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Report: SANDAG transportation plan falls short of San Diego climate goals

Two cyclists ride by the trolley in downtown San Diego
Matthew Bowler
Two cyclists ride by the trolley in downtown San Diego, Oct. 20, 2021.

An ambitious new regional transportation plan to invest heavily in new and improved public transit services is still not enough to achieve San Diego's goals of sharply reducing car travel to combat climate change, according to a report released Thursday.

The report, from the nonprofit Climate Action Campaign, is based on modeling from the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), which is set to adopt its long-range transportation plan in December. The plan would put tens of billions of dollars over several decades toward new bus and rail lines, safe bike and pedestrian infrastructure and toll lanes on freeways.

RELATED: Mayor Gloria Directs City Staff To Create Protected Bikeways On Pershing Drive

Modeling shows those investments will carry San Diego much further toward its sustainable transportation goals, at least compared to previous SANDAG plans. But while the city's Climate Action Plan expects 50% of commute trips in urban areas to be via biking, walking and public transit by 2035, the report found SANDAG's plan would get that share to only 27%.

Even that assumption could be overly optimistic because SANDAG's plan relies on voters approving new taxes to fund the expanded transit network. If voters reject those measures, or if projects face other funding shortfalls or construction delays, it's likely even fewer people would ditch their cars for more sustainable transportation modes.

Transportation — namely cars and trucks — is San Diego's biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Noah Harris, transportation policy advocate for Climate Action Campaign, said the report's findings underscore just how dramatically the lives of San Diegans have to change in order to achieve the city's climate goals.

Noah Harris Climate Action Campaign
Matthew Bowler
Noah Harris a policy advocate with the Climate Action Campaign talking with KPBS on the corner of 6th Ave and C street in downtown San Diego, Wednesday October 20, 2021.

"We really want this report to serve as a reality check for local elected officials that SANDAG is taking a great first step toward a more sustainable, a more equitable transportation future, but there's more work that needs to be done," Harris said.

Examples of that work, Harris said, could be building more protected bike lanes to encourage cycling and converting more automobile lanes on major roads into bus-only lanes to make public transit faster and more reliable. The overall goal, Harris said, is to re-engineer San Diego's sprawling, car-dependent neighborhoods to be much denser and more walkable.

Dave Rolland, spokesman for San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, highlighted the mayor's "Homes For All of Us" package of policy reforms and the forthcoming update to the city's Climate Action Plan as evidence of his commitment to achieving the city's sustainability goals.

"The city of San Diego has never considered the Regional Transportation Plan to be the only path to meeting our transportation-related climate goals," Rolland said. "However, the draft plan will move the city closer to our ambitious mode-share goals than any plan SANDAG has ever proposed — and Mayor Gloria will continue to work toward giving San Diegans more safe and convenient options to get around and support the city’s bold initiatives to make housing more affordable."

The SANDAG board of directors, made up of mayors, city councilmembers and county supervisors from across the region, is scheduled to vote on its new regional transportation plan on Dec. 10.

Report: SANDAG transportation plan falls short of San Diego climate goals