What questions should the Uptown community leaders be asking?

The Early Action Bike Projects, of which both the Uptown Bike Corridor and the Mid-City Bike Corridor are a part of, are funded by the half-cent sales tax measure, Transnet, that is managed by our regional planning agency, SANDAG. Transnet dollars represent one of the largest pools of funds in the county, and is not unlike other half-cent sales tax measures that have been passed around the state largely to fund transportation projects. The extension for Transnet barely passed voter approval in the 2004 elections.

Transnet, to most of us in the transportation advocacy world, represents a net good because it are seen as a dedicated funding stream that will make San Diego more walkable, bikeable, and thus livable.

However in 2004, despite a fairly diverse coalition supporting the extension of Transnet – it barely passed voter approval at 67% (1% point more than was needed for support as this was a tax increase). The language of the extension touted solutions for traffic congestion, and yet the Environmental Health Coalition and Sierra Club registered their opposition to the ordinance. The EHC detailed their opposition stating (among other things):

Transnet Cheats Urban Neighborhoods!
“Almost 85% of all transit infrastructure funded by Transnet will serve suburban neighborhoods.”

So when reviewing how voters around the city voted on Transnet’s extension, it is hard to gauge what they wanted – did they vote “Yes” because they wanted “traffic congestion” eased? If so, did they want wider roads, more freeways and a more car-dependent society? Or did they vote “Yes” because they wanted more transportation options like safer bike infrastructure, wide sidewalks and a robust and well connected transit network? Did they vote “No” because they didn’t want funds from the urban neighborhoods to fund suburban (and the more car-dependent) neighborhoods in the region? Or did they vote “No” because they are opposed to tax increases?

It’s hard to say.

The Early Action Bike Projects are part of SANDAG’s 2050 Regional Transportation Plan(RTP), which after approval by the SANDAG board in October 2011 (despite healthy opposition to the plan) was subsequently the subject of a lawsuit. As written here previously, the RTP was eventually “found to be illegal by the San Diego County Superior Court. The court found that the plan did not comply with California clean air laws. Whether the plan will need to be totally redone remains to be seen.” That decision is now being appealed by SANDAG instead of simply re-doing their RTP and incorporating the suggestions they’ve captured in their most recent RTP Update process. BikeSD is on the record with the SANDAG Transportation Committee asking for the agency to not appeal.

Does Hillcrest really have a parking problem when so many surface parking lots (highlighted in orange) remain unused? Image by Walt Chambers

Of the $200 billion, SANDAG has set aside $2.5 billion for bicycle and pedestrian projects (not as impressive when you think about the fact that it is 1.25% of the total funds). Of that $2.5 billion, $200 million was approved last fall by the SANDAG board to implement the RTP’s early action bike projects.
The Uptown Bike Corridor is scheduled to receive an investment of $43.4 million of those Transnet funds where the east/west corridor of University Avenue is the subject of much contention as it may (again, may) affect the removal of 91 parking meters (10% of total parking spots available in Uptown within a block of University Avenue). These parking meters currently bring in about $40,000 to Uptown annually according to San Diego’s Uptown Community Parking District’s Chief Operating Officer, Elizabeth Hannon.

Just so you didn’t miss those numbers: the numbers we’re talking about is the current revenue brought in of approximately $40,000 versus an investment of $43.4 million into Uptown to expand the number of transportation choices of Uptown’s residents and visitors.

Meanwhile, while some Uptown community leaders bicker over whether it is worthwhile to accept a $43.4 million investment over the remote possibility that they may lose $40,000, SANDAG bureaucrats continue to take tax money collected from the urban neighborhoods in San Diego; allocating it on projects in suburban, car-dependent neighborhoods where parking is plentiful and driving is not as stressful. In other words, an urban community fighting over providing vehicle parking is nothing short of a race to the bottom and a race they are destined to lose. The suburban communities will always win the parking issue with their free and plentiful parking.

What should the Uptown community leaders instead be asking? They should be asking for an accounting of total Transnet revenue collected in Uptown and exactly how much of those dollars are being re-invested in Uptown. In Fiscal Year 2012, the city of San Diego generated over $26 million in Transnet funds. How much of that $26 million was generated in Uptown and how much was reinvested back in Uptown? That is the question that needs answers.