Commentary: Make Laguna a ‘complete’ town

Last Friday’s Hospitality Night was an annual reminder of how much better our town would be if lower Forest Avenue was closed to cars and converted to a pedestrian plaza with planters, benches, lighting, and al fresco dining, making it a convivial town center in which to meet and greet friends and visitors. Really, was anyone inconvenienced by the lack of parking on Forest Avenue? Did retailers suffer? To the contrary, I heard that many flourished.

Making Forest Avenue more people-centric is relevant to another major proposal that was brought before the Planning Commission Dec. 5: the possibility of restriping Glenneyre Street, from Thalia Street to Calliope Street, from four lanes to three, creating a dedicated bike lane and increasing traffic flow with several roundabouts at high-traffic intersections. By providing a safe place for bikers to commute, we are making a powerful commitment to alternative, eco-friendly transport for bikers, skateboarders, rollerbladers and pedestrians. And Glenneyre commuters will not suffer in the bargain.

It’s amazing that a quaint resort town that wants to be seen as progressive is still burdened by a transportation infrastructure entirely built for the car — a system that was installed in the last century and is failing the needs of modern society. Which is why so many cities have committed substantial resources to creating complete streets that are safer and better for everybody — drivers, cyclists and walkers. It reduces traffic and parking. It’s easier on the environment, and it’s a great way to stay healthy. And yet, the idea has been met with extreme hostility. City officials have been receiving a significant volume of protest from residents of Glenneyre and neighboring Catalina, who fear more traffic will be diverted to them. Here are some of the criticisms:

Glenneyre is going from four lanes to two.

No, only one lane is being eliminated. There will be a center turning lane, much like Laguna Canyon Road. Unfortunately the local papers reported it this way and never retracted it. So it won’t be much different than it is now, except bikers won’t be in your lane and at risk. Also, no parking will be removed in the bargain.

It will create tremendous traffic jams.

Honestly, can anyone say Glenneyre is congested? Once in a blue moon near downtown, perhaps. But this is a road that flows, and will flow even better with four roundabouts. Cars won’t have to stop, and traffic circles are a well-documented success wherever they are implemented. More cars will choose Glenneyre over Catalina because it will be so much faster.

Roundabouts are dangerous and chaotic.

There’s always been fear of employing these European traffic measures, and yes, it might take a while to get used to them, as always with something new. But once people experience them, they love them.

People don’t really bike in Laguna, so what’s the point?

This is kind of an oxymoron. How can they bike when there’s no place to safely ride? I’ve heard it said that the majority of residents are simply too old to bike. And while we agree that there are a great many locals who would never bike even if they lived in Holland, they are neglecting two important demographics: people who are young and healthy enough to ride (well, our kids are quickly becoming so obese that they are disqualified, but maybe this can help); and tourists who would have a far better experience and opinion of our town if they could navigate the streets safely and easily, finding it easier to park a bike than a car.

Biking is too hard in Laguna. That’s why nobody does it.

OK, we’re not Amsterdam. But we’re not San Francisco, either, which by the way has a top-rated bike system. We have a few moderate hills in the lower parts of town, nothing that can’t be negotiated with a little fortitude. And electric bikes make riding any hill a breeze.

Bikes don’t belong on any road. They make people too nervous when they hog the lane.

This is precisely why a dedicated bike lane is needed. Can you imagine how much better driving Coast Highway would be if all the bikers were diverted to a bike-friendly network of roads through town? They’d enjoy it more, too. Besides, it’s now a state mandate for communities to adopt complete streets.

We are suffering from isolation. We go from our cars to our homes and our various appliances. We need more opportunities to engage in the human condition, to offer all modes of transportation that encourage people to get outside and meet each other. This is the best sustainable practice we can employ, keeping us healthy and connected.

Imagine a future where bikers can rent from bike-share depots across town, ride from north and south through and around town, visiting friends, running errands, shopping, dining, beaching, or just touring our beautiful neighborhoods — and never peddle Coast Highway. A safe biking route from Nye’s Place to Crescent Bay, from the beaches to the foothills. With beautiful public art and historic homes to admire. Imagine Laguna with a skate park and a safe route for skaters to get there on, a comprehensive network of sharrows and bike lanes, public and privately commissioned sculptural and artistic bike racks, a trolley system that runs year round, and the nexus for it all, a beautiful pedestrian promenade on lower Forest Avenue.

We can do this. Please support this effort and let your city officials know it’s time to make Laguna a multi-modal, less car-dependent town.

BILLY FRIED is a resident of Laguna Beach.