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San Diego Must Prioritize Bikes and Transit to Fulfill Climate Promises

If San Diego is going to meet residents' needs, city leaders need to follow through on plans to invest in alternative modes of transportation. That starts with a roadmap for weaving pedestrian, bike and transit infrastructure together.

During a September 2011 blackout, downtown San Diego was illuminated mostly by headlights on cars and bikes. / Photo by Sam Hodgson

Two years ago, San Diego put itself at the forefront of the battle against the climate crisis, the greatest threat to our health, safety and quality of life. With the support of Mayor Kevin Faulconer, the City Council voted unanimously to adopt a Climate Action Plan that makes a legally binding promise to slash our emissions in half.

Making alternatives to driving safe and accessible, as well as convenient and appealing, is a big part of what the mayor and Council promised San Diego families in the plan. The city has established quantifiable targets for walking, biking and transit ridership, and they’re ambitious but achievable. That’s something to be proud of.

Voice of San Diego CommentaryIt will take ingenuity, coordination, investment and political will to meet these goals. And it will be worth it. Facilitating alternative modes of transportation will clean the air, protect our hearts and lungs, improve public health and enable families burdened by transportation costs and lack of transit options to more readily access jobs, school and after-school activities.

But progress on transportation is limited at best. The mayor needs to make the plan’s walking, biking and transit goals a top priority to fulfill the promise of a better future for our children.

We need three things from our mayor: a roadmap detailing how we will meet the targets, investment in transit and bike infrastructure and for him to champion a regional plan at SANDAG that meets these goals.

First, the roadmap. San Diego needs a document that establishes the vision and the blueprint for how our city will become a pedestrian- and bike-friendly and transit-rich environment that supports mobility in a safe, accessible, inclusive, vibrant and livable city. In 2016, the mayor promised to develop a transportation master plan, but the public has yet to see a draft, and no information is available about when a draft will be available. That transportation master plan needs to chart the course from where we are today to our transportation targets in 2035, and it needs to be finalized by 2019 so that we can get moving on the ample work that lies ahead to shift commuter habits.

Second, we can’t change mobility patterns without investing in the protected bike lanes and sidewalks and crosswalks that make traveling on foot and by bike safe, attractive options. The mayor should back up his promises with investment in his proposed budget, due out in mid-April. The long-awaited downtown bike network, the bike projects on El Cajon and University in City Heights, and the “Fatal Fifteen” intersections must be addressed and implemented to begin moving the needle on pedestrian and bike ridership. To coordinate the many moving parts that contribute to a multi-modal transportation system, the city needs a director of mobility in the mayor’s office and a mobility department that can deliver efficient, effective solutions.

Finally, the mayor needs to play an active, consistent role in transportation policy at the regional level, starting with insisting that SANDAG adopt a regional transportation plan that supports the city’s ability to meet its climate targets. Assembly Bill 805, passed in 2017, requires that SANDAG produce a regional plan that increases biking, walking and transit, reduces air pollution in disadvantaged communities and is consistent with local climate plans. The mayor needs to direct staff to ensure that any scenario they put forth to shape the future of transportation in our region complies with those requirements.

I believe the mayor wants to do the right thing. Slashing our carbon footprint in half, shifting half of our population out of cars and becoming a world-class city don’t just happen — they require sustained commitment, investment and focus.

Sophie Wolfram is director of programs at Climate Action Campaign.

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