Ways to go

by Carolyn Chase


Auto-designed regions have a very high quality of life -- until you outgrow the design. This is the paradox of auto-mobility. Once upon a time, our cars represented our freedom. But with increasing traffic hell, daily activities such as running errands and going to and from work and home have become some of the most stressful parts of our lives.

The growth of the economy has not led to appropriate growth in either our transportation systems or our thinking about these kinds of problems.

At the last SANDAG Regional Transportation Committee meeting, a presentation entitled "Strategies for Regional Mobility" by Alan Hoffman of The Mission Group laid out the "land use implications of transportation decisions."

Even if we ease the freeway congestion problems of a growing population, which is by no means even being predicted, we encounter a new and more difficult problem: that of parking the additional 685,000 cars in our SANDAG-predicted regional future. It turns out that every car generates 4-7 parking spaces. You can easily identify the first two: at your home and your office. There are another few spaces-per-car put in around the region. Municipalities have minimum parking space requirements and this adds up.

The projected regional growth in cars would require another 3.5 million parking spaces. At 5 spaces per car, this would equal 37 square miles of parking!

Hoffman eloquently lays out some alternative ways to help us visualize our current cultural destiny.

This would require the paving of:

ALTERNATIVE 1 - all of San Diego Bay, Mission Bay, La Mesa, and a two
story parking deck over Balboa Park .

OR ALTERNATIVE 2 - Encinitas, Lemon Grove, National City and with a 3
story parking deck over Del Mar.

OR ALTERNATIVE 3 - Take the whole San Diego county coastline and pave from the shore to a half-mile inland.

The cost would exceed $30 billion.

Hoffman's conclusions: "If you pursue auto dependence, you are generating land use demands you cannot afford. In order to really sustain automotive mobility, you have to ask the auto to stop doing what it's not good at - being the primary means of getting to and from the places everyone else is going. For those kinds of trips, we have to develop a far more effective transit network."

So how do we get there from here? Something's got to give. And a lot of someones are going to have to "give," too.

One place San Diegans wishing to help build a workable transportation future can look is to Renew America. A national nonprofit group, they support the "Way to Go! Awards" that acknowledge programs addressing transportation-related problems with innovative solutions.

Each winning program has addressed transportation needs with a unique set of solutions. Businesses have come together to improve their customer and employee access. Transit agencies have met the communities' needs with better services and improved promotion of those services.

Since corporate and citizen leadership are both going to be essential to progress here, two programs in particular caught my eye as important to San Diego: this year's business award and the public participation award.

On its own initiative, Intel Corporation has improved the environment and reduced traffic congestion in communities where its facilities are located by promoting a wide range of transportation alternatives to its employees. Their approach goes beyond matching carpoolers and vanpoolers, and includes extensive education programs and promotion of riding transit, biking,walking, skating, and telecommuting. Participation in these programs is promoted extensively through the company Website, e-mail, special events, posters, flyers, and meetings. Many employees are encouraged to work compressed schedules to reduce their number of commutes and to work from home.

Intel has experienced enormous success in convincing large numbers of its employees to participate in its alternative commute programs. Forty percent of the employees in Arizona and Washington and 32 percent in Santa Clara, California, participate. Collectively, these programs have avoided 20 million miles of vehicle travel and the resulting pollution and energy use. Intel has also teamed up with local transportation and citizens' committees to advocate for increased funding for local transportation improvements and the expansion of bike and pedestrian accommodations.

In Arizona, Intel is working on a transportation tax to add 80 miles of bike lanes and paths, and in Santa Clara, Intel advocated for federal funds for transit improvements. Also in Santa Clara, Intel has also partnered with Silicon Valley Power, Siemens, and 3COM to create a fleet of three electric-powered shuttles for commuters and nonprofit organizations such as
schools and senior centers.

Intel demonstrates the influential role that major corporations can play in environmental policy development and in making it easy and convenient for employees to use alternative modes of transportation.

It would be equally important for San Diego to pursue an aggressive public participation strategy.

Officials of Tri-Met, the regional transit authority in Portland Oregon, understood that extensive citizen participation in suburban transit development was absolutely essential in order to achieve the 120 percent increase in transit service needed to meet their region's aggressive growth strategy in their Region 2040 Plan. Tri-Met created its Transit Choices for Livability program to involve local citizens in designing transit for areas that historically have not had service, primarily in the suburbs where much of the region's growth is occurring.

Tri-Met created a 33-member committee of elected officials, business representatives, and leaders from four targeted suburban communities to direct the transit development process. The committee assimilated the views of over 700 citizens who attended dozens of eighborhood meetings. In just one year, this collaborative effort resulted in the creation of five new transit routes in four suburban communities. This new service uses small buses sporting distinctive designs reflecting the local communities. New bus shelters marked with the design were also installed, and crosswalks and sidewalks were added to improve pedestrian access and safety.

This popular new transit service has avoided one million vehicle miles, thus decreasing polluting emissions such as hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide. It is also contributing to a reduction in traffic congestion in areas where residents previously had no option but to drive their cars.

That last sentence perfectly describes the predicament for most San Diegans: no options but to drive our cars. Even when people would like to get out of traffic, they have no practical alternatives. This, of course, leads to more traffic and people wonder why it keeps getting worse.

Transit Choices for Livability demonstrates that citizens can play a pivotal role in designing transit programs that will be used. Wouldn't it be incredibly refreshing to deal with traffic effectively and not just whine about it or throw pavement and tax dollars at systems that annot solve our problems? But it takes more than a few token public meetings around town.

These winning examples demonstrate that communities can work together to address appropriate transportation growth. They offer us inspiration and the hope that we can all move toward better ways to go. Otherwise, the pursuit of growth is inseparable from the pursuit of gridlock and paved paradise - which to many people's thinking is paradise lost.