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Reimagining Laguna

By Bill Fried

 

“Lowly, unpurposeful, and random as they may appear, sidewalk contacts are the small change from which a city’s wealth of public life may grow.” – Jane Jacobs, “Death and Life of Great American Cities”

 

Last Friday’s Hospitality Night was our annual reminder of how much better our town would be if lower Forest Avenue was closed to cars and converted to a pedestrian plaza, with planters, benches, lighting, and al fresco dining. A convivial town center to meet and greet friends and visitors. Really, was anyone inconvenienced by the lack of parking on Forest? Or that retailers suffered? To the contrary, I heard many flourished.

Making Forest more people centric is relevant to another major proposal that was brought before the Planning Commission this past Wednesday: the possibility of re-striping Glenneyre (from Thalia to Calliope streets) from four lanes to three, creating a dedicated bike lane, and increasing traffic flow with several roundabouts at high traffic intersections. By providing a safe place for bikers to commute we are making a powerful commitment to alternative, eco-friendly transport, including bikes, skateboards, rollerblades and pedestrians. And Glenneyre commuters will not suffer in the bargain.

It’s amazing that a quaint resort town that wants to be seen as progressive is still burdened by a transportation system entirely built for the car; a system that was installed in the last century and is failing the needs of modern society. Which is why so many cities have committed substantial resources to creating Complete Streets that are safer and better for everybody – drivers, cyclists, and walkers. It reduces traffic and parking. It’s easier on the environment, and a great way to stay healthy. And yet, the idea has been met with extreme hostility. City officials have been receiving a significant volume of protests from residents of Glenneyre and neighboring Catalina, who fear more traffic will be diverted to them. Here are some of criticisms:

Glenneyre is going from four lanes to two.

No, only one lane is being eliminated. There will be a center turning lane, much like on Laguna Canyon Road. So it won’t be much different than it is now, except bikers won’t be in your lane and at risk. Also, no parking will be removed in the bargain.

It will create tremendous traffic jams.

Honestly, can anyone say Glenneyre is congested? Once in a blue moon near downtown, right? But this is a road that flows and will flow even better with four roundabouts. Cars won’t have to stop, and traffic circles are a well-documented success wherever they are implemented. More cars will choose Glenneyre over Catalina because it will be so much faster.

Roundabouts are dangerous and chaotic

There’s always been fear about employing these “European” traffic measures, and yes there will be a period of gestation, as always with something new. But once people experience them, they love them.

People don’t really bike in Laguna so what’s the point? 

This is kind of an oxymoron. How can they bike when there’s no place to safely ride? I’ve heard it said that the majority of residents are too old to bike. And while we agree many locals who would never bike even if they lived in Holland, the critics are neglecting two important demographics: people who are young and healthy enough to ride (well, our kids are quickly becoming so obese that they are disqualified, but maybe this can help); and tourists who would have a far better experience and opinion of our town if they could navigate the streets safely and easily, finding it easier to park a bike than a car.

Biking is too hard in Laguna. That’s why nobody does it.

Okay, we’re not Amsterdam. But we’re not San Francisco either, which by the way has a top-rated bike system. We have a few moderate hills in the lower parts of town, nothing that can’t be negotiated with a little fortitude. And, electric bikes make riding any hills a breeze.

Bikes don’t belong on any road. They make people too nervous when they hog the lane.

This is precisely why a dedicated bike lane is needed. Can you imagine how much better driving Coast Highway would be if all the bikers (including the Spandex crowd) was diverted to a bike friendly network of roads through town? They’ld enjoy it more too.

Besides, it’s now a state mandate for communities to adopt Complete Streets.

The Big Picture

We are suffering from isolation. We go from our cars to our homes and our various appliances. We need more opportunities to engage in the human condition, to offer all modes of transportation that encourages people to get outside and meet each other. This is the best sustainable practice we can employ, keeping us healthy and connected.

Imagine a future where bikers can rent from bike share depots across town, ride from north and south through and around town visiting friends, running errands, shopping, dining, beaching, or just touring our beautiful neighborhoods and never peddle Coast Highway. Imagine a safe biking route from Nyes Place to Crescent Bay, from the beaches to the foothills,  with beautiful public art and historic homes to admire. Imagine Laguna with a skate park and a safe route for skaters to get there, a comprehensive network of sharrows and bike lanes, public and privately commissioned sculptural and artistic bike racks, a trolley system that runs year round, and the nexus for it all, a beautiful pedestrian promenade on lower Forest Avenue.

We can do this. Please support this effort and let your city officials know it’s time to make Laguna a multi-modal, less car-dependent town!

 

Billy Fried owns La Vida Laguna, an eco-tourism company.

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