Coast Highway Smackdown
This election cycle I encourage you to press our local candidates on the one issue that continues to plague and flummox our town – congestion. With up to 80,000 new residential homes coming to south county (three times the size of Laguna), we have our back turned on the real tsunami. We need progressive, actionable solutions that discourage people from driving into or through town, and provide alternative transportation for locals and visitors that is healthy, clean and easy. So far all we hear is tired bromides, like we need more parking, more traffic lanes, and more ways to accommodate more cars.
Cities have discovered if you reduce parking, slow cars down with traffic calming measures (like lane reduction, speed bumps, and slower speed limits), and provide multi modal transit solutions, you discourage all but those who live and work in the community from driving through town. You keep traffic flowing with roundabouts and express transit lanes, and reduce vehicles by developing more ride sharing options, public transit, and bike and electric car kiosks. Plus of course self driving cars.
At the council meeting on Sept. 13, Council missed a huge step forward. The Orange County Transit Authority was in chambers to present the results of a two-year study commissioned by six coastal towns to “make Coast Highway safer, more accessible to bikes and pedestrians, and less congested.” Titled the “Pacific Coast Highway Corridor Study,” their first big, actionable proposal was to create one contiguous, dedicated 37-mile bike lane from Seal Beach to San Clemente. Now bikers would be safe to ride continuously on one of the most beautiful and sunny corridors in America, and cars wouldn’t be slowed by them. As a bonus less bicyclists die!
But instead of embracing OCTA’s recommended action to move to the next phase of the development process (with things like project selection, environmental review, design and implementation, and applying for available grant money), Council’s response was to dismiss it outright because it would mean removing some parking from one side of the street, which would “undoubtedly kill countless small businesses.” Yet Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and Dana Point are all well on their way and have removed parking on many parts of Coast Highway for a dedicated bike lane. But we remain stuck in a fixation that more cars are good.
Imagine transforming that frenetic stretch of Coast Highway that runs from Forest to Mountain, now known as Death Row, into a charming “central business district” that rivals downtown in conviviality.
Come with me on an imaginary ride down a Coast Highway of the future. Or shall we call it Coast Promenade? We’ve removed most of the parking on the mountain side of the street and widened parts of the sidewalks to make it easier for pedestrians. We pass parklets and pocket parks where some parking spaces used to be. There are planters and cafe lighting strung across the promenade. People spill out of restaurants and shops and linger, because, well, it’s nice. People wave when they see you – because they see you. And it’s quiet. Cars move slowly, but steadily because there’s only a single lane each way, a 25-mile per hour speed limit, and roundabouts have replaced intersections, making pedestrians much safer when crossing the street.
There’s lots of happy, smiling riders doing their errands because there are bike corrals (parking stations) on every block. Plus a network of rental and electric bike stations for visitors. And a center express lane for trams and trolleys that run from our three parking garages on the peripheries of town, where visitors park and ride.
Now Coast Highway is something lovely and livable: an expanded downtown where people walk, sit, and hop on bikes, trolleys or self-driving car shares, forsaking not only bad traffic, but parking scarcity as well. Merchants experience a windfall because people take their time to look in the windows.
But how can we possibly transform Coast Highway, you ask? Easy. We buy it from Caltrans for $1 and then buy liability insurance like every other city. Then we go after the federal, state and regional grant money that will be earmarked over the next decade to fixing our infrastructure. If we have any chance of saving our town from the hell of gridlock for generations to come, we must take action now. And to all the seniors in town who fear a lack of parking, just imagine how much better life will be if you don’t need any because there are so many other wonderful options that come right to your door. Plus drones delivering goods so you don’t have to go get them.
Planning for our future transportation needs is a moral imperative. It’s the quality of life that affects all of us and every aspect of living here, including home values. This will be central to my discussions when I host a special candidate forum on KX 93.5 at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 18, followed at 7 p.m. by my colleague, Jim Kennedy. Hope you will tune in.
Billy Fried hosts “Laguna Talks” on Thursday at 8 p.m. on KX 93.5 and can be reached at [email protected]