My annual trip to London is coming up. It’ll be my twentieth journey to the U.K. Recent trips have given me time to explore areas of the capital off the beaten path. East London, Whitechapel, Brick Lane, Shoreditch, Islington and Hackney are particularly interesting and lively. The Underground aka “the Tube”, London buses and commuter trains make getting around town easy.

Mass transit in the United Kingdom is not cheap. A nine-minute Tube ride from central London to Stratford, site of the 2012 Olympics, can cost as much four pounds eighty ($7.50) for a single ticket, peak adult fare. London buses are cheaper. I use an Oyster Card (prepaid transit pass) and travel off peak periods to reduce travel expense in London.

With public transportation being so convenient, private cars are a liability. Fuel (petrol) is twice as expensive as it is here. Overnight hotel parking can easily run thirty pounds ($45) even at tourist-class hotels. Street parking is by permit and there’s a congestion fee collected on personal vehicle trips in central London.

Other benefits make mass transit preferable to private cars. Tube trains run every two or three minutes on key lines. I’ve never had to wait more than five minutes for a bus in London. Facilities are clean and safe. Connectivity between lines and transportation modes make the entire “Transport for London” system convenient and desirable.

Here, transportation planners and engineers purposely remove traffic lanes and jam traffic in a misguided effort to force us out of our personal vehicles and walk, bicycle or ride the bus, instead. It’s all stick and no carrot. In most world class cities transportation agencies offer subsidized pricing, clean and safe facilities, sensible connectivity and most importantly, reliable and frequent on-time service on exclusive, dedicated elevated or subterranean alignments to attract riders and get them out of their personal vehicles.

If you that think Santa Monica’s method of encouraging alternate transit use is on track, look at the Big Blue Bus stops. If City Hall can’t get them right, what makes you think they could develop rider-enticing transportation alternatives? Example: Big Blue just announced a cutback in #2 line (Wilshire Boulevard) service from Westwood Village. Last bus will be at 9:20 p.m. instead of 10:20 p.m.

Buses on key lines such as 3M (Montana Avenue/UCLA) run every 25 to 30 minutes, even at peak travel times. At a buck a fare, it’s a lot cheaper than London, but half-hour buses? Please. And, that’s assuming your bus is on schedule or won’t stop because it’s fully loaded. It’s obvious that policy makers don’t know what customer service is.

Another great thing about London is the food. Inexpensive, take-away, meals from temporary sidewalk stalls are commonplace. Except for the toniest shopping areas or “High Streets,” a wide variety of tasty, two or three course, hot meals are quickly and inexpensively served up at pop-up food courts in neighborhoods from Soho to Spitalfields.

I’ve sampled Chinese, Thai, Mexican, traditional British, Jamaican, Italian, Indian, Argentinian, Ethiopian and Middle Eastern cuisines all over London. Most meals cost five to seven quid (about $10) plus a pound ($1.50) for a beverage. It’s a bargain. The self-contained stalls are operated by a family or person, others by large catering or food vending services which explains why the “Build your own burrito” stalls in different neighborhoods are alike down to signage, layout and ingredients. They’re all regulated and pay rent and operating fees.

In 2012, a pop-up food truck court on a privately-owned used car lot at 14th Street and Santa Monica Boulevard drew large crowds on its opening day but met opposition from neighboring restaurant owners afraid that the trucks would draw away their customers. City Hall policymakers stepped in and the venue was immediately shut down pending establishment of regulations and fees for mobile food vendors.

Since then, the fate of food trucks has improved. Along the eastern end of Ocean Park Boulevard near the Santa Monica Business Park they provide lunchtime meals for office workers. Again, nearby indoor eatery operators worry that customers are being lured away by the tasty and inexpensive take-away lunches offered by the mobile food vendors.

At the old Truman Brewery on London’s Brick Lane, full-service cafes and restaurants are always packed because they offer much broader menus, are more comfortable and serve alcoholic beverages. The food trucks on our Main Street on Tuesday nights also provide a compliment to the leisurely and more expensive indoor eateries with full service, sit down dining. Our food trucks, like London’s take-away food stalls, are a quick, inexpensive alternative to indoor dining. And, a variety of food outlets contribute to an area’s exciting vibe.

The 1200 block of the 3rd Street Promenade would be a perfect location for a dozen or so pop-up, sidewalk food stalls and inject novelty and excitement onto what has become the “deadest block on the Promenade.” They would also provide the perfect weekend opportunity for Downtown eateries to set up stalls and enable the public to sample a limited selection of moderately priced comestibles.

Our Planning Department staff, Planning Commission members and City Council need to stop being so parochial. We all want a good experience. When it’s positive, everyone benefits as crowds and spending increase. When it’s negative, people go elsewhere.

A less punitive approach to getting around and a wider range of food opportunities from quick sidewalk/street take-away to full-service restaurants would breathe new life into the Santa Monica experience.

Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com

 

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