Luci takes in the sites from her window seat on the Coaster train heading south.

My family and I returned from nine days in the San Diego area this Saturday. I brought back a lot of photos and a serious amount of envy.

Given all the bike infrastructure and facilities we have in Tucson, I’m not at all envious about the facilities or lack thereof in Southern California. The weather and the view are pretty amazing, however.

What I am really envious of though, is their public transportation network. They have an interconnected system of trains, buses and trolleys that made it incredibly easy for us to get around the area without using a car for many of the trips we took.

We utilized the Coaster train each of the three times we ventured out using public transportation. The Coaster runs from Oceanside, where we were staying to Downtown San Diego. It stops at several locations along the coast.

The first time we used it, we walked to the train station in Oceanside and rode it to Solana Beach to check out a farmer’s market, have lunch, shop and play on the beach. We hopped on a return train several hours later. It was a Sunday so the trains were scheduled farther apart.

Pretty clear where this bus was going. There was another family who used it to get to Sea World and lots of Sea World Employees.

The next time were going from Oceanside to Sea World. This time we took Coaster from Oceanside to the Old Town Transit Center in San Diego and then transferred to a bus, which took us right to Sea World’s front gates. We did the reverse when we were finished at Sea World, stopping in Old Town San Diego for a bite to eat before returning to Oceanside on the train.

Luci takes in the San Diego skyline on the ferry from Coronado Island.

The last day, we took the Coaster from Oceanside to the Santa Fe Transit Center in downtown San Diego to check out the USS Midway. From there, we hopped on a ferry to take us to Coronado Island and back again. We had a bite to eat and then hopped on the last train back to Oceanside.

The San Diego Trolley pulls into the station while we wait for our train back to Oceanside.

We didn’t get a chance to use the trolley which serves San Diego, but saw it operating in many of the areas where we were.

It was a little strange for me using public transportation however. Because I always have a bike I can leave whenever I want or need to, but public transportation doesn’t always afford that option.

It was both relaxing and stressful to use the trains. It was great not having to fight with traffic or pay for parking at places like Sea World. The downside is that I would stress about making the train in time. Particularly with the train from San Diego, which was the last train of the night, I stressed out about making it on board.

The trains seem to be the real piece of the puzzle that make the transportation network useful for the people who live outside of San Diego.

The really cool thing about the network in San Diego is how well bikes fit into the equation. On the trains there was space for bikes and tons of people were using the train to get north or south and then riding from the train stations. The ferry to Coronado Island also had bike parking and a lot of people were using it.

There is a website that helps people plan their trips in the area based on where they are and where they want to go. Here are the directions we got when we went from Oceanside to Sea World:

1. walk 0.2 mile SW from AMTRAK OCEANSIDE to Coaster Oceanside Transit Center
2. At 09:22 AM take the COASTER TRAIN signed COASTER San Diego
3. Get off the stop at Coaster Old Town Station at approximately 10:15 AM.
4. At 10:32 AM take the MTS BUS route 9 Pacific Beach via Sea World / Ingraham St
5. Get off the stop on Seaworld at Seaworld at approximately 10:47 AM.
Schedules and maps for your routes
COASTER Information
Bus route 9

In addition to the, Coaster, there is the Sprinter train, which takes an inland route to Escondido. There is also the Amtrak Surfliner, which travels between San Diego and San Luis Obispo. Oceanside is also a stop for the Metro Link train, which travels from Oceanside to Los Angeles and then branches out throughout the LA area.

I wonder what Tucson would look like if there was a train from Oro Valley, Marana to Vail with stops at the University of Arizona, downtown, the airport and Raytheon. What would it look like if there was a train that traveled from Tucson to Phoenix?

The streetcar is a start, and I think more thought needs to go into making cyclists safe around the route, but I am more confident than ever that a 3.9 mile route just isn’t enough to make it viable for enough people to really consider using public transportation.

What do you think? Would trains work in Tucson?

In the coming days, I’ll post a few photos and observations about bike riding in the area. I have some GoPro footage from the rides we did.


28 thoughts on “Public transportation better connected in San Diego area”
  1. Trains will work in the Old Pueblo/Pima County. They’ll work anywhere, in a limited  sense. They are, however, characterized by huge capital costs and so are not doable here. Where will the funding come from?

    A lower cost alternative would be express bus lines but, again, for the Old Pueblo, the capital costs are still very high.

    The Growing Popularity of Bus Rapid Transit


    What might be attainable, doable financially, for the Old Pueblo would be improved Sun Tran express/commuter service from sprawl land (NW, SE, Sahuarita) to the airport/Raytheon, downtown (UA), Tech Park. It could be integrated with bikes and smaller buses of course. There are huge cultural and attitude obstacles and it’s not clear to Red Star that the price of gasoline and hidden costs of commuting by car could ever get high enough. It’s iffy and politicians don’t like iffy.

  2. A few years ago, an idea was floated around Downtown:

    Build a new inter-city bus depot across Toole Avenue from the Ronstadt Transit Center.

    If you know anything about this area, the depot would go in that oh-so-stylish vacant lot between 6th Avenue and the train station. Perfect location for intermodal transit.

    Well, you’d think that a hornet’s nest had just gotten thwacked by a stick. We can’t have THOSE people in our becoming ever more upscale Downtown! I mean, come on. They ride the BUS from city to city. Eeeek!

    Down went the inter-city bus depot idea.

    Now, I know what some may be thinking: Bus station. Magnet for vagrants and other scary people.
    But bear with me for a minute. What if that bus station had a really cool cafe? That was a venue for live music? Some of which could be provided by bus passengers?

    Now that would be a place worth visiting. Sort of like that country-western laundromat that I’ve heard about in Azle, Texas.

  3. Commuter train lines are proving popular and successful time and time again. It’s even been wildly successful in a place like Phoenix/Tempe…

    The key is for to actually go somewhere useful.

    “The streetcar is a start, and I think more thought needs to go into
    making cyclists safe around the route, but I am more confident than ever
    that a 3.9 mile route just isn’t enough to make it viable for enough
    people to really consider using public transportation.”

    That’s the problem with the streetcar right there. I agree that its scope just isn’t big enough. It’s not utilitarian enough. It’s just kinda cute. I live around the area of the streetcar, but I’m going to use it rarely because there are bike routes that can get me to the end of the line faster and more directly and by the time I get to a trolly stop I’m already in the middle of the line anyway.

    The thing needs to shoot down Broadway, South Sixth, Campbell, for it to really have teeth. Then maybe consider branching to Oro Valley or Vail afterward. I’m still not convinced those communities should be encouraged to grow…

  4. Too bad you don’t get more vacations each year, Mike,  then we could have more of  these comprehensive reports on bike cities all over.
    And, oh…would you have taken a bus to those places you rode the rail to?
    I believe the City of Tucson is being extremely selfish with regional transportation funds building this current system. We have some good destinations that will likely never be served because of increasing costs and backlash from this poor first choice.

  5. There is a sense among the city folk that the targeted ridership is a group that is accustomed to being dropped-off.
    This faux-successful appearance may be enough for the city politicians, but a lot of people have a problem with the eventual subsidizing of the service.

  6.  When I lived in Pittsburgh during the 1980s, that city launched a dedicated busway between the East End and Downtown.

    Well, actually it started in Wilkinsburg, but I digress. Most of the ridership came from within the city limits of Pittsburgh.

    Any-hoo, this thing was laid out along the Conrail tracks, and the bus drivers and passengers loved it. The bus drivers loved it because there was no other traffic on it, and they could really make those buses fly. The passengers enjoyed getting to Downtown in 10 minutes. In Pittsburgh, that’s a real accomplishment.

    I’ve heard that the East Busway isn’t the only game in town. There are more dedicated busways. And light rail. Not to mention very good public transit in from the suburbs.

    Oh, did I mention that Pittsburgh now has a very happening bicycling scene? Trust me, nothing of the sort existed in the 1980s. If you think we’re hated by motorists here, you weren’t in the ‘Burgh 30 years ago.

  7. I’m all fidgety in my chair about this.Mike goes on vacation and we get reports and examples back of results from municipalities cooperating andcoordinating to achieve a goal. And the experience of how it works in real life.A representative group for downtown goes to the same place and we get….a ‘spin’ guest column from the head guy who is not aware of anything and reports in the paper of drunken behavior by participants.EMERGENCY 911…we need real people downtown. Bring common sense and leadership!I’m glad Mike is teaching journalism and I hope his students get a chance to utilize it in newspaper jobs….somewhere.

  8. L.A. is great with the trains & bikes, with the two, it’s easy getting to many parts of the county. There already should be a train between Phoenix and Tucson. Beyond overdue. Should be in the process of completing line to Flagstaff. Oh wait, I’m dreaming!

  9. I could get behind more vacations. Should I take up a collection? I think what actually makes it a more realistic test is doing it with kids and a family. It is easier for one person to do it, but a family can make it a challenge. 

    I do not think we would have taken the bus alone and here it why. 

    The train is much faster because it has limited stops and doesn’t have to wait for traffic. Taking the bus only would double the transit time. 

    Additionally the train is fun for my daughter, has more room for strollers and luggage and has a bathroom on each train, which is important to us now that Luci is no longer wearing diapers. In a car you can stop, in a bus you have to get off and then wait until the next one comes. The commuter trains had facilities on board. 

  10. Also Luci thinks trains are awesome. It was really nice allowing her to move around and for me to be able to interact with her. The bus ride from the transit center to Sea World was fine, though more cramped and less pleasant. 

  11. From a purely selfish standpoint, I dream of having the Streetcar come up Campbell. My family and I would utilize it all the time. Riding the five miles it not a big deal until it’s hot outside. 

    I’ll ride it by myself, but don’t feel right about putting my 2 year old in the 110 degree heat on a bike. 

  12. I think those outlying areas will grow regardless of a train or not. Adding a train might just mean they are less likely to drive… maybe. 

  13. There is an eventual plan to run the streetcar up Campbell to Roger or Limberlost and then over to Tohono Tadai transit center on Stone, and also down South 6th to Laos Transit Center, and east along Broadway to El Con. These proposals concern me, because they don’t add mobility for anyone since they mostly follow existing bus routes and won’t traverse them any faster, and they don’t take advantage of high density in their corridors like the initial streetcar line will. I mean, how many more people would take the #15 bus if it were on rails?

    What we need is proper rapid transit, in the form of light rail and/or bus rapid transit, with limited stops and exclusive right of way (like the San Diego “Trolley”, or Phoenix Metro). Steve Farley spearheaded an effort several years ago that would have included a light rail line down Broadway and South 6th, which would have been a great start. Unfortunately, it didn’t pass and instead we got the very car-centric RTA plan a few years later. I would like to think that a renewed effort would have better luck now that gas prices are higher, and especially after people start using the streetcar, but I think another tax on top of the RTA’s 0.5% will be a hard sell.

  14. A couple things .

    Trains are fun. They have much less of a stigma than buses. Perhaps that’s not fair, but I think it is the reality. So I do think more people would take a train.

    I agree you really need some rapid transit options. That is what makes the trains great in southern California. They are faster than driving. That is important.

    On a purely speculative and personal level if I could hop on a streetcar that picked me up near my house and dropped me off at either the UA, 4th Avenue or Downtown without having to transfer trains is preferable to taking two buses and having to wait in between them.

  15. We will prevail with trains and bike and, yes, cars. E bikes, too, Swan won’t get flatter. Problem is: we had a love affair with the automobile and got knocked up. Now these metal bastards are everywhere. Then the car became  a yardstick  for planning layouts Mid 20th C. boom towns.  Great picture of legendary California Cycleway from Pasadena to LA Plaza attached. Now to get balanced transportation again. 

  16. Sounds like you need to buy a house at Speedway and Campbell in the next year 🙂

    But seriously, if you’re interested in pros and cons of streetcars, you should read this:

  17. We will see more streetcars, light rail, BRT in decades to come… The current streetcar construction is the beginning! We shouldn’t have killed trolley/streetcars several decades ago! Thanks a lot to GM!

  18. When I saw the future planning idea and found that there may not be a streetcar on campbell but more likely a BRT… Due to insufficient width from grant to river or up to skyline ( that part is getting a diet anyway)

  19. What if your bike break down? Then you can hop on streetcar with your bike and get to Ordinary Bike Shop or BICAS in short time during the summer time eh? Today, I took my bike with me on bus from Campbell/prince to 4th ave because I had a flat tire so I needed a new avenir thorn-resistant tube so I replaced mine at Ordinary and now chilling at Epic Cafe then bike around for a while… I am sure I would do same thing if I am near streetcar line!

  20. PAG’s HCT plans strike me as half-baked. They have BRT running parallel to streetcars on 6th and Broadway; why duplicate service like that? Why not do light rail instead? And the streetcar line along Campbell makes little sense; at streetcar speeds (7-10mph), nobody with a choice would ride more than a few miles, let alone from Tucson Mall to downtown, or further. There are maybe 18 miles of streetcar shown on their long-term map, miles of which are neither dense nor available for redevelopment. Putting light rail in the densest corridors and improving overall bus service would be more useful than streetcars that take hours to go from one end to another.

  21. I am guessing you were looking at executive summary pdf…     according to the colored map in the pdf…   BRT is near term,  streetcar is mid term and LRT is long term   for 6th ave and Broadway route.   Streetcar will go from Irvington to El Con Mall area.   While both BRT and LRT will go from Airport to Houghton… hmm…   on page 4

  22. Thanks for posting that link, really great pics and video.  I loved how the comments following the article immediately devolved into a helmet debate.  Elevated bicycle roadways to Pasadena, who’da thunk it?  

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