Population, transportation and our quality of life

You may think more roads helps traffic congestion. Maybe not ...

by Bill Daugherty


hy are the Audubon Society and its local chapters concerned about population growth, urban congestion and transportation planning in Southern California? Because these elements affect our quality of life, and the responsible government agencies have done such an abysmal job in trying to cope with their impacts.

According to a recent study, Los Angeles is the most congested city in the country. San Diego is rated eighth, and our transportation and growth plans seem bent upon our achieving the number two position in a very short time. Our projections indicate that San Diego will add over a million more people by the year 2020, about one-third more than we now have.

Indicative of the impact of this population growth and the failure of state and local transportation agencies to cope with present and future traffic congestion, is a comparison of the March-April 1992 issue of SANDAG's, "INFO" brochure and the 1996-2020 issue of their Regional Transportation Plan (RTP). "INFO" defines six levels of service (traffic congestion) defined for freeways and arterials, "A" thru "F". Level "F" was defined as equivalent to one mile of stopped vehicles per lane.

In 1985, there were 72 miles of freeway rated as congested. By 1990, this had increased to 105 miles. SANDAG forecasts that by 2020, 280 miles of our 300-mile system will be congested. Driving will be so bad that they now list four levels of "F" service. Though the criteria for each "F" service level were not defined, it is quite possible that they translate into bad, worse, severe and "I should have packed a lunch."


They call this planning?


As freeways become more congested, local streets leading to the ramps are similarly jammed. Our planners answer to traffic congestion has been, "Send us more money to expand the freeway and local road network."

This is the same argument that prevailed in Los Angeles; though the city is two-thirds paved, congestion is worse than ever!

There has never been a road that had less traffic on it after it was constructed than was present before it was built. Similarly, adding additional lanes to a freeway never reduced the number of vehicles. In fact, adding a new lane to any road results in ever increasing traffic because people can now commute further; until the road again becomes too congested. In fact, if we built all the projects they want, they still forecast severe congestion!

In San Diego and Los Angeles, only 2 percent of commuters use public transit. Why is it that 17 percent of Chicagoans use public transit, 20 percent in San Francisco, and 47 percent in New York City, but San Diego and LA can only scrape up 2 percent? According to SANDAG and transit district spokesmen, "It is not our fault because we won't leave our cars!" Is this a valid argument?

In LA, the Santa Clarita line of their Metrolink system carried about 900 passengers a day between the San Fernando Valley and Downtown. Following an earthquake that demolished the freeways, passenger usage jumped to 36,000 per day; due to the fact that it took more time to drive using local streets than taking the Metrolink. As the freeways were reconstructed, revenue dropped to near pre-quake levels. This proves that people will leave their cars when there is a service available that takes less time. Our RTP shows that SANDAG envisions that it will always take us two to three times as long to use public transit than to drive. This is called planning?

Why do other cities have better transit usage? Their primary commuter systems are above or below ground level (elevated or subway) and have effective feeder systems to bring passengers to and from the main System. These trains are not impeded by, and do not impede, ground traffic. Is San Diego so different from other cities that an elevated system would not be effective? No!

In spite of their predictions of massive regional congestion, SANDAG and our two transit districts have rejected the use of any elevated system!

There is some light beginning to shine in the transit tunnel. Recognizing the failure of their Metrolink system to attract commuters, SCAG (Southern California Association of Governments), which includes LA, Riverside, Orange, Ventura and San Bernardino Counties, has designated a MAGLEV (Magnetic Levitated) train as their primary transit system of the future. MAGLEV is elevated, silent, non-polluting, and fast. It is the perfect system for urban and interurban service here in San Diego.

If we can redirect the mindset of our transportation official from roads and ground level trains and trolleys to rapid transit, San Diego may yet emerge as a economic powerhouse of the 21st Century that retains our quality of life.

William Daugherty is President of the Buena Vista Audubon Society and Member, SANDAG Regional Transportation Advisory Committee Home Phone (760) 591-9931