Fix the Traffic First
I’m amazed that the big news everyone is talking about is the new cultural arts plan, and not the zen crushing gridlock we’re experiencing. It’s an exciting plan, full of worthy goals, but can we please put a moratorium on new projects, or even the study of them, until we solve the one that exacerbates them all – our colossal transportation fail.
Fifteen years ago the city unveiled the Vision Laguna 2030 report, a strategic plan that recommended, among other things, a community arts center, artist live-work facilities, affordable housing for artists, and expanding venues for the arts. Sound familiar? But it also recommended the development of adequate parking for year-round arts events; peripheral parking at the entries; an urban design for Coast Highway that balances amenity, community, pedestrians and bicycles; a pedestrian friendly downtown, including piazzas and pocket parks; and encouraging bicycle use as a sustainable approach to movement within the city. A plan that recognized the interdependence between increased cultural activity and traffic.
Couldn’t we have just dusted off Vision 2030 halfway through its shelf life and saved ourselves $100,000 while simultaneously figuring out our traffic woes?
The new Cultural Arts Plan 2016, which Council approved Tuesday, allocates up to $250,000 for two new feasibility studies. One is for artist live/work space, which we already know will never happen because we don’t have a warehouse district ripe for conversions. Just million-dollar real estate and a NIMBY epidemic.
The other study is for a cultural arts center, which would be fantastic. But how can we consider any new construction projects without first determining how to mitigate the traffic it would cause? And while we are on the topic, how are we planning for the urbanization of South OC, with thousands of homes slated for construction around Irvine’s Great Park, and at the about-to-be demolished Verizon Wireless Amphitheater? Irvine was the fastest growing city in California last year.
The recent breakdown caused by Third Street construction underscores how fragile our transportation grid is, with one hiccup on an adjacent street paralyzing north / south passage through town. I saw more meltdowns than Chernobyl. Imagine what happens when we underground power lines, have a large-scale emergency response (like last week), get flooded, fix a sewer line, repair another road, or get invaded by coyotes. You’ll be begging to make short-term rentals legal again so you can get out of town!
The grid is broken. People are fuming and spewing, and that’s just from the exhaust. When Arnold Hano landed here in the ‘50s, I imagine it really was a village. Cheap too. Easy living. Does it resemble anything close to that anymore? That little ship has sailed, and we can no longer support the toxic volume of 21st century traffic that a year-round resort town and scenic byway brings. In a county that is beginning bloat. In a region that already has. That attracts millions of visitors at all times. Buckle your chinstraps.
I feel bad for Council. I know those guys want to do more. Back in early 2013, they voted 4-1 to build a four-story parking structure in the heart of downtown. It was early in Steve Dicterow and Bob Whalen’s first term, and nobody on council saw the tsunami of opposition coming. By November it was DOA. Now we are nearing the conclusion of Bob and Steve’s first term, and still no solutions. Too much other crap gets in the way. Yet our citizens tell us over and over this is job one. I still believe this council is poised to get some big things done. Maybe this coming May 17 will be the watershed event. Bob and Steve just announced a special town hall meeting on traffic at Council Chambers that night. I hope its filled to capacity with passionate ideas. I’ve said mine before. There may be better out there, and I’d like to hear them on May 17. Until then here’s my fix:
Keep the cars from circulating downtown. Everybody knows ACT V is the place for the first multi-level parking garage. Put in one or two levels – maybe a skate park while you’re at it – and go up higher as needed. Same at Pavilions parking to the north, and at Aliso Beach adjacent to the south. Put bike share kiosks everywhere, expand trolley service, and make walking more of a thing. It’s freaking beautiful. Why not electric bike or scooter shares too? They’re here.
Make visitors pay for it. Charge a premium to park downtown. A big one. We’ll make a windfall and it will free up parking for us.
And then get serious about more public space and less cars in the center core. Make downtown a pedestrian plaza, with greenery, cafes, public seating, lighting, art, music and events. That would be the best cultural arts center of all!
Billy Fried hosts “Laguna Talks” on Thursday nights at 8pm on KX93.5, and can be reached at [email protected].