A regional planning agency is putting the finishing touches on a $200 billion plan for future road and public transit spending.

Though the San Diego Association of Governments plans to spend more on transit than roads over the long term, transit advocates have criticized its timeline. It will spend heavily on highways early on and get to transit projects later. They say building transit projects first would eliminate the need to widen highways in the future and encourage more compact urban growth.

But San Diego developed during the era of the car, which made sprawl easy. That sprawl has defined many of our public transportation options across the city and county, making it hard to catch a bus or train from Escondido to downtown San Diego, or from Ocean Beach to El Cajon.

Now, new state laws, a growing concern with curbing climate change and heightened interest in promoting smart growth have led advocates in California to push for reversing the decades of planning that assumed freeways were the answer. Their challenge has been convincing policy makers that better public transit is the answer, and that it’s possible in San Diego.

Continuing our polls of the declared candidates running in 2012 to be San Diego’s next mayor, we asked them for their take on the city’s public transportation.

We asked them: Is it too slow? What would you propose? Are you a public transportation advocate? Would you use public transportation if you’re elected if it’s available and efficient? And would you use it now?

Carl DeMaio, City Councilman:

A reliable public transportation system is something that any major city of San Diego’s size needs to have. Because taxpayer dollars go toward our bus, trolley, and other public transportation services, I believe that we should expect a transportation system that works. To accomplish that, we must provide services that reflect bona fide market demand.

Our public transportation system is just one part of our larger regional transportation system that has seen years of mismanagement and neglect.

Just this week I released my “Save Our Streets” action plan which provides detailed proposals to get San Diego’s roads back in shape.

Politicians have paid lip service to transportation infrastructure without committing to detailed proposals and reforms to get results. In contrast to the failed promises of the politicians, with my “Save Our Streets” Plan I have identified specific mechanisms to commit up to $497 million to transportation infrastructure over the next five years — all without a tax increase.

As mayor, I commit to make transportation infrastructure a priority once again. More importantly, I’ll use my business approach to get results for San Diegans.

Bonnie Dumanis, district attorney: To truly be America’s Finest City, San Diego needs a first rate transportation system featuring cars, buses, rail, pedestrian and other modes of transportation bringing them together in ways that make sense. When it comes to transportation, my philosophy is practicality.

First, we need to recognize that most San Diegans commute each day by car, and that means the city can help the greatest number of commuters each day by clearing our billion dollar deferred maintenance backlog, maintaining and repairing streets, improving intersections, timing lights properly and adding capacity where it’s needed.

The city has a special responsibility when it comes to the trolley and its buses. They need to be safe, efficient and clean. Transportation hubs where people shift from one mode to another need to be robust, safe and provide sufficient capacity to meet user demands.

Additional capacity should be added where it makes the most sense financially by meeting real world demand. One of the most obvious areas for improvement is connecting Lindbergh Field to the trolley system. We need to make the most of the facility we have, and that means connecting the trolley directly to the airport if it is at all feasible.

Bob Filner, congressman: The congressman failed to respond, though his campaign spokesperson acknowledged receipt of the question.

Nathan Fletcher, assemblyman: I agree that our public transportation system is slow and inefficient and doesn’t adequately serve many areas of our city. A related problem is that traffic congestion is compromising our quality of life. On average, San Diegans lose 37 hours per year in traffic.

I support Sandag’s plans for the Mid-Coast Corridor Transit project extending trolley service from Old Town to UCSD, and the South Bay Bus Rapid Transit project that provides service between the Otay Mesa border crossing and downtown San Diego. As mayor, I’ll work to see it implemented as a first step toward a better and more comprehensive transit system.

The truth remains that for many San Diegans it’s difficult to use public transportation to commute to work. There are exceptions like those who live at the northern ends of the I-15 or I-5 corridors. We have to do better. Making fast, efficient public transportation available to more San Diegans will require thinking outside the box and pursuing innovative solutions. I envision a future where cars, buses, trolleys, trains, and new modes of transit, all linked together, play a role in moving people more efficiently.

My public transportation choices are like many San Diegans — limited. I use the train or trolley when possible, but like most people, end up choosing the option that gets me where I want to go fastest and most economically.

Right now, for most people, that means driving a car. Our challenge is to create alternatives that effectively compete with private automobiles.

David Cardon, real estate broker: I would agree with critics in regards to San Diego’s public transportation system being slow and lacking infrastructure. As mayor of San Diego, I would propose trolley lines connecting Old Town to Sea World, and Sea World to Ocean Beach. I would then have the trolley cross over the jetty into south Mission Beach and run on Mission Boulevard to La Jolla. This would provide safe access for San Diegans and tourists to our beach communities, as well as help to alleviate traffic congestion. We need to connect the trolley to the airport and the new football stadium as well. I do advocate the use of public transportation. I feel that it reduces our carbon imprint and helps our city to look towards the future. I feel that currently MTS is mismanaged, the trolley is in desperate need of repair (seats for example), cleaning of all vehicles interiors and the security on bus and trolley lines needs to be increased. As mayor I would use public transportation weekly and set a good example for my city. I would use it now for certain activities and events, however as stated before, I feel it is in desperate need of an overhaul. A perfect example of how progressive planning for public transportation can be beneficial to our city, was the SDSU connection. A huge benefit to our city and a beautiful job! If we can continue on that course, we can become an example for the rest of our country to follow.

Hud Collins, trial attorney: During a double dip recession the last thing that a mayor should be doing is addressing a plan to fix the public transportation system. At this time the mayor and City Council should have no role in the San Diego transportation situation. The city is in a financial emergency and crisis; and hasn’t appropriately addressed that problem; homelessness, lack of jobs, pension disarray, dysfunctional city government, etc. When the city figures out this financial emergency and crisis (so that we are not technically insolvent) then the officials. Certainly at the appropriate time there are certain crossovers and possible help that the city could look at. It would be foolish not to spend 100% of the mayor/City Council’s time on the immediate problems. I would use public transportation!

We must remember, the majority of citizens use vehicles to get around. The streets and highways are in horrible condition. That must be our first priority.

Loch David Crane, magician and retired teacher: Critics of a slow, inefficient, disorganized, crime ridden public transit system are right! By choice most of us don’t use public transit now or plan to. But we regularly fund it for others, anticipating the future.

Californians venerate the personal car, and that won’t change for another generation or two. It’s often a person’s most expensive purchase after a house, if ya can afford that! We love our cars because they reveal ourselves, move us with our desires, and allow us to express our individuality.

I drive the STAR TRIKE, a hand built starship replica. In my job as an entertainer there’s always too much to carry, so I can’t use the bus. If I — or a taxpayer — had a permanent job and a stable living area (like a regular restaurant gig), then mass transportation might be practical. So might living and working communities. Most people use public transportation as a last resort, and prefer their costly individual vehicles: that’s still legal here.

Citizens are irregular in their driving times, destinations, and habits. Small businesses, busy managers, deliverers, and service workers all need individual vehicles, which the boss may choose to electrify or run on fry oil. But until the quality of life changes and electric vehicles take over, individuals will always vote for self-transportation over mass transit. I vote for better roads, more lanes, more exciting destinations, and better repair on those roads we have. They’ll have to last long enough to pass on to our grandchildren.

Sunny O. Enyoghwerho, businessman: It is evident that we do not have good infrastructure in many of our streets in San Diego. There are too many potholes in our streets that will prevent public transportation from effectively navigate in the city of San Diego. Before the public could be encouraged to be using public buses, the infrastructure must be fixed first. It is a good idea to encourage the public to use public transportation because it will reduce pollution in our city. With good buses and good roads, the public can be encouraged to take bus to work instead of driving their cars. It will also bring more revenue into the city. San Diego is the second largest city in California, the 8th largest city in the Union. Despite these good qualities, our infrastructure is neglected by the people that manage the affairs of the city. San Diego is a tourist city we should make it attractive to people that pay money to visit us. For the past 28 years, I have been living in San Diego. Once it rains, most of the major streets in the city will be flooded with water. This happens every raining season. It appears that the management team of the city is very callous about this problem. When tourists arrive in San Diego, the first thing they notice is our streets. Our roads do not bring out the beauty of San Diego. As a mayor I will use public transportation if the roads and the buses are conducive.

Steve Greenwald, compassionate physician, businessman, and civic activist: Public transportation is essential in our city and county in order to reduce our carbon footprint and to supply affordable, accessible and reliable people movers as an alternative to the private car. It must be safe, consistent and comfortable as well. Students and office workers are in need of this service. A new public bus service from Escondido, Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Penasquitos, Mira Mesa, Tierrasanta, Qualcomm downtown train station is badly needed. Also along route 5 from Oceanside to Del Mar and downtown is also necessary. I would definitely use public transport as mayor of San Diego.

Toby Lewandoski, computer scientist: Public transportation is very important to a big city for growth and economic success. Some of the largest and most famous cities have great public transportation services to help their local citizens get to work, school and leisure activities. The trolley/bus system in San Diego is a great step in the right direction, but needs to grow with more stops and lines added, by helping keep the flow of people throughout the city get to their destinations on time, without being stuck in traffic for hours and creating greater wear on the roads. The city could have saved millions of dollars by being more retroactive in creating effective public transportation. The cost of maintaining and building roads is a burden for citizens. With the amount of use our roads get and lack of support, it creates wear on our automobiles, which cost us more money. The prices of gasoline, the amount of time spent in traffic, the wear on our vehicles, lack of free parking shows that we need help.

As mayor, I will fight for the people and low cost public transportation for our local citizens and in addition, our visitors, who help support our local economy. When I become mayor, I will use public transportation to help save the taxpayers and city money. Unfortunately, because of the burden of the amount of time it takes me to get from my home, to work or daycare, it is not reasonable for me to take the transit system today.

Tobiah Pettus, unemployed: Yes, I share this view. Public transportation in San Diego severely lacks efficiency. San Diego is a growing metropolis. With that growth, San Diego’s public transportation system needs to become increasingly relevant.

I propose that we expand San Diego’s trolley system, as it is a great idea. Our trolley needs to become increasingly useful to tourists and students with new connections to the San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, the San Diego International Airport, Liberty Station, Sea World and maybe even up to UCSD. The trolley alleviated traffic congestion at San Diego State University. Safe parking garages need to be constructed at all main hubs. San Diego needs to continue free parking and free trolley service during high traffic times, such as on New Year’s Eve. San Diego also needs to connect Coronado Ferry tickets to the Trolley system. FYI – the Coronado Ferry is free on early weekday mornings with a return ticket given for anytime use.

San Diego’s bus system needs to be more user-friendly, including more direct routes and easier access to maps. If the route is 20 minutes by car, it shouldn’t take one hour by bus. Public transportation needs to be useful. MTS needs direct routes to our main tourist and entertainment attractions.

I absolutely consider myself an advocate for public transportation. Public transportation is not currently efficient in San Diego, but I would use public transportation more often if it was. My family does use the Coronado Ferry and San Diego’s trolley at useful times. http://www.MayorTobiahPettus.com

Scott Wilson, businessman: I do believe our transportation is slow and lacks infrastructure. I personally would like to see the trolley come to my neighborhood or close by. If we were to have the trolley tracks follow our San Diego River down to or at least close to Mission Beach, Pacific Beach and Ocean Beach could both benefit from it. Which allows people like me to attend more games and events at Qualcomm, and also spend more money down town. I am sure there are many other parts of the city that feel the same way. Check out CrazyScott4Mayor.com for more info.

Declared contestants Bradley Slavens, Sharam Adhami and Rob Harter did not respond.

Lamii Kpargoi is an international fellow working with voiceofsandiego.org. He will be working on elections issues and media best practices in community relations. You can reach him directly at lamii.kpargoi@voiceofsandiego.org and 619.550.5671.

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