Let’s agree at the top that there are some things you can’t put back in the box: Cell phones, airline travel, and reality television are just a few that are not going back where they came from. We’re not going to suddenly crave a return of big beige wall phones in our homes, just as we will continue traveling by airlines regardless of how abused we are by their fees and cancellations, and believe that we might somehow change our destiny by becoming “The Bachelor” or one of the ironically named “Real Wives.” Some things do not have a rewind button; once out they don’t go back. And yet all three of the aforementioned are elements of modern life that often make us feel depressingly frustrated and thwarted.
This is how some might perceive auto traffic, specifically the amount of it that increasingly bedevils our city of Santa Monica. You can’t tell people to give up their cars, or the notion that they can drive them when they want or the notion that they should visit our town and our beaches and our new shopping. So… what are we willing to give up in the cause of reducing traffic in Santa Monica? Nothing?
Letters to this newspaper in the last few weeks have indicated that the experience of trying to navigate an automobile around Santa Monica can be more than irritating. A letter to editor from our last edition contained these words in reference to one evening’s driving meant to get a few people to Bloomingdales: “disastrous,” “disaster,” “madness,” “masses of people…” you get the idea.
True, we were on traffic high alert last week because of the opening of remodeled Santa Monica Place. But what about the daily arterial sclerosis that is Lincoln Boulevard between 4 and 7 p.m., or various stretches of Santa Monica and Wilshire Boulevards during peak or… Hey, send in your favorites! The Mirror will publish them in a special “#&*@#!! Santa Monica Traffic!” section next month.
Here’s where our traffic problems possibly lose some of their humor: If we become notorious for having streets that can’t be navigated by land vehicles, they will eventually become our “BP spill.” The traffic here will negatively impact tourism and retail action to the point that our traffic will be a curse just like the oil spill was to tourism in the Gulf. I’m not suggesting for a moment that two events have parity, but that we might begin to become too well known for our traffic “tar balls” and thus see people turning away.
Two weeks ago, my sister in Milwaukee suggested in an upbeat e-mail that she might tag along with her husband on a business trip to San Diego… and we could “get together.” I had to write her back and inform her that San Diego was not approachable from Santa Monica by automobile. One of us might take the train. Or there was rumor of a tunnel running from San Diego to Santa Monica but you had to leave at midnight, pay in cash and be willing to crawl on your knees wearing a coal mining helmet. The traffic involved in travel to San Diego by car has become more than a notorious joke. It’s Godzilla. Go ahead and drive to San Diego during daylight hours, but remember that there’s a giant lizard that will eat your car on the way there.
What are we willing to give up, what changes are we willing to make to keep our own city from attaining this kind of notoriety? We already know it’s a problem; I’m talking about the moment where our traffic clogs become institutionalized as a joke and start draining our city of needed dollars. Mirror readers are already telling us they make a point of shopping in other areas of Los Angeles because of our traffic.
Here are some recent things we didn’t give up: The new Whole Foods on Lincoln and Rose, and the additional retail that is in every single pitch developers make to our city. Yes, this column actually begged Eli Broad to keep his art collection here and build a museum that would enrich Santa Monica. But that’s with me knowing the relative impact of art museum traffic, unless there’s a free rave for singles sponsored by KCRW with microscopic hors d’oeuvres and a Smart Car raffle.
Maybe bike paths are no longer just a nod to exercise and green efforts in our city. Maybe we’ll need to enforce a certain level of alternative city travel. China used to do well with people on bikes and scooters, neither having the footprint of auto traffic. Now more Chinese people are making money and they all want cars and the horrible traffic that comes with that. This past Thursday I walked to the Pier and enjoyed the funky vibe from SoulLive and Breakestra. Walking to the Pier doesn’t add time to my travel; it reduces it. Because I don’t struggle with parking on or near the Pier, wait for post-concert parking lot traffic to wend its way out of the lot, or mesh with any downtown traffic. It’s a really narrow example, but it holds up: Walking is much better than taking my car in this particular city travel scenario. What do I give up? Nothing. I gain the walk and the exercise, the view of the beach almost all the way home, and the stress reduction of not climbing into my car to fight Godzilla.