Traffic. It affects all of us, every day, either because we’re wasting our lives away commuting on the concrete mausoleums we call freeways, or because our elected officials are squandering our precious “transportation” tax dollars on highway widening instead of investing more heavily in mass transit. What’s it going to take to get us out of our cars?

My earlier entry was based upon a conversation I had a while back with my good friend, Duncan McFetridge of the environmental group Save Our Forests and Ranchlands (SOFAR). SOFAR is best known as a defender of San Diego’s backcountry that is not afraid to use litigation and the ballot box to try to knock some sense into decision makers and developers.

After going quiet for a while following the 2004 failure of the Rural Lands Initiative, SOFAR reemerged to file a lawsuit against CCDC for failing to consider a transit-focused alternative in its Downtown Community Plan Update Environmental Impact Report (EIR). At first, a lot of people wondered what in the world SOFAR was doing meddling in downtown affairs. Then other environmentalists sought to convince SOFAR to add a host of additional issues to its challenge, especially CCDC’s failure to provide sufficient park space for downtown’s residents and tourists. Never one to bite his tongue, McFetridge denied these requests as preoccupations with “deck chairs on the Titanic,” noting that while important components of effective city building, they were not on par with the criticality of an expanded downtown transit system.

Your initial reaction to this statement is probably much like mine was. But, before you fire off that response about the importance of habitat protection, beach access, immigration policy, or libraries, ask yourself, do these issues really measure up to the societal destructiveness caused by our obsession with the automobile? Or perhaps, are they related outgrowths of the car culture?

Consider these facts:

  • Auto based infrastructure takes up one quarter of our urban land area, including over 300 miles of freeways and 1,875 freeway lane miles (not to mention 7,150 miles of roads and streets).
  • 60 to 70 percent of all San Diego County highway expansions are filled within 2 years of completion.
  • Every driving San Diego resident on average loses about 53 hours per year due to auto congestion, at an aggregate cost in fuel, time, and productivity of about $1.8 billion.
  • Automobile accidents cost us roughly $3.24 billion per year in lost productivity, workers comp claims, insurance, etc. (294 auto-related deaths, 24,617 injuries in San Diego County in 2004)
  • The act of driving a vehicle is the average person’s one regular activity that has the single largest impact on the Earth regarding climate change.
  • If Americans used transit for 10 percent of their transportation needs, the United States would reduce its dependence on foreign oil by more than 40 percent.
  • Freeway widening induces and subsidizes sprawl development.

The aforementioned lawsuit was settled with CCDC, and in the next few months SOFAR’s Transit-Oriented Alternative will be available to the City for consideration. Similarly, Sandag recently agreed to a settlement with SOFAR that will result in the inclusion of a “Transit Emphasis Urban Core Alternative” in its Regional Transportation Plan 2007 EIR.

While these studies will provide us with a glimpse of “what could be,” it’ll all prove meaningless unless our regional representatives on Sandag and the city of San Diego have the vision and leadership to dump our historic freeway funding ways.

Maybe its time a few more of us showed up at their meetings or gave them a call?

MARCO GONZALEZ

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