It may seem like SANDAG approved its contested regional transportation plan months ago, but the planning agency is already beginning work on a brand new one, and it’s making some changes to address complaints that pegged the last one as too highway-happy.

Speak City Heights

The state sued SANDAG for the last plan because it failed to reduce car pollution fast enough. Local opponents said the real problem was a plan that favored suburbanites – people transportation wonks call “choice riders” – over the people who use buses and trolleys in the city’s urban core.

Now, SANDAG is taking a look at how it will prioritize highway and transit projects in its regional comprehensive plan, which will guide both land-use and transportation decisions. For the first time, SANDAG is adding weight to projects that improve public health by increasing walking and biking, according to SANDAG spokeswoman Elisa Arias. It’s also looking at how to increase social equity among neighborhoods and regions.

The new grading system is in its early stages but already City Heights residents say it could use some work. Randy Van Vleck, active transportation manager for the City Heights Community Development Corporation, said it might actually encourage disinvestment in the neighborhood.

“The evaluation criteria awards projects that promote mode shift – from one transportation mode to the other – which is a good thing for the region,” Van Vleck said. “But for communities that already have high volumes of transit, biking and walking ridership, that hurts us.”

In other words, projects that get people out of cars and into buses and trolleys stand to score four times more in some categories than those where transit use is already high.

Van Vleck said that despite the neighborhood’s high ridership rate, City Heights needs more investment to make walking and biking to transit stops safe. City data from 2007 show pedestrians were twice as likely to be hit by cars in City Heights than in other communities. Funds for a rapid bus line and accompanying sidewalk improvements have since come through.

SANDAG looks at its evaluation criteria every four years. It took public comment on the new evaluation criteria at a workshop this week and will continue to do so via email ( until its board votes on the proposal in October.

Correction: An earlier version of this article said SANDAG had not looked at social equity in past plans. The 2050 Regional Transportation Plan includes a social equity component. The public health component is new this year.

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Megan Burks is a reporter for Speak City Heights, a media project of Voice of San Diego, KPBS, Media Arts Center and The AjA Project. You can contact her...

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