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The San Diego Association of Governments began a series of workshops this week to roll out its new, revised regional transit plan, dubbed San Diego Forward. The previous plan was scrapped following lawsuits from environmental activists who claimed the plan failed to address state mandates for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Opponents argued that the plan was heavily reliant in its early years on freeway expansion. Improvements to transit systems and to benefit cyclists and pedestrians were some of the last scheduled between implementation and the year 2050. They've pushed instead to prioritize these investments, and to avoid road expansion at all cost, since meeting the state's pollution goals ultimately requires a significant reduction in miles traveled by cars.

The association of governments fought, and lost, the case in both district and appeals court. Still, the matter didn't die until the California Supreme Court refused to hear a second appeal. Now, some of the same activists who fought the first plan are claiming the new one still calls for more pollution rather than less, and accuse others who've jumped on board with the plan of "greenwashing" — providing an air of legitimacy to an environmentally unsound proposal.

"This is all about transportation choices," said plan project manager Phil Trom, opening a Thursday meeting (May 14) at Caltrans headquarters in Old Town. "We're looking at an addition of five new trolley lines, 32 new rapid [bus] services; in North County some new Sprinter [light rail] services, more double-tracking on the Amtrak and Coaster corridor, and new streetcar lines around some of the urban neighborhoods surrounding downtown San Diego."

Trom went on to tout $200 million set aside in the plan for bicycle transit and another $1 billion to be spent purchasing open space in the county's easternmost reaches to mitigate the impact of increased freeway construction. Comparing future plans to those envisioned in the 1990s, the balance of projected development has shrunk: instead of one day covering two-thirds of the county, reliance on increased density is now expected to leave more than half of the county's total land mass — including state and national parkland — undeveloped.

"This plan does meet and exceed our greenhouse gas reduction targets," Trom assured.

Jack Shu

Jack Shu

A panel presentation included local government representatives and people with business and environmental interests expressing optimism and support for the new plan. However, during the question session that followed, Jack Shu of the Cleveland National Forest Foundation challenged the association of governments’ assertion of exceeding gas-reduction goals.

"It really seems like what SANDAG is saying by predicting a 30 percent decrease in [vehicle miles traveled], with a one-third increase in population, is that total miles traveled is going to remain level," observed Shu, noting this conflicts both with the need to reduce the overall number of car trips and the authority's assertion that more freeway lanes will be needed to handle additional traffic. Under the new plan, many of these freeway expansions are billed as "managed" lanes, similar to the carpool lanes on Interstate 15 that solo drivers can still access by paying a fee.

"The chart [provided by the association of governments and used by Trom to highlight projected pollution cuts] is a per capita reduction — the 30 percent reduction is not a total," admitted a staffer in response, seemingly validating Shu's accusation.

Sharon Cooney

Sharon Cooney

"I'd love to be able to get you out to your camping trip in the Cleveland National Forest on a trolley," quipped Metropolitan Transit System chief of staff Sharon Cooney, responding to Shu's analysis of the MTS system as "the worst in the state."

Cooney also expressed support for more road construction as a means of providing better bus service, which remains the biggest component of the region's mass-transit system. "When we do transit, we've got to think about what gets the biggest bang for the buck."

Other comments from the near-capacity crowd of about 100 attendees also focused on reducing freeway reliance and expanding or hastening investment in mass transit and other car alternatives.

"We already have a lot of mobility choices by freeway — we have a lot of freeways," said Nicole Burgess, an Ocean Beach resident and cycling enthusiast. "It's actually fairly easy to commute by bike — if we put our dollars into the [cycling network proposed as part of the new plan], it would be even easier...$2 billion would build that network of bikeways. That's one percent of the total budget – we could build that in five years and get more people off the roads."

SANDAG will continue hosting workshops and gathering resident feedback on the draft version of the new plan through May 28 before moving forward with a final version.

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ImJustABill May 16, 2015 @ 3:03 p.m.

"meeting the state's pollution goals ultimately requires a significant reduction in miles traveled by cars."

That is a completely false statement. If car efficiency improves then that will reduce pollution even with the same number of miles traveled by cars.


dwbat May 16, 2015 @ 3:55 p.m.

Especially with all-electric cars, and those burning hydrogen.


ImJustABill May 17, 2015 @ 7:23 a.m.

Yes - those technologies are still fairly new relative to gasoline ICE. One would expect there's a lot of potential improvements in efficiency up ahead.

Also, smart highways and smart cars - more communication between vehicles and roads - will help improve efficiency as well.


AlexClarke May 17, 2015 @ 6:18 a.m.

I would love to take a trolley or bus to work but it is not feasible. If one does not work near a trolley station or bus stop or if the hours of operation do not coincide with the transit schedule then the system is unusable. San Diego's transit system is a patchwork of trolley, train and bus systems that get you nowhere fast and only serve limited areas. From East county it takes 2 hours to get to downtown SD by bus about 45 minutes by Trolley and then you have to walk to work. Add to that the times of day/night and areas where it is less than safe it all adds up to an ineffective transit system. Add to that a bunch of bicycle paths that few can use to get to work and it is nothing but transportation chaos.


ImJustABill May 17, 2015 @ 8:52 a.m.

I think alternative transportation options should be focused on a few dense corridors. For most people in the suburbs public transit and bicycle transit is just completely impractical.


dwbat May 17, 2015 @ 10:50 a.m.

I think many city planners realize this, so are pushing for more density in their cities' neighborhoods where public transportation is already established, and bike lanes are increasing.


ImJustABill May 17, 2015 @ 8:55 a.m.

"They've pushed instead to prioritize these investments, and to avoid road expansion at all cost"

Most people use cars for transit and that won't change in the forseeable future. Failing to improve roadways will result in more traffic and more maintainence for cars. Traffic and car repairs both increase carbon emissions. Thus I believe the net result of this plan will be INCREASED carbon emissions not decreased.


Founder May 17, 2015 @ 12:27 p.m.

CALTRANS is in the BUSINESS of building ROADS and therefore they shy away from spending BIG BUCK$ on "personal mobility" since that does not benefit those BIG Companies that construct them.

I say "personal mobility" because using the term "bicycle" or "bikeway" is elitist since it does not allow for the use of these routes by those that cannot ride a manually powered bike. The handicapped, and many other commuters will be using electric powered "personal mobility" eVehicles (that may very well include eBicycles) in the near future in ever increasing numbers, so for CALTRANS to say on one hand they are planing San Diego Forward and to actually NOT be planning for what will certainly be a major form of transportation defies logic.

CALTRANS has been build roadways for decades and their track records clearly illustrates that by the time they do get additional capacity built, it is time to build more. This must stop and now is the time to re-define CALTRANS mission to better reflect what is needed in the future, if San Diego is to improve its transportation corridors. We need to start building "personal mobility" ways now and then in several years decide where to build even more, that way we can provide for all those that will be using personal mobility instead of their gasoline powered vehicles to commute in San Diego!

BTW: Jack Shu should be on the SANDAG BOARD since he is not yet another local leader that rubber stamps ever more road construction because it is good for ever more donations...


danfogel May 18, 2015 @ 10:06 a.m.

founder/captd First of all, call them EPAMD, electric personal assistive mobility device, as defined in CVC 21280.5. Second, I'm going to disagree with you on this one. Caltrans manages more than 50,000 miles of highway and freeway lanes. They have been doing it for over a century, not just decades, in it’s current incarnation and thru it's predecessor agencies. That IS their mission, inter-city movement of people and commerce. They have NO business being involved in intra-city movement, "personal mobility" as you called it. That must be left to the local jurisdictions, such as SANDAG in your case. Local transportation issues are just that, local. They need to be managed locally. Caltrans isn’t around to help Sand Diego improve its internal transportation corridors. Also, I believe that Articles XIX A and XIX B pertaining to the use of public transportation funds may not even allow it.

To say that the use of the term bike lane is elitist is absolute crap. Officially dedicated bike lanes were built for bikes. CVC 21207.5 prohibits motorized bicycles, gas or electric, from being operated on a bicycle path or trail, bikeway, bicycle lane, though CVC 21281.5 allows for an EPAMD to be operated on a sidewalk, bike path, pathway, trail, bike lane, street, road or highway at a speed that is “reasonable and prudent having due regard for weather, visibility, pedestrians, and other conveyance traffic on, and the surface, width, and condition of, the sidewalk, bike path, pathway, trail, bike lane, street, road, or highway.” People will never begin using their EPAMD vehicle for their commutes. CVC 313 restricts an EPAMD to a “self-balancing, nontandem two-wheeled device, that is not greater than 20 inches deep and 25 inches wide and can turn in place, designed to transport only one person, with an electric propulsion system averaging less than 750 watts (1 horsepower), the maximum speed of which, when powered solely by a propulsion system on a paved level surface, is no more than 12.5 miles per hour”. There will never be “transportation corridors” built specifically for EPAMD vehicles when they can essentially be driven anywhere.


Visduh May 18, 2015 @ 8:25 a.m.

Getting commuters out of their cars and onto bicycles will be a big uphill battle. The middle class just isn't into mass transit or riding a bike in work attire. On one of the LA radio stations, one of the "personalities" repeatedly comments that if he rode his bike to work, he would "have to shower" upon arrival at the studios. That's not the sort of long, hot, or strenuous ride that bike commuting should imply. A safe, short and gentle ride of 20-30 minutes is the sort of thing proponents of bicycle transportation are envisioning, and not a twenty-mile, over-hill-over-dale grind that burns up well over an hour and leaves the commuter hot, sweaty, and halfway exhausted before even starting work.

But if there is ever a movement toward bicycle commuting, safe and separated bikeways will have to be provided into parts of the city and county that have employment. That means putting them into commercial/industrial sections (example, Kearny Mesa) where they do not now exist. For those who fervently believe in non-private-auto commutes, there is plenty of opportunity in some of the congested parts of the county, where even individual commuters cannot get around easily.


dwbat May 18, 2015 @ 11:51 a.m.

Why don't more people move, so they are close to their workplace? Then they can easily bike, take the bus/SD Trolley or walk to work. Why live in Santee when you work in downtown SD? Why work way out in Mira Mesa, but you live in a condo downtown?


Wabbitsd May 18, 2015 @ 5:32 p.m.

Dwbat, that's probably where the homes are that people can afford.


dwbat May 18, 2015 @ 9:49 p.m.

I think it's a mindset, rather than just affordability. Some people feel they have to own a single-family house (and then suffer a long, stressful highway commute), rather than renting an apartment close to work. Attitudes need to change.


danfogel May 18, 2015 @ 10:59 p.m.

dwbat I have some friends who used to live up in Burlingame. Their apartment was above retail space right off Burlingame Ave, 2 blocks from the train station. He took the train into the city and a street car to about half a block from his office. She worked literally in the next block the other way. Whenever we went to visit, the only time we used the car was to go to the grocery store, a ball game or if we were going to be in the city after the last train left. Even to and from the airport was only a $5 cab ride. Everything else we wanted to do was within walking distance or at the very most, bicycle distance. It was great.


shirleyberan May 18, 2015 @ 2:20 p.m.

Technology would support back-pack small jets or hovercraft with steering.


dwbat May 18, 2015 @ 9:51 p.m.

Have you been watching old reruns of "The Jetsons" lately? ;-)


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