By: Gary London
As Published in the San Diego Business Journal, April 30, 2012

Our regional policymakers have to do a reality check on our transportation options. We must do a better job in this region in moving people faster, cheaper and safer. Too much money is spent on infrastructure. Too little is spent on creativity.

As a member of the board of directors of Move San Diego, an organization dedicated to transportation solutions, I am one of a growing number of persons advocating for more productive and meaningful transportation solutions.

Our region’s transportation challenges are best attacked in a “multimodal” way. We would do much better to focus on four “building blocks” to find transportation solutions. These include technology, behavior modification, economics and land use.

Rail systems cannot effectively service the shape of our region, and buses are not widely used. Barely six percent of persons in this region use public transportation. According to Sandag even in 2050, autos will still account for over 84 percent of all regional work trips.

Freeway Dead End

While we have more freeway lanes per person than any other major urban region in the U.S. we still have congestion. Every city requires a custom transportation solution. Ours is apparently not freeways.

We must think more creatively about transportation solutions. And — this is critical — we must not think one dimensionally. You may have a preference for yourself (bikes, Segways, autos, public transport) but you cannot foist it on others.

Have you seen an auto that parks itself? Or the many others with governors on the cruise control that are programmed to keep you a safe distance from the auto in front of you on the freeway? These are precursors to robot technology that is now in the prototype stages. Eventually it will allow autos to travel safely at freeway speeds, in close proximity to each other.

We are certainly a few years off from applying this technology. But when we do, the result will be that much smaller cars will travel so close together such that the use capacities of the existing roads can be better maximized.

Most of the transportation congestion occurs during commute times. We need to modify this behavior.

We should use next generation toll road transponders, already in place, to cause true modification of our transportation behavior. Charge the auto to travel at peak commute times where most of our trips take place. But make the model revenue neutral, and reward the auto for traveling in off hours.

We have to ask employers to participate. This is critical to the idea. I believe that employers are generally not pressed to live up to their civic responsibilities in matters involving the betterment of our region including housing and transportation.

All pay a business tax and have a business license. Why not implement a carrot and stick approach utilizing those existing tools? The city could charge an absurdly high business tax, or otherwise not issue a business license, unless companies demonstrate that a certain percentage of their employees are commuting during “off” hours. Make it an auditable event. Ask them to demonstrate that they have such a program in place to spread out employee hours. Then, reduce or eliminate the tax.

A University of Michigan study reports that significantly fewer young people are actually getting a license. This is the first time ever that this has happened. Could it be that social networking is reducing their need to drive?

Is it reasonable to assume that young persons will carry this behavior into their adult, working lives?

If that is the case, the evolution of communication will cause an evolution in transportation. The process needs to be supported by smarter land-use decisions.

Land use patterns are changing — we are moving now from a horizontal/suburban regional pattern to an urban/vertical one. This is acknowledged in the City of San Diego’s “City of Villages” mission, the core strategy of which is to evolve mixed-use urban communities where people can live, work, shop and play in the same vicinity.

If that can be accomplished through our land-use codes, then we have the ultimate transportation solution. We have to work with what we have, and we are limited in resources, particularly money and land. But we do have unlimited creativity. Let this creativity drive us to transportation solutions for the future.