It’s 7:00 am and you are on our way to work. Your daily commute by yourself in your car includes at least a 20 minute drive to get to work (if you are lucky and there are no accidents). Then you park next to your building in a large surface level parking lot with all of your other co-workers. This same trip on the bus may take about an hour and a half, and the bus drop off is a 10-15 minute walk on a very busy street. What choice do you make? Car or bus? The faster choice of course, assuming you can afford to own a a car.

Now imagine 2050, when 1.3 million more people will live in our region (currently 3.1 million), and over 300,000 more people need to get to work. Does it make sense for everyone to get in their cars alone, around the same time of day, for their commute to work or school? Traffic is bad enough as it is. But with so many more people, the answer is not to just build more roads. Traffic will be even worse unless we can accomplish developing more sustainable communities where people have transportation options or where they do not need to drive at all.

Unless we can develop our region to where the transit is faster, more effective and an easy choice, and become a place where people live close enough to their workplace so that a car trip is unnecessary, we will see many detrimental effects to the high quality of life we San Diegans enjoy.

Millions of unnecessary car trips will take a toll on our health (think obesity, diabetes, asthma and more); a toll on our environment (air pollution, water pollution, climate change emissions); and even take a toll on our pocketbooks (capital costs to operate a car, high cost of driving far to reach affordable housing, etc.).

Building more sustainable communities means creating a better jobs/housing fit. It means creating access to great rapid transit that takes about the same time as a solo car trip.

We need to start measuring what matters as we look to invest $110 Billion in transportation projects over the next 40 years. Continued over-investment in freeways negates the traction we gain when we put money into transportation options such as transit. It’s time to change how we measure success in transportation planning. We should be measuring:

  • health impacts,
  • job creation
  • wages relative to housing costs
  • transit access to job centers
  • availability of rents affordable to core riders and area workers
  • density around transit
  • prevalence of car ownership
  • cost of parking
  • opportunities for walking and bicycling
  • locations of pedestrian and bike-related collisions
  • loss and preservation of habitat,
  • farmland and open space
  • impact on low-income and ethnic communities
  • air quality, greenhouse gas emissions and asthma rates
  • impacts on family budgets of housing and transportation costs, etc.

When our performance measures reflect the new paradigm of getting the most out of our transportation investments, then we will truly see the results of vibrant, sustainable communities.

Elyse Lowe is the executive director of Move San Diego. She lives in Linda Vista.

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