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Like many Americans, San Diegans increasingly demand safe, walkable neighborhoods. From City Heights to Carmel Valley, El Cajon to Solana Beach, Lemon Grove to Escondido, families contact our office to learn how to make their streets more walkable.
The San Diego Regional Walk Scorecard measures what cities in the region are doing to answer the call for improved walkability. Circulate San Diego’s predecessor organization WalkSanDiego created the Scorecard in 2012 to raise awareness of the actions that can improve walkability, and to foster healthy competition among cities in the San Diego region to champion walk-friendly policies and projects. This 2015 report is the third scorecard to be released.
Through the production of three scorecards, the methodology used to determine city scores has largely stayed the same. However, based on soliciting input on the Scorecard’s rubric and best practices in improving walkability, some of the individual scoring categories have been modified. These modifications have resulted in changes among the city rankings. The 2015 Scorecard is being released at the time the Vision Zero movement is sweeping across the country to combine Engineering, Education and Enforcement to prevent traffic deaths. This year’s Scorecard has been modified to reflect the best practices inherent to Vision Zero.
National City emerged as the top scoring city for several reasons. The city continues to vigorously add pedestrian-friendly infrastructure - especially near schools and civic buildings. The city comprehensively plans for improvements, and provides robust education to students and families on safe walkability. National City has the highest pedestrian collision rate in the region but has consistently taken steps to improve safety. This city’s work provides a model for other cities in the region.
Solana Beach came in a close second and moved up from fourth place in the last published Scorecard. This city has completed significant walk friendly improvements on the highly visible Coast Highway 101 corridor, as well as along a number of neighborhood streets. Its recently updated General Plan and Community Active Transportation Strategy outline policies that can be emulated by other regional cities. The city also has a high rate of walking while keeping the number of collisions low.
Encinitas ranked third and is in the top three for the first time. The city has implemented numerous traffic calming projects, completed a citywide pedestrian education program, and recently adopted a comprehensive Safe Routes to School Plan. In addition, the city’s downtown grid network and access to transit helps maintain a high rate of walking.
The Scoring Framework
The Walk Scorecard is comprised of four primary scoring categories:
(1) Status of Walking Index – This category combines: (a) how many people choose walking to get around, and (b) how safe they are when they walk. In general, cities that ranked high in this category tend to have a higher rate of walking, and higher percentage of mixed land uses. Other cities that ranked high have generally fewer people walking and a lower rate of pedestrian vehicle collisions.
(2) Implementation – This category examines data on existing and new infrastructure that enhances walkability, methods used to evaluate safety, and coordination with police to encourage safe and deter unsafe behavior. Examples of categories rated include the presence of a robust network of crosswalks and sidewalks, traffic calming projects (especially around schools), implementation of pedestrian education programs, and the percentage of homes and employment located within a ½ mile of high frequency transit.
(3) Policies – This category reviews various policies that promote walkability in the long term such as Active Transportation or Safe Routes to School Plans, Complete Streets policies, parking policies, and ongoing funding commitments. Both implementation and policies were studied to strike a balance between cities’ established big-picture goals and on-the-ground projects, recognizing that written policies are not always implemented.
(4) BestWalk Field Data – This category relates data collected by volunteers across the region rating the walkability of neighborhood streets via BestWALK, a smartphone application developed by Circulate San Diego.
The simple act of walking brings enormous benefits to our health, the environment, our economy and our communities. Yet people across the U.S. aren’t walking like they used to. This has led to more greenhouse gas emissions and chronic health problems such as heart disease and diabetes.
One contributing factor to the decrease in walking during the last three generations has been the focus on road construction and increased facility of driving. In addition to the unintended consequences mentioned above, this has also resulted in a significant number of injuries and deaths due to motor vehicle crashes.
More than 30,000 people are killed on average in motor vehicle crashes each year in the United States. This equates to 82 people dying in motor vehicle crashes each day. Recently a new movement has developed across the United States called Vision Zero to reduce serious injuries and fatalities resulting from traffic collisions to zero.
Walking accounts for 13% of trips in the San Diego region, yet pedestrians represent 32% of traffic fatalities.
The San Diego region has the 6th highest rate of pedestrian deaths in the U.S. as a percentage of total traffic fatalities. Whereas walking accounts for 13 percent of total travel trips in San Diego County, pedestrians represent 32 percent of traffic fatalities and three percent of transportation funding. The number of pedestrian fatalities reported in the County in 2014 showed a 35 percent increase from the previous year.
The San Diego Regional Walk Scorecard (“Scorecard”) is an educational tool created to raise awareness of projects and policies cities can adopt to improve walkability. It is also our intention to foster healthy competition among cities to champion walk-friendly communities. Data is collected for 25 components among four major categories. These categories were based on the national Walk Friendly Communities program. A description of each category is outlined in the table below. Related findings are detailed in the following pages.
Status of Walking
The Status of Walking establishes a baseline for walking in each regional city. The index reflects how many people choose walking to get around in each city and how safe they are when they walk. Data provided for trips in the San Diego region often reflects how people commute to work. To be more inclusive, the Scorecard measures how people choose to get around for all trips, not just commuting.
Cities that scored highest in the index were those that had the lowest collision rate and at least 9 to 11 percent of trips made by walking. These included cities like Poway, Del Mar, and Solana Beach. The next tier of cities in the index had much higher rates of walking and a higher collision rate. This included cities like National City, Coronado, and Encinitas. This data supports the need for better infrastructure to increase safety for people walking. Cities ranked closer to the bottom of the index had lower rates of walking and higher collision rates. These included cities like El Cajon, Escondido and Chula Vista. The chart in Appendix A compares the pedestrian fatality rate for each city in the region.
Implementation and Policies
There is a synergistic relationship between the implementation of walk-friendly street projects and the policies that bring these projects about. Both are needed to implement short term and long term goals. The selection of categories for this section is informed by best practices to create walkable environments around the U.S. and the region. Data was collected through a written survey sent to city engineering and planning staff in the summer of 2015, telephone interviews, and research of existing local policies and programs. A summary of categories for this section is provided below and in the following pages. Point details are outlined in Appendix B.
Walk Friendly Infrastructure
Cities have a wide variety of tools to improve walking conditions. This section focuses on projects cities can build to improve pedestrian safety.
What We Measured: We reviewed cities’ consistency in painting crosswalks at intersections, the percentage of signalized intersections with pedestrian countdown signals, miles of streets with sidewalks present, and painting treatments to slow traffic speeds, and implementation of innovative projects to improve pedestrian safety.
What We Found:
All cities had implemented at least one of the design elements surveyed and had more under planning and design. There was an increase in the number of these projects from previous years. Highlights from select categories are outlined below.
Pedestrian Countdown Signals – Countdown signals have been shown to decrease crashes 68 percent.The percent of intersections with these signals ranged from 13 percent (San Diego) to 100 percent (Encinitas, Imperial Beach, Lemon Grove) and the average was 52 percent. Because California cities are required to include countdown timers with new signal installations, these numbers should continue to increase.
Consistency in Painting Crosswalks – Marked crosswalks are essential for helping pedestrians move safety, conveniently, and predictably across roadways. We reviewed how consistently cities paint crosswalks at major intersections and at uncontrolled crossings and found that most cities are consistent. The City of San Diego’s new policy for pedestrian crosswalks at uncontrolled crossings is a model for other cities to adopt and implement.
Lane and Road Diets – Road diets have been proven to reduce crashes up to 47 percent. All but one city, Poway, reported completion of either road or lane diets in recent years. The average number of miles completed was 10. The city with the greatest quantity of lane diets was San Diego, with 57 miles completed.
Sidewalk Miles – Studies show the presence of sidewalks reduces pedestrian crashes by 88 percent, and encourages people to walk more. Cities were scored by the ratio of total miles of sidewalks to miles of streets. Imperial Beach and Chula Vista were two cities with the highest ratio, and Del Mar and Lemon Grove were cities with the lowest ratios. The average ratio was just over 1:1, meaning about half of the region’s streets have sidewalks on both sides of them.
Innovative Treatments – Innovative pedestrian safety treatments such as hybrid beacons, rectangular rapid flash beacons, traffic circles, and raised crosswalks are being constructed around the San Diego region. The number of these has increased greatly since the publication of the 2013 Scorecard.
Bright Spot: Comparing results with previous years indicates there is improvement throughout the region to implement projects to enhance walkability. The most gains have been made in the number of lane diets and road diets combined with innovative treatments. Cities like Encinitas, National City, Carlsbad, and San Diego are combining these design elements into multiple projects for bigger, more positive impacts.
Room for Improvement: Each city is adding new sidewalk miles annually but the pace is very slow. Most cities add up to one mile each year, although the needs are much greater. San Diego outpaced other cities by reporting the addition of 30 miles of new sidewalk in the last two years.
Project evaluation provides valuable data to cities to show whether projects and programs are improving safety and increasing the number of people walking.
What We Measured: We surveyed cities to determine the degree of ongoing coordination with police, and internal reviews of collision history to prioritize infrastructure improvements. We also surveyed cities on recent efforts to complete pedestrian counts.
What We Found: Most cities routinely review collision data with local police, ranging from a case by case basis to ongoing monthly review. The best practice is from cities that digitize the data, present it to its Traffic Commission, and create a Capital Improvement Project for an improvement. This type of effort was reported in National City and Encinitas. Several cities answered that they did conduct collision data reviews, but did not indicate to what degree action is taken on police reports.
Bright Spot: Several cities like National City and La Mesa work routinely with police to evaluate speeds and dangerous behavior near schools. Many cities performed pedestrian counts in recent years, and cities like Encinitas and National City completed robust pedestrian counts at more than 100 intersections throughout the City to determine the need for improvements.
Room for Improvement: Some of the larger cities reported action taken on a case by case basis rather than routinely. Pedestrian counts are currently limited but seem to be growing, either through Safe Routes to School programs, grant application requirements, or through counters installed by SANDAG.
Enforcement of Safer Speeds
Why it Matters: Excessive vehicle speeds dramatically decrease pedestrian safety, increasing both the number and severity of crashes. Speed enforcement and traffic calming projects are effective ways to encourage drivers to reduce their speed and make roads safer for everyone.
What We Measured: We surveyed cities to determine the number and type of traffic calming projects completed in the last three years to slow vehicle speeds, how many streets had experienced an increase in the speed limit, and the use of enforcement programs to promote the safety of pedestrians.
What We Found: All but two cities had completed traffic calming projects, many in response to neighborhood requests, and many as part of ongoing repaving efforts. Eleven cities reported having raised the speed limit for a minimum of one to two streets and up to ten based on recent speed surveys. Twelve cities reported the presence of some type of speed enforcement program with local police, many in school zones.
Bright Spot: Traffic calming projects continue to be implemented with road repaving programs and many around schools. Efforts in Solana Beach to slow vehicle speeds on Coast Highway 101 should serve as a model for other cities; they have slowed speeds from 45 to 35 mph. Similarly, Oceanside’s downtown traffic calming project on Mission Avenue reduced traffic speeds while greatly expanding sidewalks making room for outdoor eating.
Room for Improvement: Cities continue to raise speed limits in response to speed surveys that show 85 percent of speeds are higher than the posted speed limit, even when traffic calming policies and tools are available as a means to slow vehicles. Solana Beach stands out as a model for implementing traffic calming measures to lower speeds and enforce the posted speed limit.
Education and Safe Routes to School
Why it Matters: Safe Routes to School is a state and federal program designed to increase children’s physical activity and create safer streets for walking and biking to school. Initial efforts to promote walking to school in the U.S. emerged in the 1990s, and pilot programs were officially tested in 2000. The strong success of these pilot programs led to the establishment of a federal Safe Routes to School grant program in 2005.
What We Measured: We reviewed the number and quality of Safe Routes to School infrastructure projects, and pedestrian safety education at schools. Cities that rose to the top completed numerous projects, included multiple treatments, and had initiated pedestrian education programs.
What We Found: Cities like Carlsbad, Encinitas, National City, and Lemon Grove have completed multiple infrastructure improvements around schools such as new sidewalks, new crosswalks with rectangular rapid flash beacons, and other traffic calming projects. Encinitas and National City stand out for the number of projects completed. On education, all but four cities have completed some type of pedestrian education program. Cities like La Mesa, National City, Imperial Beach, Santee, and Chula Vista stand out because they provided a multi-year education program. Other cities have applied for funding to do this.
Bright Spot: Thanks in part to more grant funding available in California, cities have made great strides to improve Safe Routes to School infrastructure and education in recent years. All cities except one reported completion of at least one project and some education.
Room for Improvement: The scope of Safe Routes to School projects varies widely among cities. On a positive note, California’s Active Transportation Program has incentivized more applications for these projects. Integration of education programs for safe walking and bicycling is a critical component that can still be expanded.
Transit Oriented Development and Walkable Land Use
Why it Matters: TOD is a strategy to focus residential and employment growth in urbanized areas near existing and planned transit to boost ridership while also effectively increasing local housing supply. Having more of these land uses within a short walk of transit encourages more people to walk.
What We Measured: Using SANDAG data, we calculated the percentage of each city’s existing population and employment located within a ½ mile of high frequency transit, or bus and trolley lines, offering service every 15 minutes. We combined this measure with another SANDAG data point, the Utilitarian Walkability Index, developed as part of SANDAG’s Healthy Communities Atlas. This index combines a city’s retail floor area ratio, intersection density, land use mix and net residential density to measure walkability.
What We Found: Cities in South Bay (Imperial Beach, National City, Chula Vista) and East County (Lemon Grove, La Mesa) have the highest percentages of population and employment in close proximity to high frequency transit service. Most North County cities (San Marcos, Solana Beach, Encinitas, Carlsbad) have the lowest percentages of population and employment to high frequency transit. Only three north regional cities (Oceanside, Vista, Escondido) were listed among top cities for having a higher percentage of population within half a mile of high frequency transit service. These are generally the same cities with higher scores in utilitarian walkability given this index’s weight to a grid pattern of streets and mix of land uses.
Bright Spots: Changes outlined in long term plans such as the Regional Transportation Plan and local general plans show that a larger percentage of population and employment will have better access to transit in the future. Not such a bright spot, these changes won’t be complete for another 35 years.
Room for Improvement: Only eight cities have at least 25 percent of its population located within high frequency transit service. Worse, seven cities have zero percent of their population near this service and another three cities have less than ten percent. Seven cities have zero percent of employment population location near transit. With higher percentages of homes and jobs located near high frequency transit, it is likely that more people in the region would walk based on research findings that link higher rates of walking with transit use.
Comprehensive Mobility Plan
Why it Matters: Mobility plans allow cities to review city-wide conditions and needs, and invite public input to design projects that will increase safety and mobility for residents. For any city, they are one of the most effective tools to evaluate the walking environment, solicit feedback from families, and create a comprehensive list of needs and project solutions.
What We Measured: We reviewed the type of mobility plans adopted by the region’s 18 cities. Plans such as Pedestrian Master Plans, Community Active Transportation Strategy (CATS), Safe Routes to School Plans, and Trails Master Plans were all eligible, but CATS plans were scored higher as this represents a local, state and national best practice in planning. We also reviewed whether cities had universal design principles and performance measures or goals for increased walking as part of any adopted plan. For this we reviewed the general plans, climate action plans, and local budgets.
What We Found: All but four cities have an adopted mobility plan or one in process. Whereas cities historically adopted pedestrian master plans, there is a movement towards combining walking and bicycling in the same plan such as with a CATS or Safe Routes to School Plan. Eleven cities had performance measures or transportation goals included in a long term plan.
Bright Spot: Comparing results in this category to previous years shows many more cities have comprehensive mobility plans. Cities with adopted pedestrian master plans have begun to adopt more comprehensive active transportation strategies or Safe Routes to School plans. More than half of the cities have performance measures in place to guide decision making. Solana Beach’s recently adopted CATS stands out as a model for the monitoring program outlined.
Room for Improvement: The success of these plans lies in their implementation. Whereas most of the plans identify and prioritize numerous projects, funding strategies or implementation goals were not included. Some of these goals were identified in companion climate action plans. Best practices around the country indicate that goal setting, and annual monitoring and reporting will help cities stay accountable to implementing plans.
Complete Streets Policy
Why it Matters: As of 2011, Complete Streets policies are required with any general plan update in California. These policies formalize a city’s intent to plan, design, operate, and maintain streets that are safe for everyone.
What We Measured: We reviewed the presence of a Complete Streets policy in each city’s general plan or as a stand-alone ordinance or policy. Within this analysis we reviewed inclusion of flexible Level of Service (LOS) thresholds and multi-modal metrics that allow for more intensive multi-modal project evaluation. We also surveyed cities whether Transportation Demand Management (TDM) strategies are required with development projects, and reviewed cities’ parking policies for the use of paid parking, parking inventories, parking reductions, and parking management practices.
What We Found: Ten cities have adopted Complete Streets policies and four additional cities are in the process of drafting language or pursuing a Complete Streets policy. Five cities have policies with LOS flexibility, and four cities acknowledge use of multi-modal metrics. Nine cities reported use of TDM strategies. Four cities received full points for having the indicated parking policies.
Bright Spot: At least three cities have adopted Complete Streets policies since the 2012 Walk Scorecard and 14 of the region’s 18 cities either have policies adopted or in process. Two of these cities, Carlsbad and Solana Beach, include LOS flexibility and metrics for multiple modes. This indicates cities are going above and beyond a standard policy to integrate more multi-modal strategies. In addition, more cities reported use of TDM strategies than anticipated and almost all cities had at least one of the modern parking policies scored.
Room for Improvement: The strength of Complete Streets, TDM, and parking policies lies in the use of these in decision making. These goals are often in conflict with vehicular LOS policies. Transportation policy and practice are evolving and select cities in our region are helping create best practices for other local cities to emulate. SB 743 will require cities to cease using LOS for CEQA purposes, which will present an opportunity for cities to modify or replace LOS for transportation planning purposes.
Ongoing Funding Commitments
Why it Matters: Policy and implementation decisions ultimately come down to the amount of funding dedicated to improvements.
What We Measured: We surveyed cities to determine the annual line item allocation for sidewalk maintenance and calculated this per capita. We also examined each city’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP) and budget allocations for Fiscal Year 2015-2016 to determine how many projects of the total included pedestrian or bicyclist improvements or programs and average project cost. Project and program types included; streetscape and sidewalk improvements, road diets, bike lanes, traffic calming, wayfinding signage, street trees, ADA improvements, traffic signal or intersection improvements, planning documents, pedestrian safety programs, Safe Routes to School programs or plans, Smart Growth improvements, and more. Repaving allocations were not included.
What We Found: On average, cities are allocating just under $3.00 per person each year to maintain and rebuild sidewalks. Cities with the higher allocations were Coronado, Imperial Beach, San Diego, and La Mesa. The percent of total projects within the CIP with identified pedestrian and bicycling improvements ranged between 10 and 100 percent with an average of 42 percent. The cost per project ranged from $27,500 and more than $1 million with an average project cost of $450,000.
Bright Spot: More than half of CIP projects include bicycling and pedestrian safety components. Cities with the highest average project cost were Vista and San Diego. Cities with the highest percentage of projects including bicycling and pedestrian components were La Mesa and Del Mar, followed by Solana Beach and Chula Vista. Projects listed included a wide range of traffic calming, sidewalk improvements, educational programs, and pedestrian safety infrastructure.
Room for Improvement: Funding for sidewalk improvements varied widely as these types of projects can range from minor modifications to substantial construction. Based on sidewalk ratios researched, funding can still be increased for sidewalk improvements to ensure the presence of the most basic walkability infrastructure.
BestWALK Street Ratings
The final component of the Scorecard rating system involves “ground-truthing” each city’s walkability. To facilitate collection of field data, Circulate San Diego developed a smartphone application, BestWALK to allow residents to collect and upload data about the walkability of their city’s streets.
How it Works
Residents around the San Diego region were asked to rate streets in their neighborhood by answering questions posed through BestWALK. Data was collected separately for street segments and intersections. BestWALK combines fact-based questions with perceptual questions. Sample evidence-based questions include: Is there a sidewalk? Is the sidewalk continuous? Is there a crosswalk? Perceptual questions were answered on a four-point Likert scale. Sample questions include: Do you feel safe walking here? Do you feel safe crossing here? Are the surrounding buildings and landscaping attractive? Is there shopping and dining nearby? The user can choose one of four answers: Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, and Strongly Disagree. More information on BestWALK can be found on Circulate San Diego’s website.
BestWALK Rating Results
Approximately 2,200 street segments and intersections were rated by volunteers across the region between 2012 and 2015 to determine the rankings in the table below. Average scores from this year were added to previous years’ averages to determine an overall score. Due to this relatively small sample size, and because the use of BestWALK will increase over time, the field data accounted for only 10 percent of the total Scorecard score.
It is interesting to note that many of the cities with higher or lower ratings in other Scorecard categories ranked in a similar position with BestWALK, but not all. Solana Beach, Imperial Beach, and La Mesa all maintained ratings within the top five. Lemon Grove, El Cajon, and San Marcos maintained lower ratings. San Diego appeared at the top of this list for the first time.
There is a demand for improved walkability across the San Diego region. The Regional Walk Scorecard represents one methodology to assess what cities in the region are doing to respond to the demand. Cities that rose to the top of the Scorecard illustrate the effectiveness of a multi-layered approach to creating walkable communities.
Much progress has been made by cities to proactively make improvements since the initial Regional Walk Scorecard was released. Some highlights include:
- The number of cities with Complete Streets policies has doubled, from five cities to ten,
- The number of cities with long range pedestrian plans have increased from five to twelve,
- The number of cities providing comprehensive Safe Routes to School pedestrian education programs has grown from six cities to nine with all 18 cities reporting some small presence of pedestrian education programs, and
- The number and variety of traffic calming projects has increased, especially around schools, where projects include roundabouts, traffic circles, high visibility crosswalks, and crosswalks with new lights to increase visibility.
Despite the progress, the San Diego region continues to have one of the highest pedestrian fatality rates in the U.S. As reported by the County of San Diego’s Medical Examiner’s office, 2014 saw a 35 percent jump in the number of pedestrian deaths. In total, 88 people died in the County while walking.
The Walk Scorecard has evolved slowly over the three years of its preparation to respond to best practices in the region and U.S. This year, components of the Vision Zero strategy were included to evaluate how San Diego regional cities are proactively working to evaluate crashes after they have occurred, working to reduce speed, and the degree to which efforts are coordinated with local police. These components will remain in the Scorecard as Vision Zero is an ongoing strategy.
National City, Solana Beach, and Encinitas emerged as top scoring cities for several reasons. All of the cities have vigorously constructed pedestrian-friendly projects in key downtown areas as well as near schools and throughout neighborhoods. They have all produced comprehensive long-term plans to improve pedestrian safety, they work closely with police to evaluate crash locations and make improvements, they have a high percentage of population near transit and mix of land uses, and they have policies in place to support these types of projects. Solana Beach and Encinitas have relatively high rates of walking while keeping the number of crashes low. National City has one of the highest rates of walking and highest crash rate, but is doing extensive work to make improvements.
Cities that scored lowest, El Cajon, San Marcos, and Lemon Grove, are implementing many of the same projects and policies as the top ranked cities. Yet the work of other cities is simply outpacing them. El Cajon scores low because of its high pedestrian fatality rate. San Marcos and Lemon Grove have both completed high profile complete streets projects such as San Marcos Boulevard and the Main Street Promenade, respectively. However, these efforts have generally not been continued in other parts of the city. Lemon Grove has a relatively high rate of walking as well as the 7th highest pedestrian fatality rate. San Marcos has not completed significant pedestrian education programs or long term plans as other cities have done.
Many of the cities in the middle have completed model projects and plans, but fall behind the leaders because of the high number of plans, policies and projects implemented.
The highest overall score produced for any city was 67, within a framework of 100 possible points. The report details where there is room for improvement within each of the categories analyzed.
People’s demands are changing. Cities have an obligation to find solutions that improve walkability, especially for our younger and older population. With an increased demand for infill development, an aging population, an increase in pedestrian crashes, and statistics that show the most vulnerable are the ones being hit most frequently, cities must seek new solutions for street design. Planning for improved walkability is at the heart of the solution.
 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, State by State Overview (2015), http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/general-statistics/fatalityfacts/state-by-state-overview.
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 Del Mar does not have public schools within its City limits.
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