Local transit efforts continue despite SANDAG plan reset

Members of the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board’s transit subcommittee have been pushing to reinstate public transit in Carmel Valley and surrounding areas, hoping to get two new bus lines included in this year’s update of the 2050 SANDAG Regional Transit Plan (RTP). The group will be taking a slight detour following the announcement that the plan will be delayed two years as SANDAG rolls out a new vision under new Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata.

Phil Trom, SANDAG senior regional planner, said before Ikhrata arrived in December they were set to approve this year’s update of the plan, which they had been working on for the last two years. However, they were having trouble trying to meet the state’s more rigorous targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions and were going through the transition with the new executive director.

“We hit the reset button and we’re going to be looking at the transportation system from a holistic perspective,” said Trom at the Carmel Valley planning board’s February meeting. “There’s a new energy and new blood in the region for transportation and it’s an opportunity to work with all the communities to rethink transportation.”

On Feb. 22 the SANDAG Board of Directors unanimously approved an action plan to develop a new vision for the RTP that completely transforms the way people and goods move throughout the San Diego region, quite different from previous efforts. According to Trom, the new vision for the future could consider cutting edge technologies and some very “drastic” changes, such as hyper loops and high-speed vehicles and integrating autonomous vehicles and pods.

Trom said Hassan’s vision is to dream first, figure out a solution and then talk about a way to fund it. “He thinks it’s more compelling and is a more productive use of people’s time to ask them what they want and find a way to pay for it.”

Work on the new plan will continue over the next two years. From April through June 2019, SANDAG plans to launch the “vision development effort,” conducting outreach with all San Diego communities to set goals and priorities on alternatives to the car that provide real choices that are equivalent in terms of travel time.

Trom said they are considering November 2019 to release a conceptual framework of what would be included in the network and they will work on developing tools, data and models through September 2020. It takes a full year to do an environmental impact review so Trom said the new RTP would not be adopted until November 2021.

“It sounds like a lot of time but we’re going to be running fast and furious to work with the communities to find these different solutions that everybody’s been clamoring for,” said Trom. “This is the opportunity to do it.”

While autonomous pods sounded exciting, Carmel Valley planning board Chair Frisco White had just a simple question: realistically what were the chances of getting some basic bus or shuttle services in Carmel Valley?

“What’s going to happen to us now? We have a great employment center, we have 50,000 to 60,000 people here. The only transportation option that we have here is do we take our SUV or the convertible,” White said.

The previous 2050 RTP had rapid transit connections in the area by 2035. Board member Ken Farinsky offered that he would like to find some transit solutions for the area that serve people that are not commuters—Trom said his point was well taken as there are more non-work trips than work trips in a household.

“Adding a rapid transit bus that stops through Carmel Valley once or twice a day is going to do nothing…it’s total waste of time. But if you could add something that connected the villages that are forming like Pacific Highlands Ranch, Carmel Valley, Del Mar, Solana Beach, to me that would be great,” Farinsky said. “There are some great bus routes that would pick up a lot of kids. We have 10,000 kids who go to school on Del Mar Heights Road.”

Trom said he did not want to speculate on when the area could get transit or what the mode would be, however, he said by SANDAG “recasting its net, there is an opportunity for more and different.”

He encouraged people to stay engaged in the regional plan process at sdforward.com, “It’s a long commitment, it’s going to be a two-year process, but I think a very important one,” he said.

With SANDAG rewriting its plan, transit subcommittee member Sonya Solinsky said they are now shifting their focus to working with the Metropolitan Transit System (MTS). MTS is currently conducting a feeder study to look at possibly realigning its system with the Mid-Coast Trolley Line from La Jolla to Old Town that is set to open in 2021.

One of the subcommittee’s proposed new transit routes for the area 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 Mid-Coast Trolley Line.

MTS is also looking at a ballot measure in 2020, a sales tax increase for transit projects.

“We have to take advantage of the feeder study and ballot measure that will maybe open doors for us sooner rather than later,” Solinsky said.

Solinsky also continues to collect data on how many people will use transit in the North West San Diego area that includes Carmel Valley, Del Mar, Torrey Pines, Del Mar Mesa, Torrey Hills, Rancho Santa Fe, Fairbanks Ranch, Torrey Highlands, Black Mountain Ranch and Rancho Penasquitos.

She is collecting data through an online survey tinyurl.com/sdtransitsurvey that will be open through the summer—she encourages everyone to participate.

“Without that data, our voice is not heard and we need to have our voice as loud as possible when they are making decisions regarding transit in this area,” said Solinsky who hopes to work with City Councilmembers Barbara Bry, Chris Cate and Mark Kersey to advocate for new bus connections.

While there is now a delay as SANDAG is taking a few steps back, Solinsky said she believes that it could result in a stronger transportation system that will make for a stronger city.

“We do have other options so we’re not giving up,” Solinsky said of her efforts. “We’re stronger and we’re more connected with all the other communities than ever before.”