Economics Based on People or Cars?

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 I’ve been canvassing retail businesses around Laguna Beach to get an idea how managers plan for walk-in traffic into their establishments and whether they recorded this plan into their business plan. I was surprised to find some managers don’t have a walk-in plan at all, and if they do, they rely on three to six parking spaces outside their establishments to define the volume of their walk-in traffic. Providing parking spaces is a very big deal and consumes the agenda of every meeting by the Parking Traffic and Circulation Committee, a city appointed committee in Laguna Beach. Providing these spaces on Coast Highway is further confined by Caltrans and the California Coastal Commission.

It should be glaringly obvious that walk-in traffic determines retail business success, not car traffic. I talked to a mom-and-pop shop in Laguna Canyon recently where the owners confessed that 41,000 commuters drive by their store, but none stop to do business. Businesses on Coast Highway experience the same thing. So why would a business want to model their retail success around the number of parking spaces in front of their business? Why would a city planning department emphasize parking spaces instead of people spaces? Ka-Ching! That’s right, meter money and parking tickets, both contribute to city revenues whether or not the car driver buys anything.

We have a value judgment to call here. Do we rather grow city revenues with meter money and parking tickets or through retail sales and business taxes? People carry wallets and spend money, not their cars. In a world of increasing political, environmental, financial and combative consequences for foreign oil, why plan a business model around accommodating more cars, traffic and parking?  Adopting a balanced mobility model where walking, biking, busing and private cars coexist safely and utilized equally is Complete Streets Policy now mandated by state and federal law. The success of CSP is measured by re-vitalization of the retail businesses district where the policy is adopted and the infrastructure is built.  CSP is context sensitive and applied where it makes sense to do so.

For every person enabled to walk, bike, or bus in Laguna Beach we eliminate one car from the streets and free one parking space. In a world of increasing gasoline prices and consequences, this shift to balanced mobility is inevitable.  Meanwhile providing incentives for walk-in traffic to patronize retail businesses is another topic, but spending money locally will be desirable for local businesses and patrons.  Think of all the stuff you could buy locally with the money you saved on gas.

Les Miklosy, Laguna Beach,

chair, Complete Streets Task Force

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