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I will never forget visiting my Italian relatives in New York for Thanksgiving in 2002. I had not been there since I was a little boy, so you could say it was my first time in the Big Apple. My relatives live in a little sub-community of Brooklyn called Benzonhurst. I was itching to go to the city, so I woke up early on Wednesday morning and asked my Uncle Sonny if I could use his car. He suggested I ride the subway, because I would surely get lost and confused if I drove the car. So that Wednesday morning I walked over to the subway station and took the train my uncle said would drop me off in the “middle of it all.”
When the subway roared in, the first thing I noticed was how packed full of people it was. There were several homeless people singing holiday songs, as well as blue- and white- collared workers of all races. There was even a preacher man shouting the gospel, offering to “save your soul for the holidays” while jingling a coffee can full of change. As a Southern California native, I was a little intimidated by it all. I had never been on a subway before. I looked around and finally settled in a seat next to a man in a shiny suit reading the Wall Street Journal. I will never forget looking down at the man’s wrist while he held up the paper and thinking to myself, “Wow, that is a platinum Rolex. This man is probably very wealthy.” Needless to say, the socioeconomic diversity on that train was eye-opening. Why are these wealthy people riding the subway with people that may stab them and steal their watch? The answer was simple: “They almost have to.”
San Francisco is nearly the same way. People of all races, ages and socioeconomic backgrounds are riding the Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART, system. They travel to and from work every day from communities located outside of the city.
Now let’s look at San Diego. When there’s a Chargers game the trolley is packed. At certain times you have to wait for a couple of fully packed cars to pass through before you can even board. It reminds me of the New York subway. During the normal work week however, it is quite a different story. On a Monday morning the Trolley looks empty compared to New York’s subways or the BART in San Francisco. Why? Southern California simply has not adopted the “public transit” culture yet. Most of us do not have to ride the trolley to work, or the public transit system simply takes too long.
As an individual who has been intensely involved in urban mixed-use development over the last six years, I have become a big fan of projects located on or within walking distance to a trolley station or public transportation node. San Diego is the 7th largest city in America for a reason; people simply love our climate and the resort-like lifestyle that our city offers. As more people move into the region and the population grows, there will be a pressing demand for high density housing located next to trolley stations. Our city will surely follow the lead of its older siblings: the Big Apple and Bay Area. We need to be prepared for this growth pattern and think intelligently about our future and the legacy our city will leave behind for our children and their children. Therefore, I encourage all to become educated on topics such as smart growth, the City of Villages, and Transit Oriented Development, or TOD. Besides being an efficient use of our land, our public infrastructure and our natural resources, these concepts help keep cars of the road, thus helping our city glow green.