For the first time since SANDAG unveiled its “5 Big Moves” vision for the upcoming Regional Transportation Plan update, nationally-recognized transportation experts gathered in town yesterday for a breakfast presentation focused on providing an objective, apolitical review of the concepts SANDAG staff have floated before its board of directors and the public.
“The dialogue surrounding the SANDAG staff vision became politicized in reductive ‘auto vs. transit’ terms since the day it was unveiled, but San Diegans need discussion focused more on solutions rather than political positions,” commented Kathleen Ferrier, board president of the host of the event, Citizens Coordinate for Century 3 (C-3). “That’s why we brought in experts from outside the region who don’t have a vested interest in a particular outcome,” she added.
Executive Director of SANDAG, Hasan Ikhrata, presented the key components of his agency’s vision. He kicked off the discussion by citing the state-mandated requirement to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) — a metric relating to greenhouse gas emissions that highlights the inadequacy of transportation alternatives to cars in our region.
Today, it’s a four and a half-hour roundtrip travel time from Carlsbad to San Diego International Airport on public transportation, Ikhrata said. “Would you take that (trip)?” he asked the audience.
Ikhrata and Dr. Genevieve Guiliano, director of the National Center for Metropolitan Transportation Research and professor of Effective Local Government at the University of Southern California, separately presented data portraying San Diego County, which has concentrated employment centers in Sorrento Valley, University Town Center (UTC), Kearny Mesa and downtown San Diego, around which transportation alternatives need to be targeted.
According to Giuliano, “this presents an opportunity to expand the modes of transportation, but it is also a challenge, because concentrating investments to serve particular populations or employment centers is always politically challenging.”
Giuliano also noted that while “conventional solutions have not worked,” the “relentless growth in vehicle miles traveled is unsustainable.” She added that the 5 Big Moves is “a great vision … a stretch goal that reimagines transportation to fully-utilize advanced technologies.”
Deputy Director of Planning and Innovation at Sound Transit Matt Shelden, AICP, described the experience in Seattle, where voters approved its first major transportation funding bill in 1996.
“Back then we had heated debates about investing in transit versus highway expansion, but congestion got so bad that people saw the benefits to the multi-modal plans we presented,” he said. “Two subsequent measures were approved by voters and you can no longer pass a transportation ballot initiative that doesn’t focus on green alternatives.”
Ikhrata warned that “San Diego doesn’t have Seattle’s congestion yet, but we are getting there.”
During the audience Q&A, Shelden said in some parts of Seattle, local sales taxes are approximately 10%. While none of the panelists had a simple solution for the social equity challenges of regressive sales tax measures or purely pay-to-use funding, all three, including moderator Dr. Sherry Ryan, professor of City Planning at SDSU and director of its School of Public Affairs, agreed that the public needs to be offered a robust plan which comprehensively addresses the region’s transportation and related problems and not just one that is politically expedient.
As part of C-3’s mission to be a conduit for information, a facilitator for civic dialogue and a source for reasoned opinions, the member-supported nonprofit organization hosts frequent events highlighting a multitude of issues and themes of interest to engaged San Diegans.
Since 1961, Citizens Coordinate for Century 3 (C-3) has sought and successfully advocated for the highest standards in urban design, community planning and access to public open space. As a member-supported, nonprofit organization, we bring together residents and professionals to jointly craft solutions to the challenges we face in our city and region. http://c3sandiego.org.