Roads and Public Transit Aren't Competitors - Voice of San Diego

Opinion UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

Roads and Public Transit Aren't Competitors

It’s simply not true that roads and public transit are competing against each other for funds. Great cities are ones that do both well.

Trolley passes through Lemon Grove. / Photo by Dustin Michelson

I grew up in San Diego and my family relied on transit to get us where we needed to go every day. As a student at SDSU, I continued to value transit. In my job prior to being elected, and now, as a Council member, I often choose transit because of its many benefits, including convenience.

From my personal experience and as the chair of the Metropolitan Transit System, it’s clear that San Diegans want transit to be a real choice when thinking about how to move through their day. For example, earlier this month, MTS had Free Fare Day. MTS recorded nearly 47,000 more trips on that day compared with the same day last year, increasing overall ridership by 15 percent.

Reading the Voice of San Diego opinion piece by Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey last week, I was floored. Over and over, the narrative is that roads and transit are in competition. This is false. Looking at cities that really work, both are important. In those areas, roads and transit are part of an overall system that is planned together to integrate all modes of transportation to move people more efficiently, affordably, and to make driving, taking the bus or light rail, biking or walking real choices rather than supporting one over the others.

I asked some of my colleagues for their takes. Here are some of the responses:

Todd Gloria, California Assembly member

For decades we have spent billions of taxpayer dollars to build an elaborate system of roads and freeways. This focus on a singular form of transportation has meant that other ways of getting people to and from work have not received equitable investment. Subsequently it is infeasible for many San Diegans to walk, bike or use public transit to get to their jobs. If we want to be a great city and protect our world-class quality of life, we must adjust our funding priorities to give more transportation choices to San Diegans. This change is even more necessary when the we consider the challenge of climate change and the commitments made in the City’s Climate Action Plan.

Barbara Bry, San Diego Council president pro tem

Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey’s call to prioritize spending on roads over public transit is a counterintuitive approach to our regional transportation needs. I would encourage Mr. Bailey, even if just as a personal pilot project, to jump on a trolley, bus or coaster to get to his destinations. He might gain a different perspective on public transportation which reduces the traffic that he references while also getting us closer to our climate action goals.

Pradeep K. Khosla, chancellor, UC San Diego

Light-rail transit will be transformative for UC San Diego. It will change the way people access and experience our campus, facilitating growth that allows us to educate more students, serve more patients, and increase our contribution to the local economy. The frequency, capacity and reliability of light rail make it ideal for fighting traffic congestion and reducing our carbon footprint, expanding housing choice, and facilitating public access to all that UC San Diego has to offer.

Betsy Brennan, CEO, Downtown San Diego Partnership

Diverse mobility options are key to a city’s economic and cultural success, and a major reason so many businesses, restaurants, and residents choose to call Downtown San Diego home. Many employees in Downtown San Diego use transit, which helps reduce road congestion, frees up parking, and saves money. From dockless bikes and scooters serving the last mile, to trolley lines across the county, it is important for our workforce to have a range of commuting options and discover which option is best suited for them.

Gil Cabrera, San Diego Convention Center board chairman

When clients are evaluating bringing their event to the Convention Center, having a trolley stop that connects attendees to other places in San Diego is a big selling point. Our employees also choose transit when coming to and from work. A robust transit system can only improve our role in San Diego’s economy.

Eric Hepfer, Riverwalk Project Manager, Hines

San Diego has a severe housing shortage, and the only way to add sufficient housing without creating gridlock on our streets is to move more commuters from cars to convenient public transit. We have that opportunity right now with the redevelopment of the Riverwalk golf course, and we’re making a new trolley station the heart of the project. Mission Valley has a trolley line running through its center, and in a few years, with the Mid-Coast line, San Diegans will finally be able to reach all of our city’s major job centers by light rail. The transportation paradigm is shifting before our eyes, and we need to embrace it.

Cassie Weinberg, San Diego State University Associated Students sustainability/green love commission chair

The trolley’s Sycuan Green Line that serves the San Diego State University campus plays an important role for alleviating road congestion around campus and reducing carbon emissions. More than 5,000 SDSU students choose transit by annually purchasing discounted semester passes from MTS, and having a direct link between public transportation and campus eliminates nearly 10,000 car trips per day.  Encouraging more students to use transit is one of our top priorities. It’s important to give students more transit options.

In short, let’s make public transit a real choice, San Diego.

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