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San Diego County Traffic Worsens After Economic Recovery

November 27, 2017 1:18 p.m.

San Diego County Traffic Worsens After Economic Recovery


Joshua Emerson Smith, environment reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Related Story: San Diego County Traffic Worsens After Economic Recovery


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

If you been thinking that freeway traffic is getting worse in San Diego, you are right. A study by Sendak find that traffic congestion has been growing right along with the economy as a region recovers from the great recession. Regional planners are warning that the problem will be getting better anytime soon. Joining me is Joshua Emerson Smith, environment reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune. Welcome to the show. What does the Sandag report tell us about how bad traffic has gotten in San Diego?

It is worsen before the recession even started. During the economic downturn less people were employed, financial resources were constrained so there were more people taking public transit and as the economy has recovered so has the traffic.

So let's go into this correlation between economic recovery and more people on the roads. Is as simple as that the fact that there is simply fewer people working?

Yes, that was probably the biggest factor. Gases cheap and now so people are opting to drive instead of taking public transit. We do see the transit numbers go up when gas goes up. That is another big factor.

There's a list of some of the worst bottlenecks in San Diego. I believe one is like Interstate 105 and Interstate 15.

Yes, a lot of people going back to the South Bay in the evening creates a ton of traffic. We have something like a reverse commute in San Diego where the biggest job center is University City up near UC San Diego. So at night everyone is coming back. A lot of people are going down to San Ysidro and that is a major bottleneck.

San Diego traffic is still not as bad as LA traffic but how -- tell us about that.

It's not. It was I believe 19th of the top 20 worst and Los Angeles -- it was not as bad as you might think. Especially given its economic activity. You look at the gross domestic product of the city and compare it to its traffic ranking and you will see New York City is the worst with the highest rating. There are some outliers like Riverside and San Bernardino where it is not high but people also are so sprawled out so the traffic is really bad.

It just seems back to us because we are not used to it. We may be -- is still pretty bad.

It really depends on your particular commute. Those overall traffic averages hide some really national -- nasty bottlenecks in Senegal.

There are several projects coming online your car any of them expected to make much of an impact on this traffic congestion?

This is a big part of the article that was eye-opening for me and I hope readers as well. Public transit doesn't necessarily make congestion better. What it can do is keep it from getting worse while allowing more economic growth. So one place where traffic congestion could be constrained is between downtown and University City as the midcoast Raleigh extension gets built out and becomes operational by 2021. That will allow that area to boom and grow economically without significantly increasing the traffic along that route. That is because people will only tolerate so much congestion before they opt for alternatives.

What about the express lanes that are so popular with regional planners. Did they make an impact?

Actually they do. The San Diego Association of government state of the commute report found that the rapid lines that travel in the express lanes between Escondido, University City and downtown have seen high increased ridership in recent years even as local buses have seen ridership drop-offs. So they credit that with helping to stabilize the traffic on the 15.
Your story quotes a professor. Talking about San Diego transitioning from being a fairly small city to becoming a much larger city. Are people going to have to get used to the fact of life that traffic congestion is now part of the way we live here?

Guess, unless car start flying. That is decades off. For the foreseeable future this is the state of commuting in San Diego. You could have another downturn and see a lot more people leave the roadways but if the economy continues to improve or plateaus to some extent, you're going to have to sit in traffic.

I've been speaking with Joshua Emerson Smith, environment reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune. Thank you.

My pleasure.