Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow suggests new development in the city be constricted by low height limits until the traffic situation improves (“Taking height limits to new lows,” May 23). This obscures the depth of the problem.
The traffic situation will not improve. The only way to reduce traffic congestion here in either short or long term is through pricing that deters demand for space on the road. I.e, by making it more expensive to drive your car. All other measures fall victim to the rational choice of motorists: any increased ease of travel in a place, time, or modality stimulates demand there. (It’s called triple convergence. Google “Moving Los Angeles RAND” for a thorough and sobering report.)
Since politicians supporting widespread price controls on driving has little likelihood of happening, traffic will only get worse no matter what else we do, as the region continues to grow. Better public transit and high-density urbanism do not reduce congestion, they create an escape hatch from it, which is only humane. SM.a.r.t., Residocracy and other like-minded, slow-growth activists would like to see that escape hatch closed.
The more Santa Monica can function as a spatially autonomous nucleus, with working and dwelling and services sufficiently well-clustered that people can organize their lives to minimize time regularly stuck trying to reach distant destinations, the more we will be part of the regional escape hatch solution. Which will take time — and density.
Slow-growth residents would certainly be within their democratic rights to stop this, but that doesn’t make doing so virtuous or praiseworthy. Santa Monica has a different history, a different metropolitan context, and different — and more environmentally responsible — opportunities than Santa Barbara. Emotional thinking about the problem of traffic should not be allowed to prevent these opportunities from realization. Instead, I suggest people channel their frustrations into trying to put the brakes on the dominance of the tourism and hospitality industry in our town’s economy.
David William Martin