Let Inga Tell You: Less parking equals more people on public transit? Not right now, it doesn’t

Bus Route 140 connects riders of the new Blue Line trolley extension to La Jolla's Village.
Two Route 140 buses sit on Silverado Street in La Jolla. The route connects riders of the new Blue Line trolley extension to The Village.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Has parking become a dirty word?

A November article noted that the San Diego City Council had taken the step of wiping out requirements for parking spaces for businesses in areas near mass transit (“New city policy removing minimum parking requirements for many businesses won’t immediately impact La Jolla,” Nov. 25, La Jolla Light).

Were they also wiping out any requirements for business?

Every time I read about new legislation that reduces or eliminates parking for new residential or commercial construction, I want to tear my hair out. The state’s recently passed SB 9 and SB 10 certainly come to mind, but this latest local legislation seems equally short-sighted.

The two-part message from our governing bodies seems to be: (1) By eliminating parking, people will use public transit, and (2) by “people,” they mean people other than themselves.

I know businesses are fearful that they will be put out of business by Amazon, but that’s only part of their problem. I really make it a priority to shop locally to keep local businesses going. I don’t need to park in front; I’m happy to walk five blocks (unless I’m buying something really heavy). But if there isn’t even a parking place within that distance, or if I have to download an app or pay a flat fee of $10 at some lot just to stop in and buy a single item, I’m going home and ordering it on Amazon.

I would love to have City Council members and their families, followed around by the news media, be required to spend a month taking only public transportation in this city. Yup, that means getting the kids to and from school, sports practices, music lessons and play dates. Doing the grocery shopping (and schlepping all those bags and the kids) on multiple bus or trolley transfers. Getting the dog to the vet, since pets can’t go on public transportation. Ferrying the elderly parents around for their errands and medical appointments. Even getting to City Council meetings on time.

I’d add to this list members of the various La Jolla planning committees who are always harping about how people need to be walking more. This always seems to come out of the mouths of athletic 40-something guys who clearly have no families. (I don’t think this is a coincidence.)

The reality is that no matter how close you live to what is alleged to be “mass transit” in San Diego, it just can’t be done. Well, not if you want to show up anywhere remotely on time. A half-mile from public transit (the designated perimeter for not having to put in parking) is a long distance for young kids and elderly people, even on flat terrain.

I have written before about what huge proponents my husband and I are of public transit. When we lived in Sweden, we never owned a car. The difference is that the Swedes have made it far faster, cheaper and more efficient to use their excellent public transit.

My husband, for whom a short work week was 60 hours, attempted to continue his love affair with buses when we returned to La Jolla, even though the drive was 20 minutes door to door and the single bus (no transfers) was at least 60. Often the bus was running so late that he just walked home and drove. When the route changed to be too far from his office, he was back to auto travel. It was essential for him to get to work for the 8 o’clock morning meeting, especially since he was running it.

I genuinely hope that we are headed toward a future of not driving our personal cars. But we are waaaay off from that day.

We were thrilled with the opening of the new Blue Line trolley extension. What is puzzling to me, however, is why the San Diego Association of Governments, the folks who are allegedly involved in city planning, fail to make more comprehensive solutions.

A December San Diego Union-Tribune article about the new trolley line noted that “only a small share of those who work in the [Golden Triangle] area live close enough to a trolley line to walk or bike there.” Hence, SANDAG has “already begun exploring shuttles and other efforts called ‘first-mile last-mile’ options, which eliminate a barrier to using transit.”

Begun exploring? Seriously, folks? Why weren’t those considerations in the trolley extension plan to begin with? SANDAG’s chief of data and analytics noted that these first-mile last-mile solutions are “long-term plans.” Gah! They should be short-term plans, as in right now, top priority. For example, have the No. 27 bus or a shuttle from the Balboa Avenue Transit Center leave for the beach every 10 minutes in the summer.

There is no one who would love to see mass transit be widely used in San Diego more than I. But removing parking isn’t going to make it happen.

Inga’s looks at life appear regularly in the La Jolla Light. Reach her at ◆