More summery weather is expected this Black Friday, so let’s skip the groceries and head to the beach – by bus!
There’s been a bit of a debate lately about how to get people from the new Blue Line streetcar to San Diego city beaches. The main purpose of the extended downtown to university town rail line is to connect employment centers, develop housing around stations, and hopefully get people out of their cars.
Yet the new line brings rail traffic closer to the sands of La Jolla, Pacific Beach and Mission Beach than before. Unfortunately, it’s not even really that close. The stop near Pacific Beach – the transit hub of Balboa Avenue – is about 2 miles from the ocean. Also, there is a nasty intersection to deal with if you sabotage it or cycle from the station.
A tunnel or a bridge for pedestrians and cyclists is under discussion, as well as possible shuttles.
Still, buses operated by the San Diego Metro Transportation System that pass along the beach have been diverted to stop at Balboa Station.
In fact, at least 10 different SDMTS buses have stopped for some time a few blocks from the ocean in La Jolla, Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, Ocean Beach, Coronado, and Imperial Beach – and in some cases just across the street. Most of them connect to one or more trolley stations.
The same goes for the North County Transit District bus 101 that goes up and down the Coast Highway.
Depending on the day of the week and the time of day, some buses run every 15 minutes, and usually no more than every half hour. During the summer some schedules are changed to run the beach buses more frequently.
Now, let’s face it, buses and trolleys are hardly considered an optimal form of transportation to get to the beach – if they are considered. Some have to go through the same congested beach town traffic as cars.
Meanwhile, ridership throughout the San Diego area is miniscule, and you don’t need the data to know that the people using public transportation to get to the beach are a fraction of a miniscule.
In San Diego and Southern California, it’s automotive culture, not transit culture. There are high hopes that will change, but it won’t be for a while. The reality is always that taking a car to the beach can be more convenient – and necessary – if it’s a family outing that requires bringing a lot, for example, a reasonably sized surfboard. .
And it’s still not easy for everyone to get to a bus or tram stop. Beach trips often require at least one transfer.
On the other hand, good luck finding parking in seaside towns at midday when it’s hot and sunny, especially on vacation, or near vacation like today. On sunny weekends, Interstate 5 is often blocked in the afternoon at Pacific, Mission and Ocean beach exits.
But seeing how people like Mayor Todd Gloria say the Blue Line could make beaches more accessible to low-income people living well inland – but needs that latest link to get there – it’s disconcerting that existing buses weren’t discussed more as part of this equation.
“A three-mile walk is not world-class public transit,” he told David Garrick of the San Diego Union-Tribune. “All progress is incremental and it is clear that something more is needed here. “
It might take more than the existing buses, but it’s a starting point. Plus, they’re easy to use and virtually on schedule. Before you think I am a competitor for SDMTS, be aware that I take buses regularly and have taken some of the roads that go to the beaches. Granted, unlike many people here, I have long lived in an area with convenient bus service – although I only realized this just a few years ago.
Still, it was a surprise how many roads can get people to the gates of the Pacific Ocean. All bus and tram timetables and information on fares are available at sdmts.com. In the spirit of the holidays, here is a friendly list of beach buses:
Bus line 8: Goes from Old Town Station to Balboa Avenue Transit Center (and vice versa) via Mission Bay Park, Mission Beach and Pacific Beach. The full loop takes around 25 minutes, and just over 10 minutes from Balboa Station to Mission Boulevard near Crystal Pier – depending on traffic it should be noted.
Route 9: Old Town though Mission Bay to Sea World and downtown PB, several blocks to the beach. About 25 minutes.
Route 27: Kearny Mesa Transit Center near Crystal Pier. About 40 minutes in total; About 15 minutes from Balboa station.
Route 28: Old town at Shelter Island. OK, it’s not the ocean, but it’s a really cool place on San Diego Bay. 20 minutes.
Route 30: UTC to Old Town via La Jolla Shores and Pacific Beach. 25 minutes to La Jolla Shores; about 17 minutes from UC San Diego Shores.
Route 35: Old Town at Ocean Beach. About 20 minutes to two blocks from the beach.
Route 43: Kearny Mesa at Balboa Station. It is a new line that connects the beach buses.
Route 140 (express): Balboa station to La Jolla Shores. 20 minutes.
Route 901: From downtown San Diego to the Hotel del Coronado and Imperial Beach. About 35 minutes for the Del and 50 minutes for IB. There is also a free summer shuttle that connects the Coronado Ferry Landing in the heart of downtown to the Coronado Shores. The SDMTS Route 904 bus takes the same route.
Route 923: From downtown San Diego to Ocean Beach (with a stop less than a block from the Santa Fe Depot). About 25 minutes to OB and another about five minutes to Sunset Cliffs. No weekend service however.
Sometimes people are seen boarding some of these buses with beach chairs, bodyboards and other beach accessories. Only surfboards shorter than 6 feet are allowed.
Another option is the NCTD Coaster Railroad line, which connects Santa Fe Depot to Oceanside with stops at Solana Beach, Encinitas, and Carlsbad, all within walking distance of the ocean.
How much of this could help open up access to the beach is anyone’s guess. Many of these bus lines have been around for many years. But with the recent opening of the Blue Line tram there is more and more talk of getting people to see transit as a path to the sea.
There are reasons to be skeptical of what will happen in a big way. Logistics can be cumbersome and even short trips require planning and sometimes patience. But it looks like buses could be part of the last link that transit advocates say is missing.
Buses are not the cool kid of public transport. They don’t have the buzz that the cart makes. But they are the ones who go to the beach.
How cool is that?