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By Leon Thompson

Photo: left to right:  Andrew Keatts, Laura Espinoza, Jim Stone and Rob Schupp

March 30, 2016 (La Mesa) – La Mesa Conversations invited residents to “join the conversation” to discuss The Future of Transportation in La Mesa on March 28th at the Mason Lodge, where a panel of transportation experts enlightened an audience of about two dozen people.

Jim Stone is the Executive Director of Circulate San Diego which is dedicated to “creating excellent mobility choices and vibrant, healthy neighborhoods.”  He believes that we should prioritize the funding of bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure. “Remember when you are stuck in traffic – you are traffic,” he observed. 

When asked about the problem of parking in downtown La Mesa, Stone suggested there was plenty of parking if we are willing to walk for three minutes.  Stone is a cyclist who often takes his bike on the trolley and walks to his destinations.  He was the first on the panel to use the term multimodal.

Multi-modal transportation refers to different means of moving about such as walking, cycling and public transit combined  to improve the quality of life within a town or neighborhood.  However, overwhelmingly modality planning focuses on motor vehicle travel conditions. 

It assumes that transportation consists primarily of automobile travel, often giving little consideration to travel conditions experienced by residents.  For example, roads may be widened, squeezing out bike lanes, sidewalks and urban trails.

Laura Espinoza was a senior transportation engineer for CalTrans for 25 years.  California’s transportation engineers and freeway builders are considered to be among the best in the world.  But when it comes to La Mesa, Laura Espinosa says that “Defining transportation problems primarily as traffic congestion ignores non-drivers and other modes of transport.   Building more roads and parking can only make the problem worse in the long run.”

She added, “The result tends to be greater automobile dependency reducing modal diversity.  It can create a self-fulfilling prophecy by directing resources primarily toward roadway expansion at the expense of other modes.”

Rob Schupp is the Director of marketing and communications for the Metropolitan Transportation System, better known as MTS.  The heart of the system is the trolley, which carries as many as 25,000 passengers in a day to and from La Mesa.  “Often overlooked is the cost burden of vehicle ownership,” he pointed out. “Financing is usually the highest cost of vehicle ownership followed by gas, insurance, registration, parking and maintenance. “

He added, “There are costs to the community too.  Congestion hurts merchants.  Consumers face parking costs to access businesses.  There are accident risks, undesirable social and environmental impacts.”

Mr. Schupp talked about grade separation-- the use of bridges and tunnels to move traffic in four directions at the same time.  New to the MTS is a mobile app for accessing schedules and even purchasing tickets or “tap and go” cards that can have “stored value.” 

Voice of San Diego staff writer Andrew Keatts acted as moderator to elicit valuable information about travel in La Mesa and throughout the County.   The panel expressed practical steps we can take personally and as a community improve transportation in La Mesa.

All of the panelists related their personal experiences of using multimodal transportation. Espinoza noted that there is a “tipping point” where the cost of driving and time spent crawling down highway 52 outweighs the cost and convenience concerns of public transportation and other alternate means of transportation.

Stone cited medical studies in Europe that show longer life spans and better health for people who take public transportation, walk or ride bikes rather than drive to work.  Schupp considers riding the trolley as “my time.”  “A time to be calm and relax.  I read, answer email or just enjoy the ride.”

All agreed that as residents of La Mesa, we need to let SANDAG and others know that walking, biking and public transit infrastructure is a better future for La Mesa. 

La Mesa Conversations is a nonprofit whose vision is “a La Mesa that enjoys a more lively, wide-ranging and inclusive public engagement on civic choices that shape the present and future of La Mesa.”

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