SANDAG Did San Diego a Disservice With New Trolley Line

by on December 17, 2021 · 7 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

The new trolley does not go to the beach or La Jolla. What it does do is to impact surrounding neighborhoods.

By Michael Pallamary / Op-Ed San Diego Union-Tribune / December15, 2021

I relocated to San Diego in 1976 to work on what was then a political hot potato — engineering the so-called “Tijuana Trolley.” I moved here because of my expertise as a railroad engineer, in Boston, where I was responsible for the field engineering and layout of many essential elements of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, one of the nation’s oldest rapid transit systems dating back to 1897.

Similarly, here in San Diego, the San Diego Electric Railway system was developed in 1892. The leading proponent was John Diedrich Spreckels. Among his other enterprises, Spreckels subdivided Mission Beach. In order to support his trolley line, the tracks were constructed down the middle of Mission Boulevard, 18 inches above the adjacent grade. The subdivided lots were, by design, small and did not provide for any automobile parking.

Unlike Boston, San Diego foolishly tore out its trolley system, once an efficient series of routes that linked Downtown to Ocean Beach, Mission Beach and La Jolla. The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) is now attempting to reconstruct the system at great expense and cost. It is akin to sticking a square peg in a round hole.

Fundamental planning rules necessitate that certain conditions be in place to support a rapid transit system. Regrettably, SANDAG has done a miserable job at planning this line. In spite of SANDAG’s politically fueled and financed advertisements, the new trolley does not go to the beach; it goes to the Westfield Shopping Center at University Town Center. What it does do is impact surrounding neighborhoods, soon to be altered by fiat. Zoning regulations will be revised, and density will be increased. It is a convenient line if you want to get to UTC; it is not convenient if you want to get to La Jolla. As with the Balboa Station, where the beach is 2 miles away, downtown La Jolla is 4 miles away from the last station.

Moreover, the biggest challenge will be filling in the missing link from the Balboa Avenue station to Pacific Beach. The notion that Uber and Lyft will fill in this void is a carefully crafted myth; the gap will mostly be filled by scooters.

Notwithstanding SANDAG’s carefully crafted mythos, most people who use the trolley to get to the beach will be young. Families with children will be unlikely to use the trolley as it will be too exhausting to traverse through two of the most dangerous intersections in San Diego, Mission Boulevard and Garnet Avenue, and Cass Street and Garnet Avenue, lugging all the things a young family needs: toys, blankets, coolers, drinks, playpens, diapers and other beach gear. Instead, younger scooter riders will be the ones passing through these neighborhoods. For many, especially those who are unable to get to the beach, this may be their first experience. Many of these kids will return from the beach — drunk, intoxicated and stoned. They will dump the scooters on the streets and sidewalks while fouling the station when they get to the station. As the Balboa Station line will cease operations at 11:48 p.m., where will the scooter riders go? How will they get home?

At a minimum, because of poor planning, SANDAG should provide signage and public improvements to assure that these scooter routes and pedestrian thoroughfares are as safe as possible. Many of the people visiting the beach will be unfamiliar with the various ways to get there. As a result, they will end up wandering through unfamiliar neighborhoods, riding their scooters through unsafe streets.

On Nov. 6, police arrested 10 motorists on suspicion of drunken driving at a sobriety checkpoint in Pacific Beach. The City News Service reported 11 vehicles were also impounded during the checkpoint at 2700 Garnet Ave., which began at 11 p.m. Saturday and ended Sunday at 3 a.m., according to Officer Anthony Obregon of the San Diego Police Department. According to San Diego DUI lawyer Rick Mueller, of the top 20 most populous cities in the United States, San Diego has the largest percentage of drivers with DUI, drunken driving or alcohol-related driving convictions.

All of this could have been avoided if SANDAG had made sure adequate infrastructure was in place to support the trolley. Unfortunately, SANDAG has done a disservice to San Diegans by this haphazard approach to urban planning. There is time to protect the community if one applies some essential planning tools, something SANDAG has neglected.

Michael Pallamary is the owner of Pallamary and Associates, a land use and planning firm located in La Jolla. He is a former railroad engineer responsible for the construction and extension of the major lines of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority system in Boston. He lives in Clairemont.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Bus Goer December 17, 2021 at 11:53 am

And little known is the 30 bus that went directly form Downtown to the beaches of PB and La Jolla now starts and stops at Old Town. So you pay twice and have top transfer. And they cut many many more miles of bus lines the day the trolley started with its 11 miles. It is a little-known scandal.


nostalgic December 18, 2021 at 2:49 pm

Does anybody know how to get to the UCSD Hospital from the Trolley Stop? I have not done the research. Or Scripps? The lines go right overhead, but I didn’t see a stopping station.


Vern December 18, 2021 at 3:21 pm

Trolley stops at Tecolote Road, Clairemont Drive, Balboa Avenue, Nobel Drive, the VA Medical Center, UC San Diego Central Campus (Voigt & Lyman), UCSD Health La Jolla (Voigt Drive), Executive Drive, and the UTC Transit Center.

UCSD Health La Jolla (Voigt Drive) appears to be closest to UCSD & Scripps hospitals.


Michael D. December 18, 2021 at 10:21 pm

So what’s the solution given the thing is already built?


Paul Webb December 19, 2021 at 11:06 am

I have to take issue with the basic premise of the op/ed piece. The fundamental planning flaw of the trolley is not that it did not go to the beaches, but that the initial line from the border to downtown was not thought out at all. Instead of doing actual planning to determine where and how a rail transit system should be built, by determining where people wanted and needed to travel, the decision was made to take over a rail right-of-way that was no longer wanted/needed and turned in into the San Diego trolley. So, in other words, instead of trying to do it right we, in our typically short-sighted San Diego way, decided to do it cheap.

Mr. Pallamary is right about one thing – we did have a number of transit options that never should have been abandoned. Almost every day I walk along what was part of the Point Loma Railroad route. I often think about how great it would have been if this had been kept.

By the way, a far better use of the old rail line was the conversion of the old Coronado Branch Line portion of the line to a bike path in a very successful rails-to-trails project.


Vern December 19, 2021 at 7:57 pm

There is no “e-scooter parking” at any of the mid coast stops – no scooter “corrals”. “No Bike” signs are posted at Tecolote, Clairemont & Balboa stops.


kh December 20, 2021 at 10:37 am

Same thing in LA. I get that they can be in the way, but if we’re going to call these a “first/last mile solution” (They aren’t), then corrals are needed. If the scooters are left elsewhere, confiscate them and penalize the company. It’s simple really.


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