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Is Public Transit A Viable Alternative To I-5 Expansion?

— 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.

Transit district spokesman Alex Wiggins said there are several reasons for the decline.

“That trend was noted by most agencies across the country. The economy has somewhat of an impact on that as well as, you know, gas is a little bit cheaper than it was a couple of years ago. And so folks have other alternatives,” he said.

Job losses may have cut down on the number of commuters crawling through the corridor at peak times, but plenty of cars still do crawl between La Jolla and Oceanside every day, as trains with all of those newly available seats glide on by.

Why aren’t more of the drivers defecting to mass transit? For one, lots of drivers like Dolores Welty are going places the train won’t take them.

“There’s no way, for example, to get to Kearny Mesa to go to work from here without your own car. There should be some kind of transportation to do that,” Welty said.

For the bound and determined there is transportation to do that. It just means taking at least three different buses on a trip that would take at least two hours. Without traffic the car ride takes about 25 minutes.

And the drivers with destinations near Coaster stations? Are they just the embodiment of Southern California’s love affair with the automobile?

Brian Taylor says no. As the director of UCLA’s Institute for Transportation Studies, and someone who has investigated the issue, he says these people are just really busy.

“What you find out is that that person actually is dropping her kid off at daycare, which is not near the station," he said. "And then, is going to her bank and then going to work. And on the way home has to go over and pick up some groceries, on the way stops over and grabs some take-out Thai food, then goes to daycare and comes home and has essentially done errand running on the way to and from work.”

Taylor says only about 15 percent of people in cars are on their way to or from work. The decentralized communities typical of North County aren’t well suited to public transportation.

So, should public transit boosters give up the ghost?

Not exactly. The managed lanes that the CalTrans proposal would add to the freeway may be the region’s best shot at more useful mass transit routes.

“So, you have three choices if you do it right. You can drive in your car in the congested lanes. You can pay to bypass the traffic. Or, you can transit that operates in those lanes also bypassing the traffic so that now, if you choose to take transit the transit is actually a lot faster than driving in the car and that may have an advantage,” Taylor said.

Bus Rapid Transit in the added lanes is part of CalTrans’ plans for the I-5 corridor. Yes, more lanes may mean more cars and just as much congestion in the future, but Taylor says adding capacity with lanes and bus routes would mean getting more people where they need to go, when they need to get there.

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Avatar for user 'bburrito'

bburrito | August 4, 2010 at 12:53 p.m. ― 6 years, 7 months ago

Yeah, people aren't using public transportation because the costs of it have doubled as the economy tanked. Why? Because public transportation was financially mismanaged. They are now having to pay interest on loans they should not have taken in the first place. Where does that interest come from? The increased ticket fees.

We don't need larger freeways, we need more public transportation that is reasonably priced. Gas is cheap simply because we do not factor in all of the costs of using it. People note that our gas is cheaper here than anywhere else because there is less taxes. And while on its face that is true, but in reality those taxes in other countries are used to capture the true cost of using oil. Those taxes cover things like oil spills, environmental damage from refineries, air pollution, road wear, etc. Here in the United States we do everything we can to hide those costs from the consumer to keep things artificially cheap. Let people pay for the true costs of using oil by instituting a carbon tax and I guarantee you people will start using more public transportation as they should.

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Avatar for user 'NickV'

NickV | August 5, 2010 at 1:30 p.m. ― 6 years, 7 months ago

Of course public transit is a viable alternative - but not in the form that SD County has today. There is no connectivity. If you want to get to the Airport - you must take the coaster downtown the get on a bus to go back to the airport. If you work in Kearny Mesa and live in North County - Taking transit is time prohibitive. Even to get from North County to UTC area there will not be connectivity with the new light rail. We must continue to build rail, Bus Rapid Transit and make sure that those alternatives are the best choice. Adding lanes to freeways has been studied and they does not cut down on congestion in the long run they just invite more congestion - I guess we will keep building until we hit the actual sand at the coast line. Even Los Angeles the "king" of freeways has realized destroying neighborhoods in the name of a couple of lanes is not going to get us out of congestion - Measure R up in LA County is a sales tax that will building 30 years worth of Rail. We must look ahead at the future and that will be expensive gas and more people - let's plan for this and build trains and Bus Lines that go places. One person one car madness needs to stop! Oh and I'm a conservative - but I think subsidizing the roads over other forms of transportation is hurting the U.S. Also, transit stops usually invite investment dollars to a city or area - I'm not sure about you but I don't want to live next to a freeway - I live in North County and if i could get on a train and take it to my job in Kearny mesa and walk to my office i would do that in a heart beat!!

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Avatar for user 'gitadenise'

gitadenise | August 6, 2010 at 8:34 a.m. ― 6 years, 7 months ago

We need to think green!
We need public transportation to commute to work.
We need connectivity from the train to the places of work, Please,
please be considerate of our needs and that of the planet!

Elderly folks are driving when they are not safe behind the wheel and on the roads. But they have no choices having no other means to get to their medical appointments!

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