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Build a Garage and Bury the Lines

By Billy Fried
By Billy Fried

Watching the recent firestorms in Northern California was a vivid reminder of the power and destructive fury of these deadly scourges. The image of Santa Rosa neighborhoods eviscerated to rubble was as brutal as it gets, and a none-too-subtle reminder of our own vulnerability to such destruction.

So I commend our City Council member Bob Whalen for taking on the critical but unenviable task of asking our citizens to pony up hundreds of millions of dollars to underground the power lines along our crucial evacuation routes. This is of course why many of us voted for the public finance specialist, who has spent 30 years stewarding multibillion dollar bond financings for entities like the state of California’s Public Works Board. He’s the right guy in the right place in what could soon be the wrong time if we don’t act fast.

Bob wrote a persuasive piece about how he intends to place two ballot measures on the November 2018 ballot – one for a community-wide financing plan for that shared evacuation route in the canyon, and the other for individual neighborhoods to pay their own bill for those utilities that have not yet been undergrounded.

Missing from Bob’s piece is what else we can and should do simultaneously when undergrounding Laguna Canyon Road: build a multi-story parking garage at ACT V, with easy access to town by express trolley, bike rental, or foot. That would improve our quality of life on a daily basis, not just in an emergency. We should do it now, in one magnificent stroke of city repair that would reduce downtown traffic, make our town more bike friendly, and beautify the canyon while making it safer. While we’re at it let’s put a skate park on the roof of the structure for true stacked use.

This effort began three years ago when Whalen convened 18 separate organizations to form the 133 Task Force in order to recommend what would be the optimal use with the extra space afforded by undergrounding the power lines. RBF, the consultants who oversaw the process (and live out of town), mostly recommended an expansion of lanes in either or both directions. But only one option gained unanimous support from the resident committee – no new vehicular lanes. Except for bikes, pedestrians, and perhaps dedicated public transit.

Our wise residents knew that adding a lane either way would create “induced demand,” economist-speak for “it will only make traffic worse.” As Council member Kelly Boyd once remarked, “It will bring more cars more easily downtown, and then what? Where will they all go?” Plus it would ruin the bucolic nature of our rural gateway, the one that soothes the nerves after transitioning from our hectic freeway life.

So imagine now the same two lanes we currently have, but with some roundabouts and center turn lanes to make traffic flow better. On either side there is a protected bike lane that doubles as an express transit lane, so those who park outside town have an incentive to do so. This can also serve as an emergency vehicle route that can be opened to vehicles when needed. At ACT V we have the perfect location for a parking garage as it is nicely sheltered from view and is already paved. It will be an easy call for visitors to park if we have an express lane for trolleys, a bike share kiosk, or just a lovely walkway to hoof it into town. Now picture a world where thousands of daily visitors stop circulating around downtown in search of parking, leaving our town quieter, cleaner, and less taxed by traffic.

Better still, now locals can ride bikes with their families in the flats and to our open spaces like Barbara’s Lake.

As we prepare our city for a future less dependent on cars and fossil fuels, and transform our downtown into a convivial, people-centric place, we must act to build peripheral parking.

Placing a ballot measure for undergrounding the lines on Laguna Canyon Road without exploiting the holistic opportunity to make our downtown less auto-centric and livable would be a giant whiff. Do it while the road is under construction so that we won’t be burdened with the inconvenience twice. Do it while we can all live to see and enjoy it.

 

Billy Fried hosts “Laguna Talks” on Thursday at 8 p.m. on KX 93.5, and can be reached at [email protected]

 

 

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