Everyday, thousands of commuters sit idling in smog-filled lines along our region’s gridlock of concrete motorways. Some choose to opt out and seek alternative forms of travel. Problem is, everything is land-based. Yet just to the west lies our beautiful Pacific glistening with sunlight and dotted by the occasional surfer. No traffic, no smog and no transit.
Why not step out of our cars, onto a pier and into one of many high-speed passenger ferries traveling up and down our coastline. By establishing a network of Local Coastal Routes (LCR), the counties of Orange, Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara could be linked together, giving residents, workers and visitors an innovative alternative to congested freeway travel.
Seattle, San Francisco, New York and Sydney, Australia all take advantage of their coastal location and operate ferries. Why not Southern California?
Like the Southern California Regional Rail Authority, primary oversight and implementation of the LCR project could be provided by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) and administered by the Southern California Coastal Ferry Commission – a proposed regional commission tasked with the responsibility of managing the program to ensure reliability and success. Moreover, joint public-private partnerships could be established for the ferry program’s daily operations.
Santa Monica would serve as the main hub for all LCR transit, given that this city is proposed as the western public transit gateway into Los Angeles proper. By 2010, the new Mid-City Exposition Light Rail Transit Project is scheduled for completion north of Santa Monica. Further study is underway considering an extension of this line along the alignment of the 10 freeway/Olympic Boulevard, ending at the proposed Santa Monica Transit Center, minutes from the Santa Monica Pier. With this, Santa Monica is also slated as a hub for the potential Red Line extension – the “subway to the sea.”
The LCR project would be executed in phased development, initially bringing two routes from Ventura and Long Beach into Santa Monica. Additional routes would be added as piers are retrofitted in the cities of Dana Point, Newport Beach, Redondo Beach, Malibu and Santa Barbara. By utilizing existing pier structures, the LCR program would benefit Southern California by adding an additional commuting resource to the mix of public transit alternatives, relieving traffic congestion and enhancing tourism and economic development for transit cities along the coast. Additionally, ferries could be designed to mitigate environmental impacts (i.e. water-jet propulsion, catamaran-style design, no ballast/noxious species transfer) and offer amenities on board such as a dining area, bar, business services, comfortable seating and a warm atmosphere.
Per the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), the population of Los Angeles is anticipated to increase 31 percent by 2025 – from 10 million to 13.1 million residents. Additionally, daily trips on roadways are expected to increase by 30 percent, causing average freeway speed projections to diminish to an estimated 20 miles per hour. We must continue developing alternative transportation choices for our region, even if it results in sacrificing a bit of our serene, untouched coastline.
Joseph D. Smith is a graduate of Pepperdine’s School of Public Policy and currently works as a land development and public affairs consultant in Los Angeles.