As CalTrans talks 6 more lanes on I-5, why no plans for more public transit?

by on August 4, 2010 · 3 comments

in Culture, Economy, Environment, San Diego

freeway

Is Public Transit a viable alternative to I-5 expansion between La Jolla and Oceanside?

By Kyla Calvert / KPBS / August 4, 2010

SAN DIEGO — CalTrans is holding public meetings to gather input on a proposal to ease congestion on Interstate 5. The project could add up to six lanes to the freeway between La Jolla and Oceanside. Some people at these meetings are asking why there aren’t more plans to develop public transit in the corridor.

People have lots of concerns about the proposal to expand I-5. Homeowners worried about increased noise from new lanes. Environmentalists were asking questions about impacting the seven lagoons in the project area. Labor representatives wanted to know how many local workers the expansion is likely to employ.

There was one thing it seems like everyone wants to talk about, and that’s adding public transportation.  But if mass transit is built, will the riders come? The North County Transit District already runs a bus line and the Coaster train parallel to the freeway all along the 27-mile project route.

This year there were about 300,000 more empty seats on the Coaster that drivers could have filled.  During the fiscal year that ended June 30 about 1.25 million people rode the Coaster. That was down from about 1.5 million the year before.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Seth August 4, 2010 at 9:06 pm

This is a really interesting question to me. San Diego would seem to be to be very much on the fence in this period of massive growth in terms of deciding which older brother it wants to be like when it grows up, Los Angeles or San Francisco. A vastly oversimplified analogy, but I think most get the idea.

I heard an amazingly surprising stat once in grad school that Los Angeles actually has the least amount of highway lanes/capacity per capita of any major US city. I mean, I guess that makes sense when you are sitting in gridlock on the 405, but to me the point is not trying to build your way out of congestion, it is laying out the building blocks in a manner that will accommodate travel needs while also shaping urban form into something that is desirable long-term. Because once you have laid out those building blocks, you have charted a trajectory that is very hard to influence or reverse. For instance, as the article says, it is hard to say that public transit in SoCal is without its problems, as development is already more decentralized and most people’s travel origins and destinations are not just two “downtowns” arranged in a linear network.

But ultimately, I think this requires an acceptance that car travel is at least as subsidized a form a transportation as public transit, and a leap of faith in terms of understanding that if you build it, they will come. Not overnight, but eventually. Other regions grew in large part by just building rail lines in a straight line out of the downtown, and wherever your train stations were ended up being your suburban centers, that had all the different uses and services to accommodate your everyday living.

Anyhow, there are much smarter people than myself working on these things already, but put me down on the side of people who accept that adding highway lanes is usually just the short-sighted and easy way out.

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avatar Andy Cohen August 4, 2010 at 9:32 pm

A couple of comments:

1) There is currently a plan in the works to extend the trolley up along the 5 to La Jolla/UTC. That is going to happen.

2) Not sure what more they can do as far as public transit up toward Oceanside; as mentioned, there is already the Coaster in existence, which makes stops in Del Mar, Solana Beach, Encinitas, twice in Carlsbad, and Oceanside. The main issue I have with it is the operating hours, as it does tend to shut down rather early, but it’s a pretty good service otherwise. But as they noted in the article, ridership is down. I don’t know what other kinds of public transportation services folks would like to see, other than maybe high speed buses instead of MTS/NCTD city buses.

(Just a note: I became VERY familiar with rail service in SD, since for about a year and a half I commuted by Amtrak every day to Irvine. So I know a little about it.)

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avatar Noel Braymer August 25, 2010 at 12:10 pm

The ultimate plan for the Coaster is to run trains all day long every half hour. There is enough equipment to do this now. The problem is only half of the trackage between Oceanside and San Diego is double tracked. Until more trackage is built the Coaster can’t run more trains and can’t go any faster. The price tag for double tracking is $300 million dollars, but there is no funding for this yet. There are simple things that can be done to improve Coaster service and ridership. Extending some trains to Irvine would tap into traffic from Orange County and improve connections with Metrolink trains covering most of Southern California. There are no plans now for Coaster to connect with the Trolley extension to University Towne Centre. Such a connection would increase ridership for both services. The Coaster can be extended to National City and to the Trolley down there. This extension could serve the Gas Lamp and provide faster connections from the South Bay to points north of downtown. Why isn’t any of this being proposed. Politics. The different government agencies despite happy talk are fighting over funding and see each other as competition.

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