COAST CITIES — Los Angeles might have more traffic, but San Diego takes the cake for most miles driven.
That’s according to a new report measuring San Diego’s quality of life. On average, San Diegans traveled 12.8 miles per day by car in 2011. It’s a slight decline from 2010’s total, but it’s still higher than L.A.’s average of 10.7 and San Francisco’s 7.7.
“San Diego’s limited public transportation is a major factor in us being higher,” said Sarah Benson, communications director with Equinox Center, the nonprofit and nonpartisan group that produced the report.
Benson said that San Diegans use less public transportation than most cities, largely because we have fewer options. L.A. is better connected by subways, light-rail and shuttles, which data reflects. More than 6 percent of residents in L.A. take public transit to work, compared with only 3 percent in San Diego, according to the report.
Also, when stacked up against other major cities, San Diego’s public transit is concentrated in select spots.
“Our public transit doesn’t reach most parts of the county,” Benson said. “Residents that live far from work have to drive.”
The drawbacks from a greater number of hours on the road? More traffic congestion and eventually an increase in fuel costs, the report states. And then there are issues like air and noise pollution as well as greenhouse gases.
“We look at air quality in the report, which is negatively impacted by more cars,” Benson said. “We have a lot of interrelated problems where solving one could help fix others.”
But Benson believes car-centric attitudes are changing.
Recently, she said that many residents and representatives have pushed back against San Diego’s dependence on freeways. Most notably, a judge last month ruled that SANDAG violated state law by failing to account for greenhouse gases and climate change in its long-term transportation plan. Rather than focus so much on infrastructure for cars, the judge argued SANDAG should place more emphasis on green transportation.
Meanwhile, individual cities within the county are trying to dissuade residents from using their cars.
The city of San Diego and the unincorporated areas clocked in the most miles traveled on their roads, according to the report. In North County, Oceanside had the highest figure. Del mar posted a whopping 93 percent gain in miles driven on its streets, yet its total was still lower than most cities.
Kathy Garcia, Del Mar’s planning and community development director, said she couldn’t comment as to why miles driven jumped in the area, because the report had yet to be released to the public when she was reached for comment. But to encourage eco-friendly ways of traveling, she noted that Del Mar widened a major bike lane, has installed more sidewalks and is part of a SANDAG study measuring how many bikes cycle through certain streets. Once complete, the study will inform planners where to invest bicycle infrastructure.
“There are exciting things happening,” Garcia said.
Although San Diego County’s miles driven ticked down in 2011, the Equinox Center’s report said that’s likely due to gas prices rising, and not necessarily policy initiatives.
To that end, the report advocates that officials institute mixed-use development — blocks or even buildings that combine residential, commercial, cultural and industrial purposes — so people don’t have to get in their cars as much.
Further, the report states, they should also encourage infrastructure for walking and bicycles.
On that note, the report says bicycle infrastructure is key for bridging the “the last mile,” the distance between a public transit hub and a person’s home.
For this reason, the report commends the Encinitas Bike and Pedestrian Committee and similar groups for working to improve bicycling. Brian Grover, the chairman of the committee, said the group is looking to install bike racks in downtown Encinitas and Leucadia to encourage ridership.
“We’re not plotting exactly one mile around the coaster station or anything like that,” Grover said.
“But these are areas where more bike infrastructure could encourage people to ride to public transit, or to simply ride their bike instead of drive when they’re going short distances,” he added.
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