Fast-track transit expansion plan could bode well for San Diego

Growth in San Diego, as is true of growth in general, is inevitable. So growing responsibly is key.

A 20th or 21st century San Diego?

Located in coastal California’s southern-most portion, San Diego already has one of the most dynamic mass transit systems in all of America, of which the area should be especially proud. As a matter of fact, the city embraced light-rail transit early on when the San Diego Trolley was opened to the public in 1981. So, building on what is already in place seems a logical and sensible next step.

Downtown San Diego, California
Downtown San Diego, California

In the report, “The 50-10 Transit Plan: Quantifying the Benefits,” the Cleveland National Forest Foundation (CNFF) stated decisively in its Apr. 16, 2015 “New Report Shows San Diego Urgently Needs Major Investment in Public Transit” press release, “As San Diego’s population grows, a new report finds that the region’s shifting demographics are driving an urgent need for major public transit investments and a halt to highway expansions. A move toward investments in transit would protect air quality, prevent suburban sprawl and support demographic and land use trends toward pedestrian-friendly communities.”

That’s a different tack, and provided it gains the needed traction, it would mean an accelerated time frame in regards to implementation.

Though, all hasn’t been smooth sailing. At issue, apparently, is an existing San Diego Association of Governments [SANDAG] long-range transportation plan.

“SANDAG’s existing plan front-loaded the expansion of freeways, which will lead to sprawl and reinforce the region’s dependence on cars,” the CNFF noted. “That plan’s heavy reliance on automobile transportation will also lead to increases in greenhouse gas emissions, even though state climate policy and science demand significant reductions in these pollutants.”

“The best way to address those traffic and pollution problems, the new report says, is with a plan that would implement 50 years of transit improvements in the urban core over the next decade. That would allow the San Diego region to create a comprehensive, integrated transit system that would support a shift to more compact, walkable communities,” the CNFF continued.

“Given recent legal challenges, SANDAG should consider reassessing its $200 billion long-range transportation plan for the region,” the organization reasoned.

‘50-10,’ ‘30/10’ comparisons

This brings to mind Los Angeles’ “30/10” transportation plan. But the two are different, it appears.

“The first difference is that 30/10 is an attempt to leverage a recently passed sales tax to build rail and rapid bus projects more quickly with help from the federal government,” Streetsblog LA’s Damien Newton insisted. “It doesn’t attempt to pit rail and highway projects.”

“Another difference has to do with the scope of what is being proposed. 50-10 is an attempt to change the entire regional plan, not just the transportation plan, for San Diego. As such, it calls for more mixed-use development, density, and investing in the urban core first. 30/10 calls for building transit as quickly as funds become available,” added Newton.

It is “outdated assumptions” that “are driving the San Diego Association of Governments … to prioritize highway projects that increase car use and air pollution. These assumptions buck established trends among younger Californians, who tend to drive less and are more inclined to live in compact urban areas than older generations,” the CNFF emphasized.

It’s all about choice

San Diego is not unlike the many American cities that have yet to jump aboard the smart-growth bandwagon or have done so but not in any significant way. Here are the choices: Hold fast to status-quo planning, policies and practices or follow a growth course that places far more emphasis on transit building and transit expansion than it does on building or expanding highways and roads. Not only might a departure from what has become the traditional approach be good for San Diego but for metro regions throughout California and the nation, especially if what is being sought is marked air-quality improvement.

For more on this matter, see: “To meet prescribed emissions-reduction targets, San Diego must get transportation plan right” here.

Published by Alan Kandel

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