Carmageddon is Coming
“What destroys the poetry of a city? Automobiles destroy it, and they destroy more than the poetry. All over America, all over Europe in fact, cities and towns are under assault by the automobile, and are being literally destroyed by car culture.
These words were spoken more than 20 years agoby the recent centenarian poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Founder of San Francisco’s famed City Lights Bookstore (where he was arrested for selling Alan Ginsberg’s HOWL), Ferlinghetti was delivering his inaugural 1998 address as Poet Laureate of San Francisco.
Here in Laguna, we surely knew back then that traffic was the single biggest threat to our incredible quality of life. Yet here we are, with the upcoming, newly landscaped entrance as the only major public works project since then. It’s tragic that we haven’t gotten in front of our car problem, but we just can’t wean ourselves off the convenience of them.
So here we go, déjà vu all over again. Spring has sprung, “Enciliaphilia” is in the air (love of our yellow wildflowers), and we’re in flip-flops once again. Oh but wait. Here come the cars. Thousands of them, in every direction. Belching carbon, fouling the air, disturbing the peace, causing gridlock and flaring tempers, making us late, late, late, a frenetic sea of sheet metal that we somehow believe is going to magically subside. It won’t. Every desirable place in the world is overpopulated. Because people just love copulating, and there aren’t enough predators in our food chain.
The hordes are drawn to Southern California, like moths to a flame, especially to that last bastion of open space, South Orange County. So we are just collateral damage to the incessant and pernicious myth that economic growth equals prosperity for all, and to the greedy homebuilders who are scarring the open space to the east of us. Plus, the millions more who want to experience the luster of our beaches, coves, and sunsets, chronicled incessantly on Instagram (before you slam the onslaught of tourists, check your celebratory posts of this magical land). And of course, a warming planet means more inland people will covet the cool Pacific.
So while we debate over whether tourists pay their share of taxes, what we can build and where, tree heights, undergrounding the power lines, housing issues, homelessness, crime and safety, etc., the biggest threat to our wellbeing is right in front, behind, and beside us, blocking our views and keeping us isolated from one another. When will our city take bold action and develop a real solution to our increasing traffic woes? When will a city councilperson make it their raison d’etre to reverse the stranglehold of cars?
There certainly is no single silver bullet to solve the problem, but it is solvable. It will take a coordinated, sustained master plan that segments and addresses the different kinds of commuters coursing through our town. We have day visitors, day workers, residents, overnight tourists, and commuters passing through, with day visitors the biggest single problem.
What if we imposed congestion fees on visitors, like they are now introducing in New York, and have done successfully in other cities like London, Milan and Singapore? It would certainly be easy for us to implement, with just three arteries into town. While we’re at it, why don’t we join the fight (with San Clemente) to dissolve the TCA and make the 73 toll road free (as was promised years ago). That should divert a good deal of pass-through traffic.
So many have wondered why we don’t install a multilevel parking garage at Act V, or on top of Pavilions to the north, or at the inland parking lot at Aliso Creek? And then offer a multitude of public transport options to downtown, like trolleys, bikes, and inviting footpaths?
Why aren’t we systematically decreasing our parking in favor of pedestrian plazas and experiences, thereby discouraging visitors from circulating around, helping our retailers, beautifying our town, cleaning and quieting our streets, and as a byproduct, saving the planet? Why aren’t we installing a network of electric bike rental kiosks so residents can easefully and pleasurably commute downtown?
Why aren’t we addressing the single biggest complaint of our residents, year after year? Because it takes hard work. And chutzpah. And perhaps because we are not a charter city with an elected, full-time mayor whose job it is to adapt to changing times by making bold improvements. Our part-time officials have a life filled with events, appearances, and ribbon cuttings. Whose got time for this wonky stuff?
Council should declare this a local emergency. Let’s relook at increasing our sales tax (most of which visitors will pay), impose a congestion tax (completely funded by visitors), and take the bold steps to making Laguna breathable again.
Billy Fried hosts “Laguna Talks” on Thursday nights at 8 p.m. on KX93.5 and can be reached at [email protected].