CA: About 100,000 S.J. Residents 16 and Older Don't Have a License to Drive. So How do They Participate in Society?

Her alarm clock just might go off earlier than yours.

And her breakfast just might be more rushed.

Because if she doesn't leave the house on time, she might miss her bus to San Joaquin Delta College. And if she makes a habit of missing the bus, she'll certainly be missing out on her future.

Santana Juache, 23, is one of more than 100,000 San Joaquin County residents 16 years or older who do not have driver's licenses. That's roughly one in every five people.

"I come from kind of a bad family background, and I never had anybody who was willing to take me out driving -- never had anybody to teach me," said Juache, who waited at the Pacific Avenue bus stop with her 4-year-old daughter for a ride home from the college Friday. "It's a little bit of an inconvenience, but it's not the worst thing."

There are any number of reasons people lack licenses: They can't afford cars. They may be too old to safely drive. Or they may be unable to drive because of a physical disability.

Of course, some drive illegally without a license.

Regardless, with officials scheduled to consider an $11 billion transportation plan next month, advocates say statistics like these are evidence that Stockton should plan for a more pedestrian-friendly future, with people's homes closer to where they work, where they learn and where they shop.

"These folks have just a devil of a time getting to jobs, getting kids to school, or even just getting a parent to a teacher-parent conference," said Randy Hatch, a planner and smart-growth advocate. "That's a real crisis."

The plan under consideration by the San Joaquin Council of Governments does shift somewhat away from business as usual, partly because of a new state law that requires cities to plan to be more sustainable.

The region's last transportation plan, in 2011, funneled more than $4.4 billion into expanding roads. Under the new plan, that number shrinks to $3.2 billion, with more money going instead to maintaining existing roads and improving mass transit.

The new plan also puts 78 percent more money into so-called "active transportation projects" such as bike lanes and sidewalk improvements. Those projects, however, remain a tiny slice of the overall pie -- about 3 percent.

The new plan depicts a future that continues to be dominated by cars. The number of miles people drive will increase, not decrease. Motorists will spend substantially more hours in congestion. Greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles will increase, though at a much slower rate than under past plans. A smaller percentage of people will bike and walk to get around.

Bobby Bivens, president of the Stockton chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, is a member of a coalition urging more aggressive progress toward walkable communities.

"We do need to fix up the roads and the potholes," Bivens said. "But we also have to accommodate our nonmobile citizens. Look at it if we were in that position -- how would we make it? How would we have a decent quality of life?"

Andrew Chesley, executive director of the Council of Governments, said the council is trying to find a balance.

Drivers and nondrivers alike benefit from improvements in roads, which of course accommodate buses and bicycles just as they do passenger vehicles.

And while the plan puts significantly more money into transit and those "active transportation" projects, the billions of dollars that would be dedicated to maintaining roads may still not be enough to keep the system viable, Chesley said.

The county is expected to top 1 million people by 2040. Many will still choose to commute long distances. Vehicles will be needed to transport goods and provide services.

Perhaps, as advocates say, the 20 percent who are not licensed to drive today will be joined by many more who voluntarily choose not to drive.

"But people don't change overnight in terms of how they move from one place to another," Chesley said. "We have a very developed urban environment here, and you have to kind of operate with that. Things change incrementally."


Contact reporter Alex Breitler at (209) 546-8295 or abreitler@recordnet.com. Follow him at www.recordnet.com/breitlerblog and on Twitter @alexbreitler.

Copyright 2014 - The Record, Stockton, Calif.

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