A rich mining town until the demonetization of silver in 1893, Aspen was off the map for decades until it was discovered by skiers in the 1950s. When tourism turned out to be more lucrative than silver mining, and a lot easier, lunacy overtook.One of the Aspen City Council’s loonier moves was its creation of a “Smile Committee,” whose job was to see that desk clerks, waiters, bartenders, shop clerks, ski instructors and patrolmen and all the other people who served the tourists smiled – all the time. These Smile Police prowled the town and pounced mercilessly on the unsmiling, publicly chastising them, but the smile campaign ended abruptly when the workers threatened both the Committee and the Council with mayhem. We were reminded of the Smile Committee when we read the goals set by the City’s planners for the revision of the circulation element (a.k.a. “Motion by the Ocean”) of the General Plan, for they are precisely as loony, and servile, as smiling to order was in Aspen. According to the planners, the daily population of the town is 250,000, and that quantum leap in people has created a massive traffic mess. And so the planners are proposing that residents – all 84,000 of us – walk, bike and bus, so that visitors – all 166,000 of them – can drive. At a recent Planning Commission meeting, the Transportation Management division outlined its draft goals for “Motion by the Ocean” (a misnomer, if ever there was one), which will set the location and status of existing and proposed roads, highways, and other modes of transportation for the next 20 years.According to division manager, Lucy Dyke, the goals synthesize comments made by people in the community and are based on the staff’s “planning for people first instead of cars first.” “Some will still drive,” she noted, but they will be required to “pay their fair share.” The draft goals include: 1) offering support to “people who don’t own cars,” such as encouraging “car sharing” and “separat[ing] parking from housing costs;” 2) developing the means to move more people around the city on foot, bicycle or mass transit; 3) “providing transit access that is superior to freeway access to and from most of the region, during peak travel periods;” 4) “provid[ing] local transit service to allow residents, visitors, workers and students to move about the City without driving; 5) “manag[ing] travel speeds on local streets so that they are not time-saving cut-through routes and people can play in the yards adjacent to them;” 6) “developing a system of streets where cyclists are safe and comfortable, and can cross the City as quickly as motorists during peak travel periods;” 7) “allowing development of neighborhood clusters that have enough people within walking distance to support quality neighborhood serving uses;” 8) minimiz[ing] delay and congestion associated with auto use;” 9) “develop[ing] street design standards that result in low auto speeds and recreational quality walking experiences and develop[ing] some corridors active cyclists and joggers can use for fitness as well as regional bike access,” such as the San Vicente and Olympic Boulevards’ bike paths; 10) “develop[ing] mechanisms to allow use of market incentives to balance transportation system use when capacity is constrained.”City Hall set out two decades ago to increase its revenue by turning this old beach town into a regional commercial hub, bigtime tourist mecca and luxe office district, and soon the once-serene beach town was swamped by shoppers and office workers from all over the region, tourists from all over the world and tourist industry workers who came and went daily because they couldn’t afford to live here. In 1996, when the extraordinary traffic surge reached gridlock proportions, then-Planning Director Suzanne Frick assured us that a “comprehensive traffic plan” was in the works, but that was the first and last we ever heard of it, and the problem continued to metastasize, as traffic congestion spread out of downtown Santa Monica and into the neighborhoods. In 1982, City Hall began spending $1 million a year to promote Santa Monica and created the hotel and office districts. In 1989, it cranked up the Third Street Promenade. All that development virtually ensured traffic havoc. But connecting the dots has never been City Hall’s strong suit, and instead of turning down the volume in order to reduce the streams of cars filling our streets every day, City planners decided to shrink the streets, eliminating lanes on some major thoroughfares, such as Broadway, and installing medians, extended curbs and islands on others. The planners called it “traffic calming,” but, of course, it simply exacerbated an already horrific mess. And now, instead of taking steps to reduce traffic, such as finally employing workable, efficient traffic management tools, as well as canceling its promotion (which was recently doubled to $2 million annually), and recasting Santa Monica as the livable beach town residents want, the planners propose getting residents out of their cars to make room for tourists’ and day trippers’ cars. The so-called “draft goals,” which must have taken Dyke and her staff about 10 minutes to compile, combine quaint notions and threats (“Some will still drive and they will pay their fair share.”)Are they insane? Everyone will still drive, because, as the mother of two small children said, “We can’t take buses, we have too much to carry.” What will the mother’s “fair share” be? What “market incentives” will the City impose? Toll roads? A major hike in parking meter rates? A by-the-mile tax on driving? While the notion of 84,000 residents walking and biking everywhere may be picturesque, it is neither realistic nor practical, and, besides that, residents’ cars haven’t turned our streets into noisy parking lots, visitors’ cars have. We are in this fix because City Hall took some seriously wrong turns two decades ago, and now rather than admitting its mistakes and taking steps to correct them. and thus materially reducing visitors’ traffic, it has cast residents as the villains. No question, we residents are trouble. We expect City Hall to listen to us and act in our behalf. We are impatient with poor municipal services, and we regularly resist the City’s efforts at social engineering, as well as opposing its more grandiose plans. Clearly, if City Hall could get rid of us as well as our cars, Santa Monica would be on its way to becoming one of tbe happiest places on earth…without deploying a Smile Committee.
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