Social Engineering’s Solution to Gridlock a la Santa Monica

Written by Jill Chapin. Posted in Environment, Land Use, Opinion, Politics, Transportation

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Published on April 13, 2013 with 6 Comments

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By Jill Chapin

April 13, 2013

For those of you suffering severe traffic problems where you live, you might want to know what is evolving in the southern reaches of our state, specifically, in what is sometimes referred to as the Socialist Republic of Santa Monica.

There is an ordinance update drawn up by a city consultant, calling for a big reduction in the amount of parking that future developers would have to build. Their theory is that if there is less parking available, people will be compelled not to drive, choosing instead to walk or ride bikes or take public transit. And it seems that our city council will likely be on board with this astonishing proposal. It makes you wonder who is more supported by the city council since this idea is a developer’s dream and a citizen’s nightmare.

I know I’m not alone in feeling outraged at this convoluted thinking that will affect us for decades. It’s one thing for a consultant to propose such lunacy; for city leaders to even consider it defies common sense and basic arithmetic. How can we solve parking problems by insisting on fewer parking spaces from new development?

In a city teeming with tourists and employees and shoppers and patients all vying for coveted parking, Santa Monica is of the mindset that reducing parking spaces for yet more businesses moving into ever higher and denser buildings is the way to solve our parking fiasco.

It’s one thing to encourage alternate modes of travel with carrots and sticks. But using a sledgehammer on an entire town does not resemble anything remotely democratic.

Never mind that patients are not likely able to ride a bike or walk or take a bus to see their doctors. Never mind that it would be difficult to haul seven bags of groceries on a walk or a bike or a bus. Never mind that people in nearby towns might need their cars to go from a restaurant in Santa Monica followed by a movie somewhere else. Never mind that tourists in rental cars would prefer the ability to go places where buses might not be headed. Never mind that public transportation would not likely drop people off within a comfortable and safe distance from home late at night.

But the worst aspect of this wholly illogical plan is that, once implemented, there is no chance of correcting it later. Once the buildings are erected without adequate parking, there is no subsequent subterranean digging to undo this grievous wrong.

I contacted several small California coastal towns such as Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Long Beach, and even the tiny island of Coronado. All of them are experiencing parking shortages as great as ours. None of them are considering the madness that Santa Monica is contemplating. Someone summed it up perfectly: We have enough parking problems; we don’t need to create more.

Giving up our cars en masse is not going to happen anytime soon. While it is admirable and necessary to start implementing strategies to reduce our dependence on them, we need to do so in a way that nudges us to be more ecologically responsible without pushing us over a cliff. One suggestion would be to first require adequate parking in new construction while simultaneously offering cash incentives for people to carpool or ride a bike or walk or take the bus. If empty spaces open up with a successful implementation of this offer, then employers could rent out the spaces to restaurants or doctors’ offices or nearby shopping areas. This could become a win-win for all.

Apparently, Santa Monica fears that adequate parking will cause people to flock there like bees to honey. But isn’t that the point? More people visiting and working and shopping there will generate more revenue. Have they considered the flip side to this psychedelic line of reasoning – that if people knew parking was a self-inflicted, time-consuming challenge, they would go elsewhere, rather than endure the endless searching for a place to leave their car?

If the powers that be get their way, be prepared to experience Santa Monica from your slowly moving car, because you and your Toyota will likely be as inseparable as bees to honey.

Jill Chapin

Jill Chapin

Jill Chapin has been a guest writer and columnist in several Los Angeles area papers for over fifteen years. She has written a bilingual parenting book titled, “If You Have Kids, Then Be a Parent!” and a children’s book entitled, “My Magic Bubble.”

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  • easy

    Wow, what backwards 1950s era thinking.

  • Jill

    First response from a Santa Monica City Council member: “Silly story in a publication I never heard of.”

  • Rob Anderson

    People criticize me for writing so much about the bike issue in SF, as if it’s somehow too trivial for all that attention. But the bike issue is also about planning policy and development, with the assumption being that cities can solve their traffic problems by simply making it harder and more expensive to drive by minimizing parking and taking away traffic lanes to make bike lanes on busy streets. As if a significant number of people who now drive are going to start riding bikes instead! (see the Market/Octavia plan, the UC development, Treasure Island, etc) Instead the city’s anti-car policies are only going to make traffic worse for everyone.
    Chapin should have noted that the Santa Monica bike organization (Santa Monica Spoke) supports the anti-parking policy:

    “As people on bikes I believe we are at the very least part of the solutions to many of the congestion problems. BUT we must stop development that only prioritizes single occupancy vehicles if we expect it to work. As we envision our future and alternate modes for daily trips (walking, biking, public transit) we must support development that will accommodate these users. We cannot continue to prioritize and subsidize car parking if we expect modes to shift.”
    The Bicycle Coalition of course has the same line. Politically bicycles are not just about riding bikes. It’s about an anti-car movement that wants by any means necessary to make it a lot harder than it should be to drive a car in SF—and Santa Monica.

  • Rob Anderson

    People criticize me for writing so much about the bike issue in SF, as if it’s somehow too trivial for all that attention. But the bike issue is also about planning policy and development, with the assumption being that cities can solve their traffic problems by simply making it harder and more expensive to drive by minimizing parking and taking away traffic lanes to make bike lanes on busy streets. As if a significant number of people who now drive are going to start riding bikes instead! (see the Market/Octavia plan, the UC development, Treasure Island, etc) Instead the city’s anti-car policies are only going to make traffic worse for everyone.
    Chapin should have noted that the Santa Monica bike organization (Santa Monica Spoke) supports the anti-parking policy:
    “As people on bikes I believe we are at the very least part of the solutions to many of the congestion problems. BUT we must stop development that only prioritizes single occupancy vehicles if we expect it to work. As we envision our future and alternate modes for daily trips (walking, biking, public transit) we must support development that will accommodate these users. We cannot continue to prioritize and subsidize car parking if we expect modes to shift.”
    The Bicycle Coalition in SF of course has the same line. Politically bicycles are not just about riding bikes. It’s about an anti-car movement that wants by any means necessary to make it a lot harder than it should be to drive a car in SF—and Santa Monica.

  • Michael Escobar

    the provision of free parking is well known to urban planning experts as part of the problem. wake up! West L.A. has been suffering from 24-hour gridlock for years now. you are now living in Manhattan. gradualism and Eisenhower-like “everybody wins” middle-of-the-road approaches are not going to help. if you are that much attached to a car-centric lifestyle, where you can drive from your house to your yoga studio to your coffee shop to your afternoon shopping to your evening entertainment, consider moving to Burbank. http://sf.streetsblog.org/2012/07/30/palo-alto-choked-by-famously-free-parking-may-consider-pricing-the-curb/ http://sf.streetsblog.org/2011/11/22/commentary-san-franciscans-tired-of-free-parking-dysfunction/

    • jill

      People choose to live in Santa Monica precisely because it is NOT Manhattan. I have 35,000 miles on my ten year old car; I walk to restaurants, doctors, markets, drug stores, gym and to friends’ homes. So what? Not everyone can do this.

      And I never said anything about FREE parking – we just need a place to put our cars and we understand that it comes with a price.