On Morena Boulevard, San Diego Is Undermining Its Own Climate Goals - Voice of San Diego

Opinion UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

On Morena Boulevard, San Diego Is Undermining Its Own Climate Goals

While the plan approved last week by the San Diego City Council makes progress in adding the new housing that is so badly needed, the plans for mobility around these new investments are rooted in an old way of thinking that prioritizes cars over people.

A vacant lot next to a new planned trolley station at Clairemont Drive and Morena Boulevard has been home to years of development fights. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

Since its adoption in 2015, San Diego’s climate action plan has received national acclaim for its goal of cutting carbon emissions in half by 2035, but another plan approved by the San Diego City Council last week undermines the climate action plan’s goals and purpose. Instead of reducing the number of vehicle lanes on Morena Boulevard and putting in place a separate and protected bike lane, the City Council decided to maintain the status quo and keep four lanes of greenhouse gas-emitting vehicle traffic.

The Morena Corridor Specific Plan is an opportunity to establish new land uses to take Morena Boulevard from a relic of mid-century car culture to a vibrant and thriving community along a $2 billion investment in trolley expansion. The Mid-Coast Trolley will connect neighborhoods along Morena Boulevard to the broader trolley network at three stops — Tecolote Road, Clairemont Drive and Balboa Avenue — and the pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure between these stops will play a critical role in driving trolley ridership from nearby neighborhoods.

Voice of San Diego CommentaryUnfortunately, the plan adopted last week missed the mark. While the plan makes progress in adding the new housing that is so badly needed in San Diego, the plans for mobility around these new investments are rooted in an old way of thinking that prioritizes cars over people. With Interstate 5 to the west, Morena Boulevard often becomes a shortcut for commuters attempting to avoid freeway traffic. This leads to drivers speeding through residential neighborhoods and creating unsafe pedestrian and cycling conditions in those communities.

Rather than further encourage use of that shortcut, city officials should be taking actions that will motivate these commuters to choose transit over cars and utilize the major public investment placed into the new trolley line. They should also be making it safer for people to walk and ride their bikes along the Morena Corridor to the trolley and between stops. Future and current residents should have more convenience in riding the trolley than driving a car to get around. In doing so, the city will improve air quality, enhance neighborhood quality of life and help San Diego meet its climate goals. That is why I was so disappointed to see staff’s proposed plan, which included much-needed wide sidewalks in addition to world-class bike lanes, be cut back to make way for an unnecessary fourth lane.

I moved to Bay Ho six years ago for many reasons, but among them, I was thrilled at the idea of living in proximity to the new trolley line. As a parent of two young children, I see it as imperative to cut my carbon footprint at every opportunity possible. With the climate crisis at our doorstep, inaction is inexcusable. To me, this means moving away from car-dependency and getting around by biking, walking and taking transit. Once adopted, the Morena Corridor Specific Plan will determine how much of that is possible.

At the national level, the Trump administration has taken direct aim at overturning every policy addressing climate change. In this environment, even seemingly small decisions can mean a lot when it comes to preventing catastrophic climate change. Change at the local level is a direct challenge to poor leadership at the national level and local leadership is critical.

There is still time to reverse this decision. The plan must return to the City Council for a second reading. I urge elected officials to revisit this plan and adopt the three-lane configuration recommended by planning staff.

Laura Nunn is policy director at the San Diego Housing Federation. She lives in Bay Ho with her husband and two daughters.  

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