Transportation that works for San Diegans

There’s a famous photo that always strikes me when I see it. It comes from an advertising campaign in the city of Munster, Germany. It compares three different ways to transport 72 people, and the space that each of these methods require. The photo is shot from above, with three different images of the same street.

On the left, you see a crowd of 72 people standing together in a street as reference. Behind, there are 72 people on bikes, taking up a little under 1,000 square feet. In the middle, you see 60 cars, which you would need to transport the same number of people. They take up more than 10 times this space, about 11,000 square feet. There are so many cars they can’t all fit in the picture. And finally, on the right, you see a bus. That’s right, just one bus. The same 72 people could fit into just one bus, or just one car of a train, taking up just a little more than 300 square feet of space.

San Diego’s public transportation infrastructure is severely lacking: One only has to try to get to the airport by trolley to prove we have not thought it all the way through. It’s time we reconsider the way we look at transportation in the region. It is easy to misunderstand this critique, but make no mistake: The Building Trades does not oppose construction of highways.

We are supportive of the North Coast Corridor project, because the project not only includes the construction of new express lanes in the I-5 corridor for carpools, vanpools and public transit, but it also improves coastal rail corridor double tracking, thus enhancing COASTER service. Add to that more than $200 million in environmental preservation and coastal access improvements, and we think it’s a win-win.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Most commuters cannot get to work in a reasonable time and cost by any other mode, except their cars. The 21st century transportation plan for San Diego needs to achieve balanced modes in commuting, create good local jobs, and ensure that our urban communities do not suffer from adverse effects of pollution.

San Diego Building Trades supports state Attorney General Kamala Harris and appreciates her leadership and commitment to creating local infrastructure careers. Recently she challenged the San Diego Association of Governments' 2050 Regional Transportation Plan, saying, “Spending our transit dollars in the right way today will improve the economy, create sustainable jobs and ensure that future generations do not continue to suffer from heavily polluted air."

Harris has a proven record of successfully advocating for impacted communities. I believe this issue needs a settlement that addresses the concerns that have been raised, while using the funds that are currently available, effectively.

Investing in public transportation is an effective job creator. Smart Growth America’s analysis of the stimulus program showed that every billion dollars spent on public transportation produced more than 19,000 job-months. Transit development resulted in greater employment opportunities while laying the foundation for sustainable transportation systems. Construction workers benefit from green jobs, which are plugged in to rigorous apprenticeship training on energy efficiency, and the next generation of middle-class careers. It is thus a triple whammy for the region: real transportation alternatives, cleaner air, and quality jobs in building, maintaining and operating a mass transit system.

The vision of a sustainable transportation future that works for taxpayers, residents and workers is achievable. Last month in Los Angeles, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority passed a historic agreement that could generate as much as $70 billion in construction work over the next three decades. It was possible because of the diverse partnership between building trades unions; public agencies; community groups; and business, labor and elected leaders.

The project labor agreement of the trades with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority ensures 40 percent of work hours will go to local workers living in low-income communities. Additionally, 10 percent of work hours will go to disadvantaged workers — people suffering from homelessness, chronic unemployment and other challenges. Over the course of the agreement, it will create an estimated 34,300 jobs.

San Diego can become a statewide and national leader in the way we move people: cleaner, faster and cheaper. Our region has the perfect geography, climate and amenities to support a world-class transportation system that connects our neighborhoods, beaches, airport, train stations, shopping malls and employment centers. We are the first region that is test-driving Senate Bill 375 and the principle of integrating sustainable transportation, dense land use and affordable housing. We also have the resources from the TransNet sales tax to make it all come together. It is therefore prudent to spend our scarce taxpayer dollars wisely on transportation that actually works for San Diegans in the decades to come.

Lemmon is the business manager of the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council AFL-CIO overseeing 22 trades affiliates and 14 joint labor-management apprenticeships.

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1 UserComments
Jack Shu 2:26pm March 26, 2012

Thank you Tom for giving us a picture of what an auto dependent transportation system looks like compared to one based on a good transit system. I also appreciate you pointing out that investing in public transit will create jobs just as much if not better than building freeways. It just makes more sense to invest in transit development. That is, if we care about building a better region, improving our air quality and health, restoring our cities, reducing our dependence on oil, helping businesses, creating quality jobs, helping the environment.... the list goes on and on. We need our elected officials and community leaders to promote the 50-10 Transit Plan proposed by the Cleveland National Forest Foundation.