Commentary: Traffic-free Laguna is unrealistic for real people

Columnist Billy Fried has gone a bit too far with his vision for Laguna Beach transportation ("The dream of a traffic-free Laguna," Feb. 21).

Most municipalities that have some of the services he mentions are large cities with multiple — and sometimes even parallel — wide streets that can be alternately configured to accommodate everything from pedestrians, bikers and skateboarders to, possibly, small hovercraft.

Unfortunately, Laguna Beach does not have such roadways, and the two main arteries in and out of Laguna are not 100% controlled by the city. Look at a map. Our main arteries of Coast Highway and Laguna Canyon Road form a 'T' and are the city's only major access roads.

The configuration of Laguna at roughly 6 miles long and about 5 miles deep also precludes solutions that may well work in, say, San Francisco or Denver.

This means that if Fried's vision as described last week were to come to pass, there probably would be other consequences, some possibly unintended.

Consider these factors:

•The businesses that could so easily accommodate all those strolling people would probably find it hard to hire staff from outside Laguna Beach, since employees would have to park on the periphery and take the bus in.

Peripheral parking is a decent idea for visitors, but there could be other consequences for employees. For instance, Disneyland offers employees time clock leeway because of distant parking lots and the time it takes to get in costume.

Might our employers need to do the same, and could they afford the extra cost? And would potential employees want the additional hassle?

•The free trolleys in the summer are great for visitors. Sadly, those trolleys on the south route are slow to the point that it can take an hour to get from the Albertson's center to the bus station downtown. That could make a lot of people late for work.

They also are wide enough that they take up just a bit more than a lane on Coast Highway, backing up other traffic hesitant to pass them.

•None of the visitors would be able to shop for anything but the smallest and lightest items, because they would have to haul their purchases back to the peripheral parking lot — and that could affect whether or not they stay and eat in Laguna.

Imagine someone wanting a beautiful big outdoor garden pot. But how to get it home?

•Laguna Beach residents would not be able to commute under Fried's vision — an activity that generates much of our traffic — so everyone would have to be independently wealthy, retired with ample income or self-employed.

Yes, there's a train, but the stations are in Irvine and Laguna Niguel. And the trip is hardly speedy. Of course, they could commute by bike, thereby devoting even more time to commuting, and greet co-workers all sweaty and bedraggled (forget the briefcase — it fell off back on the 405.)

•People apparently would be prohibited from driving through town to get to a freeway and instead would be required to detour up Crown Valley to the toll road or the I-5, which adds about 10 miles one way to get back to the I-5/133 intersection.

•Parents taking kids to and from school also generate a lot of our local traffic — understandably given the location of the schools — but if they must stroll or bike or take a trolley, there could be a lot more absent kids, which would generate less money for the school district.

The obvious solution to this is home schooling — but that in turn would result in a loss of jobs associated with the schools.

•Residents who prefer walking to biking would apparently have to build their own sidewalks in large swaths of Laguna Beach.

They certainly couldn't walk in the road, even with special lanes, because the bike folks might shout them down, block the lanes or otherwise make it unpleasant to walk — just as some of them have done on trails around Laguna Beach.

•There might not even be any residents left under Fried's plan, because they would be severely challenged if they live real lives that involve spending part of their days outside the confines of the city.

If it's nearly impossible to get to or from work — or be allowed to have a (gasp) car downtown — this will not be an attractive place to live. I remember years ago how refreshed and relaxed I felt once I got to Laguna Canyon on the way home from work. Now it's a racecourse or endless traffic jam. How would fewer roads for cars help that? Should people simply stop going where the jobs are?

•Fried also jumps on the bandwagon of those who would build some sort of pedestrian plaza that would close one or more streets downtown. This is a lovely idea in towns that have numerous ways in and out. I've enjoyed many such areas in California and other locations. But Laguna Beach is not one of them. We don't have enough alternatives.

A mere fender-bender can back up traffic on Coast Highway for an hour or more. And if there was a true emergency, such as a major fire, having fewer passable streets would severely affect first responders and residents.

What do you do if there's an emergency evacuation order and no way to evacuate?

•For the residents who remain, let's hope visionaries like Fried realize that sometimes people need to do mundane things like go to the post office (we only have two), or the vet with a pet (that would be fun on a bike), or the grocery store for more than one item — life tasks that they should not be forced to walk or bike three to five miles each way to accomplish.

Some folks simply are not people of leisure. And many do not live in that central part of town, where walking to downtown means maybe a 15-minute trek.

There is nothing wrong with walking or biking, or skating or paddling. There's nothing wrong with parks and plazas and pedestrian-only areas. There's also nothing wrong with living life in a way that enables one to do errands, get to and from work and enjoy a few moments of leisure by car.

Residents should have a choice based on their own circumstances rather than a dictate from those who choose to live a different lifestyle and try to impose it on others.

SANDI CAIN is a Laguna Beach resident.

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