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Solving Traffic One #CarFreeFriday at a Time
October 7, 2016
by Rick Cole
Like the weather, everybody talks about traffic, but what is anyone doing about it?
Well, today, a lot of people took action on Santa Monica’s first #CarFreeFriday. They walked, biked or took public transit to work and found other ways to get around. I biked to work at City Hall, then over to the Broad Stage for today’s LA Times Summit on Future Cities, then toured the Pico neighborhood with Mayor Tony Vazquez and finally returned to lock up my bike in front of City Hall again.
Of course many people walk, bike and use transit every day. But today marks the beginning of what may become a powerful movement, a turning point toward creating a new model of mobility in Santa Monica – and Southern California.
People of my generation grew up in a unique period of human history. Powerful auto manufacturers, cheap oil, lavish public subsidies, and endless marketing not only created a nearly-universal dependence on the automobile, but reshaped most of the Southern California landscape around cars. We created a vast infrastructure of massive highways, widened streets, shrunken sidewalks, drive-through businesses, parking lots, car dealers, gas stations, repair shops, shopping centers, suburban tract homes and traffic control systems – not to mention a pervasive legal framework of traffic laws and enforcement. It all had to be built, administered, insured, maintained and regulated. It works awfully -- and was awfully expensive. Yet few can imagine a realistic alternative.
Until now. With support from taxpayers, Los Angeles Metro is belatedly creating a workable network of rail lines to connect our vast county. Ridership on the Expo expansion to Santa Monica is running far ahead of projections. Both Metro and Big Blue Bus coaches have become cleaner and more efficient alternatives to the car. Technology has spawned Lyft and Uber and other mobility apps to multiply the alternatives to driving yourself. Bikes have returned as a mainstream way of both getting around and promoting healthier communities. Places like the Third Street Promenade have rekindled the magic of the urban walking experience that autopia had nearly choked off.
Most of us will live to see the day of driverless cars and buses and our children will wonder why anyone ever put up with traffic. One day all those parking lots may blossom into parks.
That day is not here. But it got one day closer today. And next Friday perhaps you will think twice about hopping in your car. You’ll decide to save money, or burn calories, or fight climate change, or just enjoy a more pleasant and less stressful journey toward wherever you are going.
Like all addictions, our dependence on cars will be hard to kick. So let’s do this one day at a time. See you out on the street next Friday. You’ll be doing yourself, your community and the planet a favor.