The following op-ed, written by Policy Advocate Monique López, ran in San Diego Free Press on September 28, 2015.

Monique López speaking to community members protesting the Regional Transportation Plan outside of SANDAG

We all need to move, and how we move influences our quality of life. The time of our commute, the safety of our sidewalks, the quality of our air and the type of transportation options we have determine how well we live our lives. On October 9, 2015, the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) will decide how to invest $204 billion into our region’s transportation infrastructure.

This decision is critical to our livelihood. That much investment will have a tremendous impact on the lives of everyone in our region, particularly the lives of those in San Diego’s urban core where freeways intersect neighborhoods and transit, biking and walking infrastructure is scarce.

How these funds are invested will determine whether our region takes a step toward becoming a forward-thinking, sustainable place or whether we remain driving in circles, stuck in the incessant traffic jam that is our car-first mentality.

SANDAG’s current Regional Transportation Plan labels itself as a “balanced approach.” It claims to give equal attention to transportation options for people traveling by car as it does to those traveling by bike, bus and on foot. It claims to balance the need for better air quality with the need for efficient transportation.

In reality, SANDAG’s plan is anything but balanced.

After decades of prioritizing investment in freeway expansion and ignoring the needs of the most impacted communities, SANDAG should be investing the lion’s share of funds in underserved communities for transit and infrastructure that makes biking and walking safer.

People who live in traditionally underserved communities, including Barrio Logan, City Heights or parts of National City, Chula Vista or Imperial Beach, live with broken or nonexistent sidewalks, a lack of crosswalks to safely navigate traffic and a lack of bike lanes common in many traditionally funded communities. Residents living in a low income neighborhood in the City of San Diego, are ten times more likely to be hit by a car than those that live in most other neighborhoods. This horrifying statistic shouldn’t be a reality when we have $204 billion going toward local transportation improvements.

In San Diego, four freeways (I-5, SR-94, I-15, I-805) run through South Bay neighborhoods, and it’s no coincidence that these communities experience elevated cases of asthma, cancer and heart disease. SANDAG says it is “investing in strategies to relieve traffic congestion which causes air pollution in these communities, such as expanding freeways for carpool lanes and for transit.” This means, SANDAG plans to add freeway lanes to an already well-developed freeway, particularly in communities South of I-8.

Research shows, however, that adding more lanes doesn’t eliminate traffic congestion. This is not a solution, and not something the community wants. Building more lanes on the freeway will only lead to more cars on the road and more toxic pollution, which harms nearby communities the most. If you build it, they will drive.

Travel times between cars and public transit only furthers the obvious imbalance. In San Diego, the average commute time by car is typically 25 minutes. The same commute can take up to two or three times longer on public transit.

The Regional Transportation Plan should prioritize investment in transit to improve travel times, encouraging sustainable options and providing real travel options.

More cars driving on the road mean more fossil fuel emissions. More fossil fuel emissions mean more greenhouse gases, and more greenhouse gases mean more harmful effects of climate change.

SANDAG’s plan to expand freeways directly contradicts the City of San Diego’s Climate Plan goals to reduce local emissions and slow the effects of climate change. Instead, SANDAG should be striving to investment in transportation options that move the most people, in the most efficient, sustainable, healthy and equitable way. If SANDAG can acknowledge the glaring transportation inequality across our region and listen to the unified voice of the community, we can use our $204 billion to make everywhere in San Diego accessible and safe.

Since SANDAG passed its Regional Plan in 2011, it has received hundreds of requests from community representatives across the region, especially in the urban core, for a robust transit network and more investment in infrastructure that will make biking and walking safer in all communities. Communities have requested SANDAG refrain from continuing to add lanes to freeways that only increase the amount of cars, toxic pollution and disease without relieving traffic congestion in the long run. Despite a clear and united resident voice, there has been little-to-no movement in reprioritizing money from freeway expansion projects to transit and active transportation projects.

The 2015 Regional Plan’s freeway lane addition list looks nearly identical to the plan passed in 2011, and that is not a plan we can support.

Just imagine of what $204 billion could do to make San Diego accessible for everyone, everywhere. Where you can take public transit without spending three hours each way in a bus seat. Where you can walk your children to school on a safe sidewalk, away from street traffic. Where you can bike safely on the road with cars.

SANDAG’s plan to expand every freeway south of I-8 is an injustice. Residents in the communities most overburdened by air pollution have said enough.

Enough air pollution. Enough traffic. Enough climate change.

Environmental Health Coalition urges SANDAG to listen to the voice of community and create a truly balanced transportation plan that puts our region on the path to healthy communities.

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Freeways can wait! Our communities and our environment cannot. EHC says "no" to SANDAG's Regional Transportation Plan. The Plan expands freeways that make it harder for residents to get to work on transit. Community members have continually said "no" to expanding four major freeways running through the South Bay, including I-5, I-805, I-15, SR-94. These freeways cut through communities and elevate levels of air pollution, asthma and the effects of climate change.

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SANDAG's plan for our region's transportation future doesn't include the changes we need to see in our neighborhoods: investments in public transit, biking, and walking infrastructure before freeway expansion. EHC urges the SANDAG Board to vote no on Friday, October 9. 

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Read our full letter to SANDAG Board Members.

 The Movement for a Balanced Transportation Future

Read policy advocate Monique López's op-ed, "The Movement for a Balanced Transportation Future."

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On a sunny Saturday, we hosted our first-ever community bike ride for City Heights residents to pedal in support of the new bike infrastructure planned for City Heights. The area slated for improvements, 54th, University Avenue and Orange Avenue, is lined with schools and green space. The bike improvements offer the freedom of movement residents have advocated for since 2012. Residents were thrilled and ready to celebrate the over $17 million in dedicated funds for the North Park Mid-City Bikeways, and with the enthusiasm and dedication of organizers, sponsors and participants, the bike ride quickly transformed into something incredible.

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More than 100 people attended this community bike ride in celebration and support of transportation justice. The ride raised awareness and support for bicycle and pedestrian improvements such as bike lanes, sidewalks, crosswalks and road diets to make the streets of City Heights safer. It also gave our allies a platform to share their stories and build new partnerships. Everyone was having so much fun, residents who hadn’t been on a bike in years decided to join, and many loved it so much they made plans to get back on their bikes regularly again.

The strength and enthusiasm of the ride showed SANDAG, the City of San Diego and elected officials how much we care about transportation and climate justice. The ride also highlighted the unsung heroes of climate justice who are living the goals of the Climate Action Plan in the City of San Diego by walking, biking, and taking public transit as their main mode of transportation. Most importantly, the ride became an opportunity to build a stronger community and reclaim our streets. The ride gave a face to the bicycle commuting community of City Heights.

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In City Heights residents are 16 percent less likely to have access to a car than the average San Diegan and therefore, are walking, biking, and taking public transportation more. However, they’re 23 percent more likely to get hit by a car while biking and 80 percent more likely to get hit by a car while walking.

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Thank you to everyone who participated, you made a difference. We’d like to give special thanks to the sponsors and organizers of the ride also.

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Special thanks to DECO Bikes for bringing 25 free bikes for residents to use and toSuper Cocina for the amazing food and accommodating more than 100 hungry people. Special thanks to our community partners The Built Environment Team, City Heights Community Development Corporation, Community Leadership Association (ALC) and Bikes Del Pueblo. Also, thank you to Bridget Enderle of SANDAG for giving the residents an update on the North Park Mid-City Bikeway project.

Thank you, 

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Monique López
Policy Advocate

EHC knows justice is achieved when empowered communities act together. In the last month, we've urged the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) to put people before freeways when planning our region's transportation future and we've recently seen our hard work pay off.

These victories are possible because of your passionately donated time and money. Today, we ask you to support more change for our communities. Please join EHC today.

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A revolutionary move for transportation justice is right around the corner.

For the past several months, the community has been asking for more bicycling and walking options and public transit accesss. In close partnership with City Heighs Community Development Corporation, we've asked for alternatives that don't grow freeways, but give us healthier transportation options and improved mobility.

Today, the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) heard our voices. Instead of only moving forward with freeway-focused planning that jeopardizes the health of our neighborhoods, it recommended the incorporation of $31 million for a test project that would allow public transit to run on the shoulder/in the median along SR-94 and parts of the 805 freeway during high-traffic times.

To make public transit more accesible, SANDAG is also looking into putting a bus stop in the Sherman Heights/Golden Hill neighborhoods.

With a strong and unified voice, today the community's recommendations for a healthy transportation future have become valid and potential options as SANDAG has agreed to include them in the review process.

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Policy advocate Monique Lopez says, "This starts the conversation in the region of how we do transportation planning. There's other ways that are more innovative and the community can stand behind than expanding freeways."

Working closely with City Heights Community Development Corporation, The MAAC Project and many community residents who live along the corridor, we would like to thank our elected officials who showed leadership in supporting innovative community-supported approach to improving mobility on the Martin Luther King, Jr. freeway corridor. Thank you Councilmember Alvarez, Councilmember Gloria, Councilmember Emerald, Councilmember Cole, Assemblymember Gonzalez and Assemblymember Weber. Additionally, we would like to thank SANDAG and Caltrans staff for their work on the project, for the continued open lines of communication and for being responsive to the community concerns and requests.

On Friday, July 24, SANDAG makes its final decision about transportation justice improvements in our communities. Until then, thank you for having a voice for a future of #healthyhoods and #familiesbeforefreeways. Follow us on Twitter and stay tuned.