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Locals lead effort to bring public transit back to Carmel Valley

Members of a Carmel Valley Community Planning Group subcommittee are pushing to reinstate public transit in Carmel Valley.

Local urban planner Sonya Solinsky and Karen Cody, a former planning board member, have been making their case for two new bus lines for Carmel Valley providing for new east-west and north-south connections and linking surrounding communities.

Currently in terms of public transit in the area, NCTD (North County Transit District) has bus route 308 on Via de la Valle toward Rancho Santa Fe, the coastal 101 route from Oceanside to UTC, and the Sorrento Valley and Solana Beach Coaster stations. Transit for Carmel Valley would fall under the Metropolitan Transit System (MTS).

The only way for people in Carmel Valley to reach surrounding communities such as Del Mar, Torrey Hills and Torrey Highlands, work centers, shopping and recreation such as the beach, local parks and libraries is to go by car, contributing to traffic congestion.

“It’s time for transit in this community,” Cody said.

Public transportation is a passion for Solinsky, who studied transportation planning at San Diego State University, worked as a traffic planning intern at SANDAG, and was a project manager for TransCore, working on Interstate 15 projects.

“I get really excited about transit, I lived with it in Europe for over 20 years and I know how different my life is not having it,” Solinsky said.

To advocate for public transit, they have met with Assemblyman Todd Gloria and San Diego City Council President Georgette Gomez, who is chair of the MTS board and a SANDAG board member. The San Diego City Council president is required to serve on the SANDAG board as a result of Assembly Bill 805, which passed in 2017. The bill also requires that SANDAG’s regional comprehensive plan addresses greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets set by the State Air Resources Board and includes strategies that shift to public transportation over freeways.

The subcommittee members will present at the Carmel Valley planning board’s Jan. 24 meeting to gather feedback and support. A SANDAG representative is scheduled to attend the planning board’s February meeting and the subcommittee members hope to meet with District 1 Councilmember Barbara Bry prior to next month’s meeting.

Solinsky and Cody’s goal is to get local transit options included in this year’s update of the 2050 SANDAG Regional Transit Plan (RTP). SANDAG updates its RTP every four years and the next plan will be adopted this year—the subcommittee’s recommended addition is two new lines serving Carmel Valley and North Coastal areas.

Their proposed “Red” line would start at Highway 101 and go east on Del Mar Heights Road to Carmel Valley Road, through Pacific Highlands Ranch and on to Rancho Penasquitos, ending at the Sabre Springs transit station on Carmel Mountain Road.

The “Blue” line would start on El Camino Real/Via de la Valle and go south on El Camino Real through Carmel Valley, past SR-56 to Carmel Mountain Road in Torrey Hills toward Sorrento Valley, connecting with the Sorrento Valley transit station and possibly making the connection up to Genesee Avenue and the future Blue Trolley Line from La Jolla to Old Town that is set to open in 2021.

The 2050 RTP does include two lines that serve east-west and north-south in the area by 2035. The proposed north-south connection is rapid transit from Oceanside to Del Mar Heights but does not have stops in Carmel Valley. The proposed east-west connection runs from Carmel Valley Road to the Sabre Springs transit station—“It uses the shoulders of SR-56 instead of city streets so it skips the entirety of Carmel Valley,” Solinsky said, which defeats the purpose of linking communities like Pacific Highlands Ranch, Torrey Highlands and Rancho Penasquitos. ”Their focus is to get there fast but it eliminates all of the areas and disconnects everything.”

Solinsky said her main focus is at least to get that north-south connection and to get things moved up so when the Blue Trolley line opens in 2021, Carmel Valley will be connected via a bus route—one that doesn’t come from Oceanside.

“This is important to the community, to make it happen in a feasible amount of time,” Solinsky said.

At some point prior to 2005, MTS did operate a bus line on Del Mar Heights Road down to Highway 101. From 2006 to 2009, MTS ran a pilot route from Carmel Valley that started at Del Mar Highlands Town Center and went to University Town Center. The route was discontinued due to low ridership and low population density at that time, Solinsky said. Carmel Valley also got dinged due to its high property values and median income as those with higher income are considered less likely to use public transit.

A lot has changed since 2009, Cody said, and it might be time to try again. Carmel Valley has more density, there has been growth in Pacific Highlands Ranch, there is more retail and hotels and growth in work centers like High Bluff and Sorrento Valley. The population includes older residents who may need public transit and people who work in the area do not have reliable ways to access their jobs. Cody said some environmentally-conscious residents want to do their part to help the city meet its goals in the Climate Action Plan, which calls for eliminating half of all greenhouse gas emissions by 2035. When talking about potential ridership they cannot mention schools as a driving need for transit although area students would certainly benefit.

“We have to prove that we have riders in this community and get the word out that this is something that the community needs,” Cody said.

“San Diego is such a large city and this area is not a focus at all,” Solinsky added. “Our community needs to be heard.”

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