Millennials Are Demanding Better Transit, and We Should Give it to Them - Voice of San Diego

Opinion

Millennials Are Demanding Better Transit, and We Should Give it to Them

Millennials want to live in urban, mixed-use environments that are built around biking, walking, transit, shared rides and plenty of social encounters. And our regional plans just don’t do enough for this rising generation.

Last December, I talked with Voice of San Diego about the Quickway Proposal, the alternative plan I developed for creating a truly effective transit system for San Diego.

When VOSD asked what I thought the chances were for implementing that vision, I replied “zero.”

Things have changed since then. I now rate the chances at 100 percent.

On the surface, very little is different: Our regional agencies are barreling ahead with plans to build out the transit component of the Regional Transportation Plan, the San Diego Association of Governments’ $204 billion infrastructure plan for the region; we’re about to start construction on the $2.1 billion Mid-Coast Trolley line; and no one is talking about the Quickway Proposal.

But millennials are beginning to speak out and take ownership of their future. They want to live in urban, mixed-use environments that are built around biking, walking, transit, shared rides and plenty of social encounters. They don’t mind density. And our regional plans just don’t do enough for this rising generation.

The Quickway Proposal gives millennials what they want. Unlike the region’s current plans, which do not do enough to support our existing neighborhoods, the Quickway Proposal focuses infrastructure investments in urban communities that are expected to absorb much of the region’s long-term growth. It also proposes the development of over 40 miles of better-located and configured rail lines, creates a regional network of dedicated transitways to keep transit separated from road traffic, and includes other world-class transit components.

All of this is explored in Preserving Paradise, a new paper released by The Center for Advanced Urban Visioning, which I founded. It details what we can expect from SANDAG’s transit plans and contrasts that with what we could achieve with a smarter transit strategy (the Quickway Proposal).

But first a key point: Why does transit even matter? For too many San Diegans, transit is something that other people use, precisely because it’s inconveniently located, too slow, involves too much waiting, too many transfers, leaves riders too exposed to the elements while waiting and just doesn’t match our urban form. So why should it be so important?

The answer is simple: Cities grow around their movement systems. If transit is slow and inconvenient, cities grow around their automotive system. If transit is fast and convenient, people want to be located within convenient access to that system, and development follows. So there is absolutely nothing we can do as a region – even with the promise of autonomous vehicles and all they can do – to better deal with growth-related problems than build a great transit system. A truly effective transit system can help relieve pressure on roads and freeways, resolve parking issues, lead to decreased housing shortages, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve quality of life for both riders and non-riders alike, make it feasible to create parklands and public spaces in our more urbanized zones, and more.

Transportation is destiny.

According to SANDAG, the region can expect to spend over $100 billion on transit over the next 35 years. What do we get for our money? Several new light rail lines and many, many new Rapid Bus lines on our arterials and freeways. It all sounds good until you look at the details.

Rapid Bus? What is the definition of “rapid?” I propose a simple one: a transit route that maintains a minimum average through-speed (including stops) of 18 mph at peak commuting hours. Yet when we look at our first arterial rapid bus line, it’s not so rapid. If you’re traveling from 54th and El Cajon to Park and University, the city bus takes 25 minutes; the Rapid Bus takes 21 minutes – at an average speed under 13 mph. It’s an improvement, sure, but it’s not rapid transit, despite the name.

At least within the central urbanized core, SANDAG’s transit plans seem to reduce transit travel times by about 19 percent, so that an hour trip becomes a 48-minute trip. In contrast, the Quickway Proposal cuts transit travel time by an average of 65 percent – that’s two to three times greater than the SANDAG plan – so that today’s hour-long trip becomes a 21-minute trip, which is less than half the time of the SANDAG plan. In fact, the proposal brings most trips down to where transit is fully time-competitive with driving and often faster during peak periods.

The Quickway Proposal isn’t just about transit, though; it is designed to better integrate with new road infrastructure, parks and people space, improved parking and real, world-class bicycle facilities that are designed to make it easy, safe, and fun to bicycle longer distances.

So why do I now rate the chances of implementation of the Quickway Proposal 100 percent? Because the proposal can be ignored, belittled, even denounced — and it won’t matter. A new generation is rising, and the Quickway Proposal creates the kind of city they want to live in.

At some point, we as a region will finally invest in the kind of transit system that is truly world-class and capable of sustaining us far into the future. We can build out the regional plan, flood the streets with “rapid” buses and build light-rail lines where they’re politically easier to build but don’t match either the city we are or market demand, and at some point, someone will say, “Really? Is that all we get for our investment? We’ve got to do better … a lot better.”

That day could be now, or it could be 30 years from now. But that day will come — 100 percent.

Alan Hoffman is a lecturer in city planning at San Diego State University and director of The Center for Advanced Urban Visioning. Hoffman’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

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