Where the sidewalk ends. Laguna Beach is one of the greatest places on earth to live as long as you don’t walk or ride a bike. Laguna Beach is one of the only local coastal cities that put pedestrians and bicyclists so egregiously in danger. Our streets are set up for cars and cars only.
We have all seen people walking down any one of our side streets in the middle of the road. Cars can’t pass easily when the streets have people in them. Pedestrians have to walk in the street because many of our thoroughfares have an incomplete patchwork of sidewalks or none at all. Parked cars line the edge of the street. The result is pedestrians are left to walk in the middle of the street. On many streets a house will have a sidewalk in front of it, but the houses on either side do not. This renders the sidewalk useless. Akin to trying to eat soup using a spoon riddled with holes. Over time people have let their landscaping grow into the street and public right-of-way. If you are walking in the street at dusk or at night and are in dark clothes, the absence of a sidewalk increases your odds for danger.
The city says it’s interested in the subject. How interested? Nothing substantive has happened. It’s not a new subject, it’s a well-known problem and I’m not the first to speak about it. Laguna Beach must lack the desire, money or both.
When I started to work on this story, I went to the city’s public works department. From that point I sat in front of one person, which started a succession of referrals to at least seven people from at least three city agencies over the course of a couple days. Our city employees are helpful and willing, but my feeling was that each agency had a different impression of what to do about sidewalks. Needless to say passing the buck indicates that the subject of sidewalks does not have a priority in city business from the top.
Laguna Beach is affluent. Indeed one of the most affluent in the world. The money we take in from parking fees, meters and citations is a large number. We pay high taxes and we have many businesses that contribute to our tax base. Why is it that we don’t have the will to invest in city infrastructure for parking, sidewalks, bike lanes etc.
The city does not truly care. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions it’s been said. I believe the city has the money and the desire but can’t muster themselves into action. How sad for Laguna Beach.
It should be the goal, where possible, to have a sidewalk on at least one side of the street throughout the city. This is why we elect leadership: to address problems, to have vision, to move forward, to push public safety. The 1955 Laguna Beach doesn’t exist anymore. We should aspire to improve public safety because it is needed. This is the work of the elected leaders. The leadership needs to steer the ship in the correct direction. The pushing of problems under the rug and having no meaningful call to action should make all of us scratch our heads regarding the city leadership.
2014 set a record for major pedestrian and bicycle accidents in Laguna Beach. It seemed every week brought new headlines of deaths or injuries to pedestrians and bicyclists. A sidewalk is among the most basic of infrastructure in a city. If you’re a City Council person reading this, I ask you to find the courage to do the right thing for the residents and visitors of the city. Look at what neighboring cities have done if you need inspiration. If you are a regular citizen, I ask you to email or contact the leadership of the city so that they know this is a real problem and desire change. What will it take, I wonder? Remarkably, death and injury hasn’t yet accomplished this. Our streets are old and many argue there is no space for sidewalks, bike lanes and parking. We have put men on the moon, swam the English Channel, and defeated polio. How? Desire.
I remind you that in Laguna Beach, the next death could be yours.
Roderick Reed owns REEDesign Interiors in Laguna Beach. He lives in town with his wife Kathy and two sons Mason and Jack. http://roderickreed.com/.