San Diego is about to take a good look at its new regional transportation plan when the SANDAG team arrives The final draft For approval by the board on December 10th.
It’s unlike any previous regional program in San Diego, or California. This is partly because SANDAG got into trouble with its latest and inadequate draft plan, which claimed to be forward-looking but, like many regional transport plans, was mostly a heated renewal of previous plans that favor highways. SANDAG’s previous plan included several improvements to the shuttle and bike, but those investments were all put on the back flame, and highway expansions were first and foremost.
Not this time. The draft of the new plan – written under the new leadership of SANDAG – presents a utopian vision of what a connected, equal and easy-to-navigate transportation system can be, focusing on new technologies for managing vehicle traffic, improving transportation and building street views that work for people on foot and by bicycle.
“Over the last five or six decades, the state has built an inter-state system that has led to economic progress,” SANDAG CEO Hassan Iharta said in a recent interview with Streetsblog. “But we found ourselves with a lot of challenges from that. There are problems of social equality, emissions, respiration, bad air, greenhouse gas emissions, sea level rise. “These issues are important enough for sustainability, so we believe that it will require utopian thinking to change direction – and I hope our board sees it that way.”
The program, San Diego Forward, will happen – more on that later – and it covers a period of 30 years. Most of the potential funds she identifies will not be available for at least fifteen years from today. This means that in order to meet the country’s climate goals, investments must be made that reduce greenhouse gas emissions sooner rather than later.
So this regional plan prioritizes – for funding and implementation – projects that reduce, rather than increase, greenhouse gas emissions. It pretty much turns the previous plan on its head.
San Diego Forward focuses on “Five big moves“Shift the area’s transportation system in a sustainable and equitable direction. These include: complete corridors suitable for all users safely; transportation improvements that will greatly increase service frequency, hours, routes, connections and priority; mobility centers where all modes of transportation can meet and mingle to facilitate Mobility; flexible and common fleets of everything from transition vehicles to cars to “riding components”, as the program specifies bicycles and scooters; and technological advances in safety, clean vehicles, road detection and the like, including autonomous vehicles.
“One thing that sets this program apart from many others is that it drives data,” Ihrta said. “We went where the data took us. For the first time, we were able to use the cell [phone] Data to understand travel patterns to work. “
“In the past, we had a group of transportation projects that we just refreshed,” added Colin Clementson, SANDAG’s director of planning. “So we put that aside, and we used cell phone data to see where people were going – and we looked at where people could not go. That’s how we built the plan.”
“I’ve been planning in the public sector for over 25 years,” she said, “and I have to say it’s the most exciting program I’ve worked on.” The SANDAG team made connections not only between land use and transportation patterns, as required by the state, but also recognized that other issues were equally related. The new program, Clementson said, is about “equity and connecting people to upward mobility, jobs, higher education – it’s really cheap transportation, and making it safe. It’s very important that people feel safe in public transportation, and that people feel safe cycling and walking. Maybe a lot. “The investments we are talking about do not come through large and shiny objects, but they are definitely key components to the quality of life in the area, and some of the things that make this program change.”
This is a model of what regional transportation plans should do: it paints a picture of what a great transportation system can be.
How will be paid for all this transport expansion and new mobility centers is a big question mark, of course, and it will not be cheap. This plan will be attacked because many of the potential sources of funding it lists, as required by federal law to keep regional plans somewhat grounded in reality, do not yet exist. For example, it lists toll roads on highways and a local sales tax, both of which will have to be passed by voters. It also relies on an idea not previously proposed: a local surcharge for state road users that does not yet exist.
“Obviously it’s expensive,” Iharta said. “It’s 160 several billion dollars over fifty years. And by the way, the last one [regional plan] Nor was it cheap – it was $ 150 billion. It’s a lot of money, no doubt, and money we don’t have in our back pockets. ” But, he notes, “the cost of not building the plan is much higher.”
SANDAG’s role, he said, is to create a tangible realistic vision and publish it for San Diego residents to decide. “We’re not lying to people and saying, ‘Oh, it’s going to be paid for by the federal government and the state.’ That’s not going to happen.”
“Here’s the good news: the bottom line is that any financial source of income will depend on whether people say ‘A’ or ‘No.’
And San Diego people will select each intersection when asked to approve funding. Do they want the status quo of clogged highways, polluted air and minimal public transportation? Or do they want a city with a really good, equitable and usable transportation system?
“I believe that if you put a tangible story with tangible benefits to people, they will come,” Iharta said.
There will be a lot of discussions in the years to come, and “in the end, we’re going to ask people: Are you willing to pay for it? Just because we have a charge for through users or a sales tax on the program does not mean it will happen automatically. These are the people of San Diego. “They’re finally going to be the last jury of it, not anyone else.”
In the meantime, the program is pre-loaded with improvements in the near term that do indeed have some funding, and can begin the necessary transition towards better and more sustainable travel in the area. These include bus frequency upgrades for over 2/3 of existing local bus lines, plus new Rapid and local lines; Development of a network of managed paths – on all Large highways – which will bring in toll revenue as well as speed up the crossing, and further increase its efficiency.
Please note that the “managed lanes” offered in the plan are not new or additional freeway lanes – they will convert existing lanes to carpool / bus / toll lanes on an unprecedented scale.
Cycling, however, is not getting enough love in the near term. While over a hundred bicycle projects are listed in the plan, only about ten – mostly filling gaps in existing networks – are planned as short-term projects (by 2025). In the longer term (until 2035), more projects will build bicycle paths and a coastal railway path. However, one of the program’s ‘five big moves’ is entire corridors, changing policies to create programs that make cycling easier, such as better bicycle parking. In other words, accepting cycling as a valid means of transportation for many.
Ihrta and his team will present the San Diego Forward to the SANDAG Board on December 10th.
Will the council approve it?
“It will be a miss of our leadership if they do not pass it,” Ihrta said, “but they are the final decision makers. I respect that. My team and I did our job and put it in front of them.”
“I am optimistic,” he added. “I believe this re-imagining of the transportation future in San Diego is good for the region, and I believe our leaders are going to see it that way.”