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San Diego Sued for Putting in a Bike Lane

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Before (above) and after (below) a road diet and new bike lane on Fifth Avenue. The street still has two travel lanes after the road diet. Top: Google Streetview. Bottom: from a tweet from Councilmember Todd Gloria

A lawsuit filed last week in San Diego [PDF] claims that the city did an inadequate CEQA analysis for a recent road diet and new bike lane on a stretch of Fifth Avenue.

The city’s Bicycle Master Plan calls for a bike lane on that section of the street, and lists it as a priority project. A recently completed water main repair there, followed by repaving, gave the impetus to restripe it and, in the process, the city removed one lane of traffic and added a wide, buffered bike lane.

Fifth Avenue is part of a north-south duo of one-way streets that connect downtown San Diego to Balboa Park through San Diego’s urban core. Together, they comprise one of the main corridors for bike access to downtown, with other parallel routes interrupted by steep canyons. They are also part of a planned “downtown loop” [PDF] which is being set up in anticipation of the bike share launch, now scheduled for next month.

The section that is subject to the lawsuit is between Laurel and Upas streets, a nine-block segment that connects to Balboa Park, the zoo, and several museums, just north of the downtown bike loop. Although from the photos above there is clearly plenty of room on the street, at peak times it can get congested.

For some people, that is an argument for a road diet, which can slow down and smooth traffic, allowing bicyclists to ride with at least some illusion of safety. But for others, the congestion is an argument to leave the bad design in place.

The lawsuit was filed by Leo Wilson on behalf of the Bankers Hill Community Association–not to be confused with the Bankers Hill Community Group, which currently celebrates the new bike lanes on its website. The suit claims that the bike plan calls for narrowing traffic lanes to squeeze in a bike lane while preserving all three existing lanes, and that removing a lane should require a new CEQA analysis.

The city won’t comment on pending litigation, but the lawsuit quotes San Diego Senior Traffic Engineer Brian Genovese as saying that the new striping is exempt from CEQA because the project is included in the adopted bicycle plan.

It’s depressingly reminiscent of the 2006 lawsuit against San Francisco’s bike plan, which caused the city to delay putting in any bike facilities, including bike racks, for four years while it completed an expensive Environmental Impact Report that came to the same conclusions the city had reached without the report: that bike facilities do not create a significant environmental impact.

This lawsuit makes claims similar to those in the San Francisco suit, saying that traffic congestion will worsen, and that vehicles will be diverted to other local streets.

Unfortunately, the state’s Office of Planning and Research has not yet completed its guidance on S.B. 743, under which vehicle congestion will be removed from the list of environmental impacts that need analysis.

The city is trying to do what the state mandated in its Complete Streets Act [PDF] that requires cities to “plan for a balanced, multimodal transportation network that meets the needs of all users of streets, roads, and highways, defined to include motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, children, persons with disabilities, seniors, movers of commercial goods, and users of public transportation, in a manner that is suitable to the rural, suburban, or urban context of the general plan.”

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San Diego Fights CA Courts for Its Highway-Happy Plan to Increase Emissions

San Diego insists on its plans for greenhouse gas emissions to keep going in the wrong direction. Image from via Citylab

Despite what CA’s courts say, San Diego insists on plans to widen freeways in its 2050 Regional Transportation Plan, even if it defies the state’s ambitions to reduce climate-changing car dependency.

As Eric Jaffe at CityLab wrote, the story is told in one simple chart created by opponents of the plan, which shows that it projects that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions would rise through 2050. The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) apparently has no problem with that.

SANDAG does expect its plan to meet short-term GHG reduction targets through 2020, as mandated by A.B. 32, California’s Global Warming Solutions Act. A.B. 32 sets specific GHG reduction targets through 2020, but the spirit of the law implies that emissions should continue dropping through 2050, as called for in an executive order from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the CA Air Resources Board’s scoping plan. A.B. 32’s author, State Senator Fran Pavley, has introduced a new bill for the 2015 session, S.B. 32, which aims to extend GHG reduction mandates through 2050.

But since the 2050 goals in the Governor’s executive order aren’t actually written into law, SANDAG argues that it doesn’t have to follow them. SANDAG lost the initial legal challenge against its plan, and lost its appeal, but now intends to take the case to the CA Supreme Court.

Jaffe writes:

SANDAG presented its plan as a balanced vision of highway improvements matched with transit expansion. But opponents (the state attorney general among them) said that by front-loading road projects, the plan ensured car dependency in the region for decades and ran counter to California’s climate goals.

On that last charge, SANDAG’s own numbers show that the … plan meets the state’s short-term emissions goals (established in a law known as S.B. 375). Greenhouse gases fall 14 percent by 2020 from current levels, and 13 percent by 2035. But by 2050, the plan estimates that emissions will have fallen just 10 percent, meaning for most of the plan’s duration they’ll actually be on the rise—the reason being an “increased demand for driving” as people moved into more remote areas of the region, according to SANDAG.

Whatever the current law says, SANDAG is willfully ignoring the facts on climate change, and denying the urgency of avoiding its impacts by changing business as usual. So far, the courts have not agreed with SANDAG’s short-sighted arguments.

SANDAG was the first region to adopt its long range plan after the passage of A.B. 32. Other regions in CA are paying close attention to San Diego’s legal wrangling, as it may set a precedent for long-term transportation planning throughout the state.


Court: Environmental Review for San Diego’s Highway-Happy Plan Inadequate

The California Court of Appeals yesterday confirmed a lower court ruling that the environmental impact report (EIR) for San Diego’s long-range regional transportation plan was inadequate. The EIR, said the court, underplayed the impact of the emissions that would result from its highway-building, sprawl-inducing plan.

SANDAG approved its regional transportation plan in October 2011. It was touted as the first transportation plan in CA to be completed under the auspices of S.B. 375, which mandates regional plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But critics charged that the plan contradicted state climate change policy by focusing on highway expansions, which would only reinforce regional car dependence and increase emissions. Several groups took it to court, including the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, and the Cleveland National Forest Foundation.

State Attorney General Kamala Harris later joined the suit. In 2012 a California Superior Court judge agreed with the plaintiffs, declaring that the EIR failed to acknowledge how the business-as-usual plan will increase greenhouse gas emissions.

The appellate decision says there are other problems with the environmental review. For example, highway expansions will increase pollution in nearby neighborhoods, but the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) “never connected the dots between that pollution and its public health impacts,” said Kevin Bundy, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.

According to projections in the plan, emissions from land use and transportation would decrease until 2020, exceeding the targets set by S.B. 375. But after 2020, emissions would rise again, intersecting with the S.B. 375 targets somewhere around 2030.

“They acknowledged that in their environmental review,” said Bundy, “but what they didn’t acknowledge was that under state climate policy, and according to the best climate science, emissions have to go way down by 2050 — and stay down.”

Read more…

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Bike San Diego Wins National Advocacy Award, Sets Sights Higher

bikeSDBike San Diego won this year’s Advocacy Organization of the Year award from the Alliance for Biking and Walking at the National Bike Summit earlier this month in Washington, D.C. Pretty good for an all-volunteer-run organization that has only been around for a little over a year.

During that year, however, BikeSD shifted from being an influential blog by founder Samantha Ollinger to an active representative of bicycle riders in local planning efforts and politics.

“It hasn’t really sunk in that we won,” said Ollinger of winning the award. “It’s an incredible honor. National recognition is very gratifying, and having that tangible acknowledgment is a huge deal. Our volunteers work hard, I work hard, our board works incredibly hard. And we’re all volunteers.”

In addition to her day job as an accountant, she is on the planning board for her neighborhood, works with city agencies and local organizations on planning efforts including the San Diego Bicycle Plan, and just applied to be on the police Citizens’ Review Board.

“My social life is all about BikeSD,” she said. “If you want to have drinks with me, we’re going to talk bike policy.”

Last year the group’s focus was largely on advocacy efforts, targeting city officials and local organizations to make sure the concerns of bicyclists were taken into account. One of the organization’s big achievements was convincing planners that car Level of Service (LOS) was not an appropriate measure for bike infrastructure proposed in the new San Diego Bike Plan.

Read more…


Locals Nominated for National Bike Advocacy Award

Santa Monica Spoke's Cynthia Rose and Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom cut the ribbon.  Photo: ## Rides Bikes/Flickr##

Santa Monica Spoke’s Cynthia Rose and Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom cut the ribbon. Photo: Gary Rides Bikes/Flickr

Congratulations to Cynthia Rose, founder and director of Santa Monica Spoke, and Samantha Ollinger, Executive Director of BikeSD in San Diego. These two local activists are among the ten finalists for the 2014 Advocate of the Year Award to be given by the Alliance for Biking and Walking today.

The award is for an individual leader at a bicycling and/or walking advocacy organization “who has shown tireless commitment to promoting active transportation at the state and/or local level” and who goes “above and beyond the call of duty” with the “highest standard of excellence.”

Cynthia Rose founded Santa Monica Spoke, the first local chapter of the Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition, five years ago. “My mission is to make the LACBC local chapters program a reality,” she said, “to make sure that those connections and that collaboration happens.”

She sees her job as one of connecting people: local to regional to statewide to national advocates working on similar issues. “Everything else I do is regional,” she said. “My job is to work with our elected officials to make projects that we hope will be models for others.” She was particularly excited about the MANGo project, which will turn Michigan Avenue into a greenway to connect the beach with the new Expo line.

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Judge Rules Transportation Plan in San Diego Violates State Enviro. Laws

A superior court judge rules the modeling that shows that SANDAG's freeway friendly long-term plan violates state law. Image: San Diego Personal Injury Lawyers

When it was passed last March, the long-term transportation plan was hailed as “visionary” for its investment in transit, bicycling and pedestrian projects. The plan was the first regional plan passed under S.B. 375, a landmark piece of legislation that mandated that transportation plans be tied to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. And San Diego leadership was proud.

A few local voices fought back, arguing that the green transportation investments were all in the latter years of the thirty year plan. Proposed investments in new toll lanes would not bring the air quality benefits planners promised. They filed suit. The established powers laughed. Then, the State Attorney General joined the suit. All of a sudden, the lawsuit was front page news.

Today, Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor ruled today that the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) violated state law by failing to fully account for, and take steps to reduce, climate pollution in its environmental review of the region’s long-term transportation plan in the environmental review of the Long Term Plan. The ruling is a major rebuke to regional planners in the San Diego region and a warning shot to other regional planning organizations that just passing a plan and calling it green is no longer enough.

“The court is setting an important example here for regional planning agencies throughout California,” said Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California. “We cannot wait another 40 years to adopt sensible transportation and land-use policies. Thanks to California laws requiring public agencies to be open about their plans, we were able to hold SANDAG accountable for its faulty planning practices.”

SANDAG must now conduct new environmental review for its 2050 plan to ensure it adequately addresses the risk of climate change. The plaintiffs believe it is likely that the more rigorous environmental review will lead to a revised plan that does a better job of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as required by state law. Read more…


SANDAG’s 2050 Transportation Plan Drawing More and More Heat

More please? A shot of one of San Diego's freeways. Image: San Diego Personal Injury Lawyers

When the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) passed its 2050 Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy, it declared a major victory over Greenhouse Gas emissions.  The plan was the first plan written to adhere to a 2008 law mandating that long-term transportation plans show a commitment to reducing air pollutants linked to global warming and a slew of public health problems.

However, it didn’t take long for the plan to be challenged in court be environmental groups for not going far enough, a legal battle that could have implications throughout the state.  A local environmental group known as the Cleveland National Forest Foundation launched a lawsuit against the plan that most observers dismissed as having little chance of winning.  Then, the CNFF was joined by other environmental groups, even the California Sierra Club.  Then, the Attorney General, Kamala Harris, weighed in.  Now, the SANDAG plan, once considered an important test of environmental planning, is also opposed by the Environmental Caucus of the California Democratic Party.  The Caucus passed a resolution condemning the SANDAG plan at their February meeting.

“As the first regional government in California to develop a land use plan under the State’s strict new climate change laws, SANDAG has a responsibility to set a path toward a sustainable future,” said Tony L. Hale, Chair of the Environmental Caucus of the California Democratic Party. “Instead, SANDAG’s plan calls for more of the same: sprawl, air pollution, and an increase in dangerous greenhouse gas emissions.”

A full copy of the Caucus’ resolution can be found at the end of this article. Read more…


AG Joins Lawsuit Against Highway-Friendly “Transit Plan” in San Diego

When the San Diego Association of Governments passed its regional transportation plan, which will direct transportation spending in the region for decades, the agency hailed the plan as a national model.  This was the first plan passed that followed the standards of SB 375, the California environmental law that set greenhouse gas reduction targets based on transportation and development planning.

Kamala Harris

The agency declared victory, but many local advocates weren’t convinced.

“If this is a national and regional model, we’re in bad shape,” Dough McFetridge of the Cleveland National Forest Foundation grumbled to Streetsblog last November.  ”We have a need — a tremendous need — for transit right now, today. This proposal puts funding transit off into so far in to the future that many of us won’t be around anymore.”

McFetridge and other environmental groups pressed forward with a lawsuit claiming that the EIR for the plan was flawed because it didn’t take into account the impact new highway construction would have on vehicles miles traveled.  This week their lawsuit received a major boost when California Attorney General Kamala Harris joined their efforts.

“The 3.2 million residents of the San Diego region already suffer from the seventh worst ozone pollution in the country,” said Harris in a press release. “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.”

The lawsuit argues that the environmental review of the transit plan did not adequately analyze the public health impacts of the increased air pollution. The San Diego region already has a very high risk of cancer from particulate matter emitted by diesel engines and vehicles and there is no analysis as to whether this risk will increase.  By prioritizing highway expansion in the first years of the plan, SANDAG claims more pedestrian, bicycle and transit expansion in the plan even though those plans may never happen.  The bulk of the investment in transit and active transportation begins decades from now.

“The attorney general’s intervention in this case supports our argument that SANDAG’s plan is deeply flawed,” said Kathryn Phillips of the Sierra Club.  ”We’re encouraged that the State of California is serious about limiting air pollution and climate change pollution created by transportation in the region.”

Read more…


With Los Angeles as Inspiration, San Diego Enviros Call for 50/10 Plan

Environmentalists from San Diego are echoing the rhetoric of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in the battle to expand the local transit network and reduce funding for highway expansion.

Transit, as it would exist in San Diego under SANDAG's hybrid option.  For links to maps for all the potential plans,## here.##

Transit, as it would exist in San Diego under SANDAG's hybrid option. For links to maps for all the potential plans,click here.

Enter the newly branded, “50-10” plan.  Los Angeles’ 30/10 advocates can eat their hearts out.

Brought to you by the Save our Forest and Ranchlands (SOFAR) and the Cleveland National Forest Foundation (CNFF), “50-10” is an attempt to influence the “2050 Regional Transportation Plan” being proposed by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG). Advocates are calling on the agency to build all of its planned transit projects for the next fifty years in the next ten and to leave the highway projects for another day. Even if the agency falls short of the ten year goal, it would hold off on any highway expansion projects until the local transit network is completely built out.

“The foundation of the 50-10 plan includes the development of a preferred regional land use plan – a smart growth land use plan – and the development of a transportation mobility network that support the needs of this smart growth plan,” said Duncan McFetridge of SOFAR in a press release.

Currently, SANDAG staff is proposing a long range plan that actually includes more funding for transit investments ($24 billion) than highway investments ($21 billion). This plan is a combination of the three major options that were considered by the SANDAG Board of Directors and would have transit and highway projects built concurrently. While SOFAR and CNFF concede this is a step in the right direction, they also argue that planning such a large investment in highways as the region is trying to grow its transit mode share is somewhat incoherent.

While SOFAR and CNFF may be borrowing Villaraigosa’s rhetoric, there are many differences between 30/10 in Los Angeles and 50-10 in San Diego. Read more…


In San Diego: Officials Unveil Visionary Plan for Balboa Park, Media Concerned About Car Parking

Screen_shot_2010_08_31_at_1.34.17_PM.pngA rendering of the plans for the Central Plaza of Balboa Park

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders and Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs unveiled a visionary $33 million plan to remove cars from the central square of San Diego's historic Balboa Park.  They hope to raise the funds to complete the plan by the park's 100th birthday in 2015.  The plan would open up the heart of the park to a pedestrian friendly climate where children could play free of fear of passing vehicles in a clean and inviting atmosphere.  To bring this vision to reality, the city would have to remove sixty seven spaces of free parking.

As you would expect, the media is very concerned about those sixty seven parking spaces.

To make matters "worse," if Sanders and Jacobs are unable to raise the $33 million from private interests, they might have to charge for parking in the planned 900 space parking garage.  Can you imagine?  Charging people to use a public parking garage and re-investing in the area that will be effected by the thousands of cars using that garage on a daily basis.

Let the freak out begin.