According to all my sources in and outside of City Hall, everyone agrees that Santa Monica’s major problems are traffic and development. We should be relieved they’re not crime and public safety.
The Westside has some of the most congested traffic in the nation. One of the reasons why is due to failed government intervention. The federal government, state and cities of Los Angeles and Santa Monica are all culpable. Nonsensical public policy, incompetent planning and misplaced political agendas all contribute to the mess.
In the meantime, city planners here in Santa Monica have strongly resisted studying the cumulative effects all of the proposed, mostly commercial developments will have on traffic and congestion. Nevertheless, developments such as Hines’ Bergamot Village Transit Center, Roberts Business Park, Village Trailer Park project, Paseo Nebraska, three new hotels and a plethora of smaller projects will all make their contribution.
Elected officials have no desire to rein-in the developers. Why should they? The majority of City Council persons have accepted thousands of dollars in campaign funds from developers and local hotel owners. Instead of acting, they make excuses and spout hogwash.
We hear crap like, "Don’t worry, sustainable practices will mitigate the problems." Will they? Another myth: include new housing where people work so they can walk to their jobs. What happens when someone in new workforce housing takes a job out of town? It’s back behind the wheel.
Expecting that individuals will just abandon their cars and hop on buses and bicycles or walk to work is more wishful thinking. Unfortunately, it’s driving urban planning in Santa Monica these days.
Here, City Hall’s attitude is “let’s change behavior and the ways people travel around town” as opposed to “here’s a problem, how do we fix it?” They forget, we can all go out of Santa Monica for our needs. I do. Frequently! That adds more congestion.
New development contributes to traffic despite assertions from developers that smart developments can minimize the impacts. It’s a view shared for the most part by the City Council, the Planning Commission, city planning staff and City Hall’s high-priced consultants. They claim traffic issues will be resolved by the upcoming Expo Light Rail which will let people take the train instead of driving themselves.
Another solution, they claim, is encouraging developers and employers to add bicycle amenities to their facilities and to get us out of our personal vehicles and start using alternate modes of transportation to work, shop and school. Clue to planners: People will only use alternate transportation modes when it is more convenient, cost efficient and safe.
Bicycling in Santa Monica is dangerous. Age and health are limiting factors for bicycling. Commuting to a job on two wheels is a hassle, no matter how many lockers, showers and changing rooms are provided.
Buses are inconvenient. After waiting for a half hour or longer for a bus on major routes, it’s easier to drive yourself. With the old Prius, you won’t be standing at bus stops, watching the Big Blue Bus pass you by because school is in session and it’s already overcrowded with students.
The mistakes all started decades ago when City Hall planners implemented “traffic calming” — a misplaced effort to get drivers to slow down and, even better, to make it more difficult to drive and park. They thought it would force folks out of cars and onto alternate transportation. Wrong, again.
Traffic lanes on major streets have been systematically removed and narrowed to accommodate landscaping, wider sidewalks, corner curb cuts that inhibit turns and mid-street planters that force drivers to “thread the needle.” Uncoordinated traffic signals and crosswalks everywhere add to the danger and congestion. Meanwhile, City Hall’s social agenda empowers pedestrians to walk out in front of moving cars and bicyclists to totally ignore traffic laws with impunity.
Over the years, City Hall has also restricted parking so that in most areas, once you get there, there’s nowhere to park. Neighborhoods blocks away from retail streets have “permit required” parking, which shifts visiting parkers to adjoining blocks where those neighbors then also demand “permit” parking. It’s called “parking permit dominos.”
Two-thirds of the streets in Santa Monica have major parking restrictions. For example, most of the Sunset Park and Pico neighborhoods only allow resident permit holders to park during weekdays. Most of these residential streets are empty day in and day out. It’s a terrible waste of resources. While the specter of thousands of Santa Monica College students parking on residential streets for hours at a time is equally undesirable, nobody wants to compromise or share the street.
Shops and stores along Pico Boulevard suffer because of inadequate parking. Between the parking restrictions and a disastrous beautification of Pico Boulevard with planted center medians, fug-ugly landscaping and narrow undulating traffic lanes, City Hall planners and their consultants have turned this main thoroughfare into an unattractive slalom course that’s dangerous for everyone who uses it.
Reducing traffic lanes on Ocean Park Boulevard has turned this major artery into a two mile long, rush hour traffic snake. Frustrated drivers charge onto side streets to avoid jams. Just what the neighbors want: commuters charging through quiet residential streets instead of keeping to the main drag.
Next week, Part 2: “Traffic in Utopia.” City Hall’s love affair with “pie in the sky” consultants and a sorry history of bad planning.
Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org