The NRDC Action Fund is driving climate action in cities across the country through The American Cities Climate Challenge. This post is written by Carter Rubin.
Update Dec 8, 2020: Congrats to San Diego for passing this ambitious new policy for sustainable transportation and equitable growth! By making sure that new developments support investments that make it easier to walk, bike, and spend time outside, San Diego is building a safer and more sustainable future.
Since this summer, the City of San Diego has been considering a wide-reaching plan called “Mobility Choices” to ensure that new homes and jobs don’t bring an increase in car traffic and pollution. By making sure that new developments support investments that make it easier for San Diegans to walk, bike, and spend time outside, the City can work toward a safer and more sustainable future. And because at least 50 percent of this safe transportation infrastructure will be located in communities that have had the least opportunity—identified in the City’s Climate Equity report as “Communities of Concern”—this plan will also support a more equitable San Diego.
For all of these reasons, this ordinance is an essential step forward. California has made significant progress cutting its climate emissions, but one source of earth-warming pollution remains stubbornly high: transportation, which amounts to 41 percent of our state’s emissions, representing the largest single sector. The largest chunk comes from the cars and SUVs driven by many Californians every day for work, errands and all other trips.
San Diego is stepping up and bucking that trend by embracing more sustainable ways to live in and move around the nation’s 8th largest city. Through the Bloomberg Philanthropies American Cities Climate Challenge, a program to help 25 cities accelerate their efforts to tackle climate change, San Diego has built out an expanding network of protected bike lanes and dedicated bus-only lanes and encouraged more new housing near transit with fewer required parking spaces.
Next up? Mobility Choices, an ambitious set of policies that will build on existing work to ensure that new homes, offices and stores contribute to walkable, livable and safe communities. The ordinance will:
- provide San Diegans with more mobility options to get to work, errands or just get outside;
- provide safer streets;
- promote a healthier, more active lifestyle;
- equitably implement transportation upgrades throughout the City;
- and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, supporting clean air for all.
Builders of new homes, offices and shops will be required to invest in alternatives to driving that will help cut car trips that would go to and from their projects. These alternatives include lighting along public walkways, high-visibility crosswalks, pedestrian refuges, shade trees, pedestrian rest and recreation areas near public walkways, sidewalk widening, transit stop upgrades, designated car-share or carpool parking, and electric bicycle changing stations.
Developers can choose to pay an in-lieu fee to offset the car trips, and in areas where infrastructure investments wouldn’t benefit as many people the fee is required. At least 50% of fee revenue will be earmarked for projects that make biking, walking and taking transit safer in Communities of Concern. By directly investing these dollars in San Diego’s communities most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, the benefits of convenient transportation and clean air will be more equitably shared throughout the city.
Better for health, climate and certainty
In addition to creating more ways to get around San Diego, the ordinance will support public health: walking and biking are healthy options, and cutting down on car trips will reduce air pollution that threatens the health of all San Diegans, especially residents with preexisting conditions such as asthma.
Improving lighting in public walkways, widening and raising sidewalks, and creating more shade through trees and improved transit stops will make it safer to walk and bike around San Diego. Additionally, reducing car trips in busy areas will reduce the likelihood of crashes and support the City’s goal to see zero traffic-related fatalities or severe injuries by 2025.
Of course, the ordinance will also help the City meet its climate goals. Adopted in 2015, the City’s landmark Climate Action Plan sets ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction targets and lays out bold strategies for achieving the reductions. Getting more people biking, walking, and taking transit is key to achieving these goals and keeping climate-polluting greenhouse gas pollution out of the air.
For community members and developers, the ordinance creates a policy that is transparent and consistent. It will provide a predictable process that will ensure all developments are meeting the same rigorous standards to reduce car trips. Home and office builders can choose from off-the-shelf transportation amenities to include in the projects that have a quantified reduction in car trips. Residents can see those benefits materialize and developers have the certainty that they are meeting their obligations.
San Diego leads the way
As the rest of California’s cities begin implementing new state laws to cut car trips associated with new development, they’ll be able to look to San Diego as a guidepost. Mobility Choices offers a new way to foster growth in housing, employment and social destinations while ensuring that those come with more healthy, safe and sustainable ways to get around.