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A Better San Diego, a community outreach group sponsored largely by local labor unions, held its latest monthly community breakfast and roundtable last Friday, February 15, hosting speakers on the issue of regional public transit.

Event host and labor leader Lorena Gonzalez called San Diego “a city that has not been well-invested in transit” in her opening remarks, adding that future transit plans that rely primarily on constructing more roads “can’t be the first solution and can’t be the only solution.”

Theresa Quiroz of City Heights, a private citizen and longtime transit activist, points to what she refers to as a “fatal flaw” in local transit planning: San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), the agency responsible for implementing solutions to the region’s transit issues, is comprised largely of local mayors, city council members, and political appointees with little experience in transportation planning and little coordination with San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS), which runs the region’s bus and light rail routes.

“They vote, in most cases, without a wide knowledge of transportation, or of the state law that demands action of them,” Quiroz said. “They have cities to run, their time is more than taken up focusing on the problems of their areas.”

Quiroz had mostly praise for MTS, but said the organization’s “hands are tied by the inadequacies of SANDAG,” including the latter’s failure to develop a plan to get MTS through the recession, which led to fare increases and route cutbacks, hampering the effectiveness of the transit system and discouraging new riders from adopting transit.

Urban planner Murtaza Baxamusa was next to present, noting first that only about four percent of San Diegans rely on transit for their workday commute.

“There’s a reason that we have only four percent,” Baxamusa continued. In 2004, he said, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the San Diego region a “C” grade for transit, a rating that had since fallen to a “D.” Meanwhile, he said, the average amount of time San Diegans spend sitting in traffic congestion has risen from 8 hours a week in the late 1980’s to 38 hours when last measured, worse even than the Los Angeles area, according to Baxamusa.

“Even if you want to, three-quarters of you will not be able to reach your work in one and a half hours,” Baxamusa told the audience. “A transit system cannot work unless an entire system is in place.”

Jack Shu of the Cleveland National Forest Foundation, who has previously spoken with the Reader regarding a lawsuit his group pursued against SANDAG and won an initial judgment, was last to present.

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“The red line represents an executive order from the governor on greenhouse gas emissions,” Shu explained while holding up a chart. The blue line, he said, represents expected emissions under SANDAG’s 40-year plan for the region.

Shu went on to cite figures from stating that about 23% of road costs come from use taxes, the rest come from general funds.

“All of us who are driving, in effect, get a welfare check.”

Shu pointed to the existence of other transit-oriented cities in the U.S. as proof that such a model could work, and scoffed at the idea that the number of cars on the road was tied to American wealth and a demand for convenience.

“A sign of affluence is no cars,” Shu said, saying that residents who were able to save money by not maintaining the typical Southern California two-car household would realize a much higher disposable income.

He closed by repeating a call for his group’s 50/10 plan, whereby all of the transit initiatives in the court-rejected Regional Transit Plan would be moved toward implementation during the first 10 years covered in the Plan, despite the need that would to postpone freeway and road expansion in order to fund transit first.

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Comments

jelula Feb. 22, 2013 @ 10:54 a.m.

Regarding Murtaza Baxamuza's comments about the very low percentage of San Diegans who use public transportation, an important reason is people like me who would love to use it but have learned (by experience) that public transportation adds at least double the time and often more in order to get somewhere, largely because of the length of time between buses and/or the added time needed to even get (by car, mostly) to a transit line. And I live in the coastal area of the city where there are more options available than many other parts of the city.

I've never forgotten a diagram about San Diego commuter traffic diagram done by Alan Hoffman, a local transportation expert who is knowledgeable about and experienced with public transportation systems in many other major cities in the world. The most compelling element was the substantial number of commuters along the I-15 corridor who "peel off" long before they get to Fashion Valley and downtown. Public transportation choices for them are either very limited or non-existent. No wonder I-15 resembles a parking lot during (lengthening) commuter hours.

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