San Diego High-Speed Rail Plan Counts on Future Density

Despite slowing population growth statewide, officials believe the region will "grow into" the new rail system if cities promote dense development around transit stations.

June 1, 2021, 8:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

San Diego Trolley

Pazut Wutigornsombatkul / Shutterstock

[Updated June 1, 2021] The success of an ambitious $160-billion plan for public transit and high-speed rail in San Diego depends on the region's future development, writes Joshua Emerson Smith in the San Diego Union-Tribune. With San Diego's—and California's—population growth rate slowing to a near halt, cities must "usher in dense urban development around transit stations" to make the new rail system effective. "Population growth is a bit less important than where that growth occurs," says Ethan Elkind, director of the climate program at UC Berkeley’s Center for Law, Energy and the Environment.

Critics of the plan say that "San Diego doesn’t have much of a chance of building the type of urban communities that would justify tens of billions of dollars in transit projects." Local communities, which "have bitterly fought housing requirements in court," have for decades challenged new multi-family housing construction in and around San Diego. Unlike other urban rail systems, San Diego's "would service a region with dispersed employment hubs, often featuring office parks with plentiful parking." Community activists also have concerns about displacement, access, and making urgent improvements to existing transit systems. "Advocates for low-income communities say they will support SANDAG’s new transportation plan, but only if the final version prioritizes immediate upgrades to the region’s bus and trolley systems."

"The phasing of various projects is still being determined, as is the financing. A tax initiative that spells out both could be put to voters as early as 2022."

Thursday, May 27, 2021 in San Diego Union-Tribune

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