For much of the 20th century, San Diego led the nation in public transit firsts. Unfortunately, the region has slipped to the bottom of national transit rankings. Planning activist Murtaza Baxamusa explains how it happened and the needed reform.
Around the turn of the century and up to WWII, San Diego established one of the most extensive streetcar systems in the nation. However, in the post-WWII years, San Diego, like many cities, removed its streetcar system in favor of buses and automobiles, leading to sprawl, pollution, and traffic congestion. Then in 1981, the city was the first to open a light rail system in the post-WWII era. The portion of the system opened that year remains one the most successful in the country for ridership numbers and fare box recovery.
However, through incompetence and outdated auto-first policies, the San Diego region has squandered its national leadership, writes urban activist and affordable housing developer Murtaza Baxamusa. The region now ranks at the bottom of the nation's 25 largest metro regions for public transit. Even Los Angeles, the much maligned poster child for auto-dependency and traffic, now ranks well above the San Diego region. No mere statistical comparison, Los Angeles and San Diego are historic regional rivals. Though San Diego long ago lost the battle with L.A. for size and economic supremacy, San Diegans drew solace in their lesser degree of sprawl and superior navigability, making for a better quality of life.
The agency responsible for this squandering of the region's leadership role? The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG). SANDAG seemed to emulate the past auto-centric mistakes of the L.A. region. However, recent legislation will reform the agency, though it will be a long road (double entendre not intended) to returning the region to the point where it's competitive with other regions. In the source article, Baxamusa lays out San Diego's example of what not to do, and how the recent legislation (which was still awaiting Governor's signature at the time of writing, but has since become law) will help reform SANDAG.
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