By Noel T, Braymer
SANDAG, the San Diego Association of Governments is the planning agency for San Diego County. It is also undergoing a major transformation. Late last year it hired a new Executive Director, Hasan Ikhrata. Mr. Ikhrata had been Executive Director for the Southern California Association of Government (SCAG) which is the planning agency of all Southern California Counties except San Diego County. Mr. Ikhrata took over on December 3rd 2018 from his predecessor who “retired” in August 2017. Under Ikharta’s predecessor, SANDAG had miscalculated the revenue generation of the local County transportation sale tax which was lower than what had been predicted which will lead to revenue shortfalls for several major planned transportation projects in the county. This information was covered up just before the 2016 elections which included Measure A which would have added an additional half cent sale tax for transportation projects for 40 years. While Measure A received a majority of the votes, it failed to pass due to failing to win the required 2/3’s majority needed for a tax increase. Mr. Ikharta’s predecessor also failed to produce a transportation plan which would result in the county meeting State wide required reductions in Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Recently the 3 top staffer’s at SANDAG that Mr. Ikharta inherited from his predecessor were fired.
SANDAG is now working on a new transportation plan which it can afford, and which will also put the County in compliance with the State’s guidelines for reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Called the 5 Big Moves, the planning so far is preliminary and vague. What it will boil down to is getting more people to ride share and take more alternatives to private autos with increased use of trains, transit, bikes, scooters and walking. The first of the Big 5 is called Complete Corridors. What this will boil down to is multiple use of existing rights of way. This can include giving transit priority on existing roads or rights of way. Also building bikeways on existing rights of ways such as rail rights of ways. This is from SANDAG: “The basic idea of a Complete Corridor revolves around providing a variety of travel choices and then using technology to increase efficiency to balance use of the roadway network. The backbone of a multimodal transportation system is smart and connected highways and major roads that are managed in real-time to ensure people and goods move efficiently and safely. Locally, Complete Corridors provide dedicated space for cars, transit, shared mobility, bikes and pedestrians, commercial vehicles, and other Flexible Fleets.”
The Second of the 5 Big Moves is the Transit Leap. According to SANDAG “The Transit Leap will create a complete network of high-speed and high-capacity transit services that connect the region’s major residential and employment centers and regional attractions. These connections will be made at Mobility Hubs with links to supporting networks of transportation routes and services. New high-speed services covering longer distances with limited stops may be separated from vehicle traffic by a combination of bridges, tunnels, or dedicated lanes. Improvements and enhancements to existing transit services – such as the Trolley, COASTER, SPRINTER, and Rapid – could include double and triple tracking the rail lines, more frequent service, fixed guideways, dedicated lanes, and signal priorities to keep transit moving quickly.”
The Third of the 5 Big Moves are Mobility Hubs which are “places of connectivity where different modes of travel – walking, biking, transit, and shared mobility – seamlessly converge. These hubs are located where there is a concentration of employment, housing, shopping, and/or recreation. They provide an integrated suite of mobility services, amenities, and technologies to bridge the distance between high-frequency transit and an individual’s origin or destination. Mobility Hubs are places of connectivity where different modes of travel – walking, biking, transit, and shared mobility – seamlessly converge.”
Number 4 of the 5 Big Moves are Flexible Fleets: “Flexible Fleets build upon the popularity and success of shared mobility services like on-demand rideshare, bikeshare, and scooters. These fleets provide personalized transportation through shared vehicles available 24/7 for different types of trips, which can reduce the need to own a car. They also provide important connections to and from high-speed transit to key destinations like work or home, making it easier for some commuters to choose transit. In the future, Flexible Fleets combined with transit could be available on a subscription basis, allowing people to plan, book, and pay for all trips across all modes in one place.”
Last at #5 is“The Next Operating System (OS) , the “brain” of the entire transportation system. It connects and integrates different modes of transportation – passenger vehicles, buses, ride-sharing vehicles, delivery trucks, autonomous vehicles, bikes and scooters, and more – to improve overall efficiency and accessibility for people and goods to move throughout the region. The Next OS is a digital platform that will connect transportation infrastructure to provide a real-time view of supply and demand. This coordinated transportation network will enable people to move around the region with more sustainable and lower cost travel options.”
The main thrust of current SANDAG planning is what is being called “San Diego’s Grand Central Station.” What is being looked at now is to expand the Old Town Transit Center. The Old Town Transit center is near the San Diego Airport and not far from downtown. Already the Old Town Transit center is a stop for several bus lines, Coaster and Amtrak Surfliner Trains and the Green Line of the San Diego Trolley. By 2021 the Blue Line of the San Diego Trolley will be extended 11 miles north of Old Town to UCSD and University City area near La Jolla. Soon there after increased frequencies of Coaster and Surfliner trains are also expected. What is being looked at is redeveloping Navy owned land right next to the Old Town Transit Center. Called NAVWAR, it is home of the Navy’s Cyberwarfare. The 70 acre property includes the last remaining buildings from World War 2 of the Consolidated Aircraft factories used for building the B-24 and PBY Flyingboat. Any deal in redeveloping this land includes building new facilities for NAVWAR. Also being looked at is 10,000 new housing units and 10 million square feet of new office space. This according to Voice of San Diego as of July 10, 2019.
What has been talked about at Old Town is running new electric buses shuttles in the near future to the terminals of the airport. There have also been discussion of extending Trolley service to the airport terminals off of Harbor Drive. Also in the planning between Old Town and downtown are bike lanes and improved sidewalks to encourage walking in the area. This will likely if it gets approved be the template for other “Mobility Hubs” and expanded Flexible Fleets. No doubt there will be a learning curve to get more people and fewer cars on the roads of San Diego County with more people using rideshares, walking or riding bikes and scooter for connections with rail and bus transit.