Not every award or prize is a good thing. Take for example the Razzies, which are awards for the worst actor, actress and film that are traditionally presented on the eve of the Oscars. Santa Monica kind of won a Razzie this month from INRIX Inc., a firm that ranks the most congested auto traffic on the planet. In the category identifying the 10 worst stretches of roadway for traffic on earth – that’s right, the entire planet – our Santa Monica freeway was cited for the stretch of the 10 Freeway between 20th and Alameda streets.
Let’s all take a moment and let ourselves bathe in this fresh notoriety. This might be right up there with all the attention Santa Monica received for the Ballerina Clown sculpture on Main at Rose at Santa Monica’s border. A close second might be beach closings because of rain run-off or maybe Santa Monica hosting the OJ Simpson civil trial.
In reporting “our” freeway’s distinction for that stretch of the 10, it was noted in The Mirror that LA drivers spent an average of 81 hours stuck in traffic in 2015. That’s about 3.3 days that you might want back to spend more free time with your family or your therapeutic adult coloring books from Michael’s.
INRIX laid the blame at the feet of an improving economy. How great if more of us could ride our new Metro train to work or even ride our bike. But let’s be honest. Those signs at LAX that welcome you to Los Angeles might as well bear an additional line or two: “You’ll need a car from here on. Don’t even kid yourself that you are visiting Los Angeles without renting a car or texting Uber like crazy.”
I will not claim to be any sort of authority on the root causes of traffic congestion in Santa Monica, but having lived here for over 20 years I’ve had the opportunity to observe each time another huge mistake was made. One of those has been the construction of more apartment and condo living structures putting stress on Lincoln Blvd. Monday through Friday, your best bet traveling south on Lincoln in a time window of 3pm to 7pm is to walk, skate board, or ride a bike. In a car, you’re just going to be digging through your CD collection looking for New Age music to soothe your beleaguered soul.
Traffic in both our own city and the greater Los Angeles area is always viewed as inevitable: Nothing can be done, and it’s only going to get worse. But in honoring the recent passing of Nancy Reagan, is there any way we can “Just Say ‘No’”?
Sure. Are you ready to fight giants with a toothpick? Because stopping development, construction, and the momentum for the (alleged) freedom that we believe comes with each of us having and driving our own cars involves going up against some of the surliest musclebound opposition in Southern California.
Let’s start small. Downtown Santa Monica just opened some more movie theaters. And when they did, they launched them with the new “Star Wars” movie. Not a six pack of small, ‘indy’ films about dysfunctional families and parents with drug problems. No, they unleashed a blockbuster on multiple screens. Reading that more movie screens were coming to our downtown area initially had the sound of more fun being available to citizens. Hilarious comedy, action, adventure; a big bag of buttered popcorn and with it… increased traffic.
Then there’s Santa Monica development in general, which hues to a pretty traditional line: Homes for lower income families in which the parents might be employees of our hotels and attractions and walk or take public transportation to their jobs? No, not so much. Instead, more hotel rooms (with the people in them renting cars), new office buildings with employees driving in and out each day, and developments with first floor retail requiring some means of customers getting to it.
This past weekend, one of my theater pieces had two performances in Joshua Tree. I did everything I could to remind the actors driving to the theater that they must plan their travel to avoid rush hour. One of the actors, a single Mom who works two jobs and needed to stay later at one of them, got stuck trying to get out of the city. In a hot car with her two young kids. To set and organize the movement of eight people to the desert, we had to think and plan like we were retaking Mosul from the insurgents.
You can say life shouldn’t be that way, but for us in Santa Monica and most of Southern California this is modern living. Yes, the new train line will help. But to institute a comprehensive means of getting humans from place to place in L.A. without cars would have required some of the most insightful and far-reaching planning in American history, likely beginning back in the 1950s. As early as the 1920s, oil, rubber tire, and car making concerns were moving against public transit “streetcars” in Los Angeles. Some identify this move to individual automobiles and the death of public transit as a conspiracy. Even if it was, those interests would still have bonded over the general notion of making money. The way new condo, office, shopping center or (Lord, give us strength…) football stadium development makes money. And more traffic. We are left to pick up our toothpicks and fight the giants.