The Hour Commute Through Town
Summer is here, that annual reminder that we have done nothing to mitigate our crippling traffic woes. It’s beyond frustrating. What will it take before we put some meaningful steps in place to stem the daily flow of sheet metal that is eroding the quality of life we hold so dear?
We are so far behind the curve that if we got our act together tomorrow it would likely be a decade before we saw meaningful results. Until then it will only get worse, with 25,000 new home starts just to the east of us. Not only will our moods perpetually collapse, but our home values may too. Fasten your chinstraps.
The good news is we’ll have ample time while sitting in gridlock to pat ourselves on the back for spending our political capital imposing bans on smoking, short-term home rentals, drinking in the park, fishing and a neighborhood dispensary.
Look up the word inertia and you will see a picture of Laguna. Here are some examples:
Roundabouts: Three years ago the city installed its first “test” roundabout, at the five-way intersection of El Camino Del Mar, Los Robles and Catalina streets. It was a roundabout on training wheels, a wide and sparsely used neighborhood intersection where drivers could safely get used to the “European” concept of improving traffic flow by reducing stop signs and lights. The pledge was to test it and then roll it out to more critical intersections. But there has been no follow-up action plan.
Parking Structures: When the city killed the multilevel parking structure at the village entrance in 2013, there was a brief discussion about building alternative lots at ACT V, at Pavilions and Aliso Creek Beach. But then crickets. One bit of pushback and we throw in the towel. Isn’t this the key to our future; keeping cars from our downtown core? If you build periphery parking, and then provide transit from the lots to town (trolleys, Uber, bike, scooter rentals), you provide a real incentive for visitors to park, peddle, glide or ride.
Bike Infrastructure: The city installed bike route signage, but failed to follow-up with bike racks and a public rental system. Transition Laguna has been asking the Arts Commission for years to fund some creative bike racks. Just this week a new public sculpture and bench were unveiled at Diver’s Cove. This would have been an ideal place to encourage biking because there is such a deficit of parking along Cliff Drive. But instead we got an octopus.
Car-Free Zones: Another proven way of reducing traffic circulation in cities is to replace parking with pedestrian zones, which in the process beautifies the area and brings foot traffic. Do we really need the parking on lower Forest? The stores aren’t resident serving, yet the merchants hold us hostage by insisting that decreased parking will kill their businesses. No, it’s Amazon. But create a unique shopping experience, with public seating, fountains, planters, and places for kids to play, and you provide something Amazon can’t. An experience. Even locals will come back. Remember, we own the streets, and it’s nonsense to believe they have to be allocated exclusively to cars.
Park Plaza: A year ago some resident professionals in urban design put together an elaborate presentation for a trial street closure on lower Park Avenue, that moribund strip between Forest Avenue and the library that is used primarily as a locals’ cut-through. Knowing that closing Forest was a lightning rod for controversy, this group made a beautiful rendering of a public space they called Park Plaza, with landscaping, café tables and chairs, art installations, and possible outdoor movie nights and performances. The single merchant on the street, Adonis Restaurant, was so enthused he offered to fund full-time security. It was a wonderful example of citizen collaboration among very talented individuals. They advocated for a trial closure in the fall, when the weather was good and it couldn’t be blamed for affecting summer retail.
It was completely vetted by all stakeholders, and members of the Council were excited and ready to put it on the agenda when suddenly, out of nowhere, they backed down. Something about the aftershocks from the parklet debacle. “Too soon,” they said. And down it went into the black hole of wasted efforts on great ideas.
I’ve often wondered what the pathology is that keeps our Council from doing anything ambitious, and standing up to the 50% who will inevitably oppose it. I believe it’s because our community is so insular that they can’t abide the criticism and threats they would receive on the cocktail circuit. They are people pleasers by nature. Why else would they take the job?
Perhaps one way to ensure they make decisions without fear of losing re-elections is simply to impose term limits. Council people say they stick around now because they want to finish what they started. But narrowing terms means they would actually have to start some things to have any hope of finishing them.
Billy Fried hosts “Laguna Talks” Thursday at 8 p.m. on FM station KX 93.5 and can be reached at [email protected]