In a San Diego Union-Tribune article about the city’s new high-speed rail proposal, Michael Manville, associate professor of urban planning, highlighted the challenges of implementing public transportation improvements in cities primarily designed for automobile travel. San Diego recently proposed two tax increases to fund billions of dollars in bus and rail investments, but experts worry that it will follow the example of cities like Atlanta, Houston and Los Angeles, which invested heavily in public transit only to lose riders. Manville describes Los Angeles as a “cautionary tale,” explaining that “you can’t take a region that is overwhelmingly designed to facilitate automobile travel and change the way people move around just by laying some rail tracks over it.” To avoid decreases in ridership, transportation experts recommend making it harder to drive by eliminating street parking, ending freeway expansions, limiting suburban home construction and implementing policies like congestion pricing.
Martin Wachs, distinguished professor emeritus of urban planning, spoke to the San Diego Union-Tribune about the county’s newest plan for improving traffic. The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) proposed a controversial plan to invest in a high-speed commuter rail and implement congestion pricing on existing freeways. The proposal shelves planned freeway expansions, which experts have found does little to solve traffic congestion. According to Wachs, “the only proven way to reduce traffic is congestion pricing.” While the policy has been politically unpopular in the U.S., it has “increased highway capacity in the 30 or 40 places it’s been done around the world.” While the rail would not necessarily reduce traffic congestion, it would accommodate population growth in the region while reducing greenhouse gases from cars and trucks. “Transit enables higher density development and reduces vehicle miles traveled in relation to the population, whereas highways are associated with more dispersed growth,” Wachs explained.