October 31 – San Diego Union Tribune – Joshua Emerson Smith reports – The city of San Diego has some ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gases, but one goal stands out as something of a question mark — getting thousands of commuters to cars ditch their cars in favor of alternative modes of transportation.
To reduce tailpipe emissions, the city’s Climate Action Plan calls for by 2020 roughly 22 percent of commuters in “transit priority areas” — streets within a half-mile of major transit stops — to bike, walk or ride buses and trolleys to work.
Nearly two years after the plan’s adoption, the city has yet to provide data on the percentage of people using each type of transportation in these targeted areas.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s office said recently that the city has begun developing a monitoring program to track the shifts in commuter habits called for in his climate plan. Reducing reliance on cars and trucks is slated to account for about 32 percent of local emissions reductions by 2020.
“One of the difficulties is that only a handful of cities have mobility goals similar to ours,” said Craig Gustafson, Faulconer’s press secretary. “After reviewing their tracking methods, we’ve found that there is no consistency or in-depth analyses currently being used by other cities. We hope to help create that standard with our monitoring program.”
In the meantime, Faulconer said that he has prioritized overhauling neighborhood zoning to promote denser urban environments intended to make using transit, biking and walking more attractive. He said he has also backed plans to create new bike lanes, especially downtown.
Those strategies have been nothing short of controversial. Homeowners have vigorously opposed bringing new density to their communities, while environmental and transit advocates have criticized the city for not pushing harder for more urban density.
“We’ve got to continue to do more on bike, walk and transit,” Faulconer said at a press event last week to unveil the climate plans annual monitoring report. “That’s important to me.
“It’s all about steady progress,” he added. “We have to make it measurable, and when you’re measuring it, you can say ‘Here’s where we’re succeeding. Here’s where we have more work to go.’”
The monitoring report showed reductions in climate emissions far ahead of schedule. However, the report didn’t specify what share of that progress came from local efforts. Rather, the report acknowledged that so far the lion’s share of cuts in greenhouse gases came as a result of California’s tough environmental rules on fuel efficiency for cars and trucks, as well as renewable-energy requirements on electrical utilities.
The lack of information on how much the city has done to reduce its carbon foot print — especially when it comes to promoting bicycling, walking and transit — has frustrated leading climate-policy advocate Nicole Capretz.
“Families want clean air, neighborhoods where they can bike and walk safely, and public transportation that works,” said Capretz, executive director of the San Diego-based Climate Action Campaign. “They also want us to meet our climate plan commitments. The only way we can do that is if we monitor our progress.”
The only information available on the city’s biking, walking and transit goal comes from a report by Climate Action Campaign and the transportation think tank Circulate San Diego, which analyzed data obtained through a public records request from the San Diego Association of Governments, or SANDAG.
The report found that about 11 percent of people in within a half mile of transit stations used such alternative transportation in 2012, compared to about 8 percent citywide. The report was released in September 2015, several months before the climate plan was officially approved, and found that at the time the city was not on track to meet its local transportation targets.
If the report is accurate, the city would likely need to double its use of alternative modes of transportation in the next two years.
“Our region’s transportation plans are not sufficient for the city of San Diego to meet its climate goals,” said Colin Parent, interim executive director of Circulate San Diego. “San Diego has made some efforts, but they need to be a strong voice at SANDAG for more transit funding and for help monitoring progress.”
If the city doesn’t meet its goals for reducing emissions through local strategies by 2020, it could open itself up to lawsuits. Faulconer will be leaving his post as mayor when that first major deadline kicks in, potentially leaving much of the heavy lifting to the next administration.
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