Welcome to Day 4 of the SDFP Virtual Mayoral Forum. (See Day 1, Asking about managed competition, here , Day 2, Looking back on the Plaza de Panama controversy, here, Day 3, The Building Permit Process is a Hot Mess and Plans for the Planning Department, here.)
With input from our many contributors, editors put together a series of eight questions we felt were unique, not too open ended and not trite. We’re publishing one response from the candidates per day (Monday-Friday) so readers can see the verbatim responses side by side.
We emailed the questions to the addresses listed with the City Clerk’s office as contact points, knowing most of the minor candidates wouldn’t respond. Kevin Faulconer’s campaign is refusing to participate. We can only assume–and, believe me we’ve tried to get them involved– their non-response sends a message about their openness to the citizens in this city. You can decide what that message is.
Editor’s note: According to his campaign staff, Nathan Fletcher did not receive our questions until after we began publishing this virtual forum. His responses have since been added.
The complete questionnaire can be found here.
Today’s topic is about non-automotive modes of transportation in our community. SDFP editor Anna Daniels put together an introduction to the issue so readers can see our thinking behind asking the question.
Today’s candidate question about alternative transportation/mobility is one of the most complex ones that we are asking in this virtual forum.
Any meaningful discussion of safe, liveable neighborhoods and the broader urban planning concept of smart growth must address mobility issues on the neighborhood level. This is a particularly important issue, beyond the mayoral campaign, because SANDAG is developing a Regional Transportation Plan through 2050. The City of San Diego has seats and a weighted vote on the SANDAG board of directors. Interim Mayor Todd Gloria and Councilwoman Marti Emerald currently represent the City.
The terms “neighborhoods” and “livable neighborhoods” figured prominently last year in then candidate Bob Filner’s campaign. The neighborhood agenda that he campaigned on reflected both a broad policy vision and specific applications at the community level. This agenda was clearly a significant element of his electoral success.
Bob Filner, as the champion of this neighborhood agenda is gone, but the momentum to carry that agenda forward has not dissipated, particularly from those neighborhoods that began to see some positive outcomes after decades of neglect despite tireless advocacy. The current mayoral candidates in this year’s special election to replace Filner have been quick to pick up the mantle of neighborhood champion if for no other reason than it is politically expedient to do so.
While automobile drivers advocate for street repairs and maintenance, more parking options and reduced commute times, residents who walk, bike and take public transit have a different set of priorities. There is less concern about sexy streets and more concern for maintained sidewalks and in some areas of the city, the installation of sidewalks. Street lights take on added significance as well as the placement and number of traffic signal lights around major corridors. Transit riders need public transit to accommodate the schedules of working people, reduce their commute times and be affordable.
There are important granular distinctions that must be taken into account when discussing mobility issues. Residents who rely on electric wheel chairs may need places to recharge their chairs; an elderly woman who walks to the local grocery store in the early morning may have concerns about personal safety; a thirty-year old biking from North Park to work in Old Town has different issues than a high school sophomore biking four miles to school in the urban core. One of the most pressing issues is the availability of affordable housing in proximity of good schools, employment and quality grocery stores.
The City of San Diego is a huge city geographically speaking, encompassing 372.40 sq mi. and containing over 100 neighborhoods and communities. A great deal of the discussion about mobility and liveable neighborhoods focuses on the densely populated urban core and communities south of Route 8, where more infill is anticipated. Yet urbanization (infill) will continue in a northward corridor from the Mexican border toward Camp Pendleton. How are these issues defined, then, in Clairemont, Rancho Bernardo, Del Mar Heights and Mira Mesa? The question of course is to what degree the mayoral candidates are aware, truly care and have an agenda.
4. Alternative Transportation/Mobility
What is the importance of walkable/bikeable neighborhoods and public transit in San Diego?
Too many of San Diego’s communities lack the basic amenities that make walking and biking safe, comfortable, and convenient. For the past fifty years, development has focused on automobile-friendly suburban communities. These communities are marked by wide roads meant to maximize car volume and speed, narrow or absent sidewalks and hazardous street crossings, few or discontinuous bicycle routes, and long distances separating destinations such as home, work, shops and schools.
There are barriers to walking and bicycling in many urban communities too. In some places, aging infrastructure and maintenance costs have left existing pedestrian, bicycle, and public transportation amenities in disrepair, while the suburbanization of many jobs and businesses has required city residents to drive to work. These trends have an influence on our health, economy, environment and overall quality of life.
We need to re-create neighborhoods through urban infill where residents can easily walk or bike to work. We need communities with access to essential services, like public transportation, parks, libraries, and grocery stores. We should expect well-maintained, uninterrupted sidewalks and an accessible network of bicycle facilities, such as bike lanes and trails. Our streets should be clean and attractive, with landscaping, benches, lighting, and other features that make walking, biking, taking the trolley or other means of transportation more pleasant. Parents must feel comfortable allowing children to walk or bike to school.
Communities that benefit from careful planning and enlightened zoning help strengthen the social fabric of communities. For example, studies have shown that residents living in walkable environments are more likely to know their neighbors and get involved in local civic processes. Small businesses also see a benefit, as pedestrians and cyclists are apt to spend more of their dollars locally. Residents who live, work, and play in vibrant, walkable places with easy access to a range of retail and services, public transportation, and jobs enjoy a quantifiably better quality of life.
Increasing “active transportation” like biking and walking is a top priority. Bicycle and pedestrian-safety initiatives, improving bicycle infrastructure and launching the city’s bike-share program will make it easier to bike and walk to and from work, the grocery store, schools and other destinations. We know that bikeable, walkable neighborhoods are shown to improve local economies, so bike initiatives aren’t just for quality of life and air pollution reduction, they make business sense as well.
As Mayor, I will partner with bicycle and pedestrian advocacy organizations to improve our neighborhoods. I’ll adopt the “Vision Zero” platform with a goal of zero bike and pedestrian fatalities on San Diego’s streets and will pledge to double the funds resources used to implement the city’s bike plan and increase ridership.
As Mayor and the City’s leading representative on SANDAG, I will work with my colleagues to direct more dollars to active transportation and transit versus just widening freeways. We’ve slowly been on the right track to do that but SANDAG needs to be more accountable to the City of San Diego, as the biggest population source in the county.
Land use and transit are interdependent, but it is the City that determines land use patterns while SANDAG funds transit to serve (or not) those land use patterns. In the past, we have not worked in coordination to the best of either jurisdiction’s ability. I would build a cooperative relationship with SANDAG, so neighborhoods have land use and transit that work together.
Favor walkable in neighborhoods. Do not favor bikeable on public streets (alone). Public transit important to all areas.
Walkable/bikeable neighborhoods and public transit are vitally important to San Diego and its long-‐term vitality. The great cities of the future will be those with sustainable infrastructure built around urban cores where people can live, work, and play in the same community and travel between communities with ease.
As mayor, I’ll support innovative planning ideas and implement the “city of villages” strategy in our general plan. I’ll soon be releasing a plan to make our city more bikeable, focusing on eliminating major danger areas. I also believe we need to get serious about improving our public transit system, which is not useful for many people who would use it because it’s not “competitive” with cars. When it takes several times longer to get somewhere via transit than by car, those who have the choice will choose to travel by car. The impact of having a walkable, bikeable community is that we’ll be able to recruit and keep the young, talented work force that want what cities like Portland offer – ease of mobility and vibrant neighborhoods. Our economic vitality, competitiveness as a region of innovation and quality of life depend on our moving away from the old suburban-‐sprawl model.
Keep informed about the issues concerning the Special Election for San Diego Mayor this November, subscribe to “SDFP Voter Guide Special Election” and get an email every time a new article in this series is posted!
Every time I see the empty chair, it reminds me of Clint Eastwood at the RNC and I giggle. Great imagery.
Jay Powell says
Livable Neighborhoods was a program piloted in City Heights in the early 90’s by then City Manager Jack McGrory. It was in response to a community improvement partnership of community members and the City to bring City staff out of City Hall and into the communities. It was complemented with Neighborhood Policing that had assigned teams cruising patrol cars and bikes and meeting in storefronts to proactively address issues block by block and neighborhood by neighborhood. I remember attending a transportation and smart growth forum last year and talking with Bob Filner before the forum. Standing next to me was Mike Stepner, Dean of the New School of Architecture and one of the key members of the Mid City Livable Neighborhoods Team. We suggested that was a program that worked and truly walked the “neighborhoods first” talk, but was disassembled by subsequent City Managers. One of the key members to that team was Mary Wright, who had the difficult task of running City Planning after it had been reduced to a division inside the Development Services department (DSD). Ultimately she was replaced by the Sanders apparatchik as they continued to promote more exemptions from community plans and the city General Plan. We lost an extraordinarily experienced and committed planner. Sander’s DSD set the stage for the Centerpoint and the second Sunroad fiascos and the North Park Jack in the Box faux “renovation”. They recommended building the Quail Brush powerplant on designated open space directly next to the Mission Trails Regional Park. They recommended supporting interpretations of the General Plan that would completely circumvent the 1985 Managed Growth Initiative that requires voter approval of urban development on open space in areas that had been designated as an urban reserve. Those are just a few of the highlights. They had their marching orders and a direct line to the 11th floor to do whatever it takes to promote development at any cost. And some of this continued and came home to roost within the first six months of the Filner administration. Filner appointed Bill Fulton to head up a new department to reassert planning, neighborhoods and community economic development. It remains to be seen how this will work out. Who is elected Mayor will make a big difference in whether we return to the development at any cost approach or an approach that follows the General Plan and takes us back to a future of livable neighborhoods where City staff work proactively with the communities to set priorities and carry out projects that truly benefit the public interests and common good. Thanks to Doug and others on the SDFP Ed Board for bringing these questions forward and especially to Mike Aguirre and David Alvarez for their thoughtful, thorough responses. Too bad that two of the candidates can’t seem to take the time to answer the excellent questions in this virtual forum. We are left to draw our own conclusions about that silence and those empty chairs.
John Lawrence says
Public transit needs to be expanded and made more convenient. For instance a trolley line should extend up Park Avenue past Balboa Park and the zoo all the way up to Adams Avenue like it did in the old days. This would help to relieve the parking situation at the zoo and Balboa Park.
There needs to be extended hours for trolley operation. I got caught downtown one Sunday evening after attending a concert at Embarcadero Park with no options for getting back to El Cajon. I eventually had to take a taxi for $70.
Sam Ollinger says
It’s great to see this issue gain more traction this election cycle.
However, we’re forgetting about the bull in the china shop, the elephant in the room, the whatever-other-idiom-you-want-to-use-here: Caltrans. Unless the next mayor addresses the massive time and money pit that is Caltrans, we’re not having any sort of a livable city in our lifetime.
Caltrans seems hell bent on continuing to build and expand and build even more freeways, and onramps into who-knows-where with this dis-proven notion that building out a freeway network will somehow magically solve our traffic woes this time around. Induced demand will induce additional traffic and this goes for any mode of travel: vehicle, bike, transit. Build the freeways and you will get even more vehicular traffic (although at great societal, health and environmental cost). Build more bicycle facilities and people will ride their bike more. Build more transit and people with use transit (with the caveat that the build has to happen in areas where the potential for a return on investment is the highest i.e. population density). We need to start shining a bright torch right at Caltrans’ face and get them to stop destroying this beautiful city with their continuous freeway expansions and freeway building. Caltrans is very good at using certain mouthwords to claim they are for livable cities, but their actions show the very opposite. They destroyed the Mid-City community in building the I-15, and now they seem to want to do the same to south east San Diego with the SR-94 expansion. Any mayor worth his salt will face Caltrans headon during his term. Because we can’t afford to have any more years with the business-as-usual crowd when it comes to talking transportation policy.
Anna Daniels says
Sam- Caltrans is not the only elephant in the room- SANDAG wields a great deal of power and in terms of regional transportation planning, is inextricable from Caltrans.