovations. 

    There's an army of techies working on transportation but they often run into blockades of government rules, unions or cartels. Remove those and innovation and efficiency will flourish. Like how about we remove trips to gas stations which routinely clog up traffic flow? That's what Purple is trying to do. (Google it.) It's just one of many examples constricted by govt rules. 

    Mike subscriber

    Trains are indeed 1800s technology...just like cars. You should thank every train rider, cyclist, and skateboarder you meet because they're all contributing to reducing auto-congestion and freeing up parking spaces, for your benefit. Regarding your 3 main points,

    1) Totally agree

    2) Already identified. NIMBYs need to get out of the way and SANDAG needs real leadership to actually start building.

    3) Government regulations are the reasons you love your car so much. Besides the aforementioned easy parking, regulations are why your car feels safe, doesn't smell, and the road ways you drive on are not death traps. 

    Michael Robertson
    Michael Robertson subscribermember

    @Mike I'd call cars 1900s tech and trains 1800 but that's a minor point. The bigger point is that cars have improved at a radical rate. They're cleaner, safer, more efficient, more convenient than ever. Trains are mostly unchanged. 

    Wondering if I should thank people who died for reducing congestion? Or how about people who become immobilized like paraplegics? Or how about people whose cars break down without enough money to fix them? Should I thank Travis, CEO of Uber, who has greatly increased efficiency? Please let me know the list of people I should send thank you cards too. 

    No govt regulations are not why I love my car. The notion that products only improve if politicians pass laws is absurd. People like nice stuff and not being injured or killed. Those improvements happen without government and often in spite of government. The free market is much better at determining where we should make investments because it factors in costs not just the benefit. e.g. You have irrational govt programs like Amber alert, TSA, etc which under the guise of safety spend big piles of money with little to no real benefit. That money would be much better spent elsewhere on issues which harm humans. 

    Greg Martin
    Greg Martin subscriber

    While I would greatly love to see more rapid progress on non-auto means of transport, I don't trust SANDAG in its current form to do that properly even if there were to be such a shift in emphasis.  There're simply too many recent and ongoing examples of where they've fall far short with such projects:

    - Mid-City Rapid (Rapid 215) - no dedicated bus lanes along El Cajon, no payment before boarding, no evidence of signal priority actually working.  All of those were promised, but not delivered.

    - Hillcrest bike lanes along University - a plan that falls far short of what was needed.

    - Enhanced transit airport access - the plan to force travelers to walk 400 feet between the nearest trolley stop and the nearest airport bus stop was obviously conceived by someone that never planned on using this service.

    - Centerline project - while the dedicated bus lanes along I-15 are a plus, the design of the stations along I-15 at El Cajon and University almost completely ignore the needs of people making connections at those locations which includes most of the people using those stops.  Three of the four connecting directions at each of those locations account for most of the connecting traffic and two of those three will require walking a much longer distance to make the connection, in some cases going from less than 50 feet to around 300 feet.  Again, this appears to have been designed and approved by people that have no intention of ever using it.

    If SANDAG wants my support on a funding increase, there needs to be a requirement that at least one and preferably at least two of the SANDAG board members are regular transit riders, for commuting and at least some other purposes.  I'm convinced that if there were any board members that cared about transit and were regular riders, a lot of these non-auto projects would be a lot better than what's now deemed acceptable.

    Mike subscriber

    Colin, I applaud your optimism and your aspirations, but what has SANDAG done in recent memory that can give you (and all of us) confidence in this statement?

    "With additional resources, SANDAG will have substantially more funding flexibility to advance transit and active transportation projects into earlier periods of the plan"

    Your optimism and tireless advocacy efforts are and always will be trumped by SANDAG's incompetence (or worse, dishonesty).  Until SANDAG produces a firm and detailed plan outlining exactly what is "quality of life" and exactly what will be done, I am not willing to give them any more of my hard earned tax dollars.  Until the leaders on SANDAG's board change their attitudes and officially shift the agency's agenda, I am not willing to give them any more tax dollars.  Until SANDAG cooperates with the City of San Diego's climate action plan, rather than undermining it, I am not willing to give them any more tax dollars.

    I need the money, to buy gas, to drive my car to work, because that's the SANDAG-preferred way.

    Nate Fuller
    Nate Fuller subscribermember

    @Mike "Until SANDAG produces a firm and detailed plan outlining exactly what is "quality of life" and exactly what will be done, I am not willing to give them any more of my hard earned tax dollars." Bingo! Based off of past history I would be concerned with SANDAG's definition of "quality of life" would be. Presumably it includes larger freeways and improved auto travel times. 

    tarfu7 subscribermember

    For the last "quality of life" sales tax measure, there was a specific list of projects attached.