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Transportation Transit plan calls for sales tax extension



$7 Billion Project Would Link Neighborhoods With Jobs, Schools

A new transportation plan aimed at encouraging public transit use and transit-centered population growth carries a high price tag that would require extending a sales tax set to expire in seven years.

Called Transit Works, the new approach to transit would cost $7 billion over the next 20 years. Its success depends on whether San Diegans vote to extend the half-cent “TransNet” sales tax beyond 2008, said Alan Hoffman, a Metropolitan Transit Development Board consultant from The Mission Group.

Hoffman discussed Transit Works in a speech to a national symposium on urban planning held May 19 and 20 at UCSD.

Transit Works would make public transportation more viable by providing more and better connections between a greater number of areas, Hoffman said. Currently, only a few areas in the county are well connected, leaving most residents without any sensible connection between home and work or school except for the automobile, he said.

That means new housing developments continue to be built around the automobile, leading to more urban sprawl, Hoffman said.

Instead, the new plan would build a massive network of transit lines to connect people more directly to their destinations. By linking neighborhoods and important commuter destinations, it would encourage more people to use transit, leading to increased infill development, he said.

The system would divide public transit into four basic kinds of routes. “Blue” and “green” routes would be street-based local or shuttle units, traveling up to 15 mph. “Red” car service, meanwhile, would be more of an express service with limited stops, capable of going up to 30 mph, Hoffman said.

The red car service would include not only the current San Diego Trolley, but also new services such as a rubber-tire-on-road “flex” trolley. This futuristic-looking trolley-like vehicle could move rapidly along dedicated pathways, like a trolley, but would also be capable of leaving those pathways and moving along city streets.

This would give riders a trolley-like experience, but could be built in less time at less cost, while running more often and bringing riders much closer to work or school, he said.

Yellow car service would be express vehicles that take advantage of freeway car-pool lanes, traffic signal priority and other features that allow the vehicle to travel as fast as 45 mph. This puts it in the competitive range of a rush-hour automobile, Hoffman said.

With dozens of new routes locally, this would be an improvement over current service, which has only a few express bus routes and the trolley. This has proved convenient only for people who live and work near a stop, and who don’t have to rely on slow local bus “feeders” to get to or from the trolley, he said.


Cost Is Less

Another advantage is that a flex trolley would cost a lot less to implement. For $1 billion, the city can build up to 35 miles of light rail track , or 200 miles of flex trolley routes. That same $1 billion will buy as many as 2,000 miles of rapid bus routes, he said.

Hoffman pointed out that similar proposals are already in use or in the planning stages in Eugene, Ore.; Quito, Ecuador; Curitiba, Brazil; and Eindhoven, Netherlands. Although it would take about 20 years to implement the whole system in San Diego, key elements of the plan could be in place in as little as five years, he said.

In that short time, San Diego could have a core version of the system operating in one or two heavily trafficked corridors. By getting such a system up and running as quickly as possible, that will help secure public support to fund the rest of the system, Hoffman said.


Rapid Implementation

“We have a strategy to rapidly implement the pilot red car network in time, then to demonstrate for a public vote on the TransNet reauthorization to get the money to build the more expensive pieces of infrastructure and get a far more extensive system of connections in place,” he said.

Carolyn Chase, director of the San Diego Coalition of Transportation Choices, said she supported the concept of creating “a transit system that works.” But she doubted whether people would endorse extending TransNet.

Chase noted that when the San Diego Association of Governments recently did a series of focus groups on TransNet, the results were not exactly heartwarming.

“Not one person in each of these focus groups knew what TransNet was. Some people thought it was a Web site,” she said.

That will make it difficult to get the support to pass the TransNet extension with the required two-thirds majority , especially now that San Diegans are feeling thrifty from the increased costs for electricity and gasoline, Chase said.

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