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Carmel Valley weighs in on MTS’ plan to improve transit system

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A group talks transit at a June 11 Elevate 2020 forum.
(Karen Billing)

As MTS eyes placing a measure on the 2020 ballot to provide funding for transit projects, they are gathering input with the lofty task of defining what the future of transportation in San Diego should look like. On June 11, Carmel Valley was a stop on their route and about 50 people filled the meeting room at the Carmel Valley Recreation Center to make the community’s voice heard.

Among MTS’ guiding principles for its future vision are finding viable alternatives to a car, making connections that make sense between residential areas and job centers, improving access to seniors and further reducing carbon emissions. MTS is exploring options such as bus rapid projects, light rail, a bay ferry service concept and skyways, enclosed cabs operating on aerial cables.

Breaking up into small groups, the attendees were asked about their values and priorities. There was not a lot of talk about light rail or skyways in Carmel Valley—conversation focused on buses including service on Del Mar Heights Road, access to schools, service to destinations like the beach communities and connections to the Sorrento Valley Coaster station.

Jotted down on one group’s sheet was local residents’ simple mandate: “We need service, period.”

Those in attendance at the June 11 session included San Diego County Supervisor and MTS board member Nathan Fletcher, Steve Hadley from Councilmember Barbara Bry’s office, San Dieguito Union High School District Superintendent Robert Haley, Del Mar Union School District Superintendent Holly McClurg, Carmel Valley candidate for City Council’s District 1 Will Moore and a group of robotics students from Ashley Falls Elementary School.

“This is wonderful and encouraging to see so many people come out to really have a chance to share your thoughts and priorities and for us to get your feedback as we try to collectively come together and decide what are the things the community would like MTS to focus on,” Fletcher said.

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Supervisor Nathan Fletcher at the June 11 MTS forum.
(Valeria Espinoza)

Fletcher said when he thinks building a better transit system, he thinks about it from various perspectives. As a member of the California Air Resources Board, he thinks about reducing carbon emissions and as a parent of five children, he thinks about building a system with options for future generations.

“There’s a generation that wants a different world than I wanted. When I was a kid the day I could get my driver’s license I was waiting outside the DMV,” Fletcher said. “The vast majority of students I taught at UCSD don’t even have a driver’s license, they don’t even want a car.”

As a San Diegan, he thinks a lot about congestion as spending time in traffic is an issue for anyone who has had to get on the freeway at the wrong time of day.

“We also know that merely widening freeways does not reduce congestion,” Fletcher said, providing the example of Houston’s 26-lane freeway expansion that when built resulted in congestion going up 30 percent in morning and 50 percent in the evening. “For the vast majority of San Diegans who will always drive a car, our message is if we build a dynamic, market-responsive transit system we’re providing options and you don’t have to get that many cars off the road, you will see a real reduction in congestion.”

MTS is in position to act to address some of those issues as a result of Assembly Bill 805, which for first time ever as a transit agency, gave MTS the authority to ask voters about a funding measure for more revenue for transit.

“That was a big deal,” said Mark Olson, MTS manager of public relations. “It allows MTS to ask the voters for up to a half cent of a local sales tax for transit-related spending.”

Olson said what they are hearing from people is that they want faster service, they want more frequency and they want dependability, not having to look at a timetable to know that service is going to come in five minutes.

Fletcher said MTS is committed to gathering feedback from the community before bringing something to voters in 2020. Work will continue through forums throughout the city, online surveys and at the Elevate 2020’s Community Advisory Committee. Sonya Solinsky, who heads up the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board’s North West Transit Subcommittee, is a local representative on that group.

Fletcher is hopeful that the end result of all the work is that MTS can begin to invest in a system that gives people better choices and options.

“It gives me great encouragement when we see so many folks show up to really be a part of building a better community,” Fletcher said. “Together, I believe that we can do something really good for our region.”

Learn more at ElevateSD2020.com

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Carmel Valley's forum was well-attended.
(Valeria Espinoza)