I’m on my way back from Austin where I organized an international bike ride; it was part of a financial conference I attend each spring. The ride is a team-building exercise of sorts; people love it and the enthusiasm for the bike ride will someday eclipse the conference itself, I wonder.
What to do on the long flight home?
I just read the 34-page Newport Beach Circulation Element; it’s part of the General Plan. Yes, it’s a little dry, but not if you’re a budding bike advocate like me. It’s all about moving cars as fast as possible. Oh, there are plenty of references to bicycles, but we can all see, just by looking around town, that little heed is paid to bicyclists or pedestrians.
We shouldn’t be surprised — and I’m not blaming anyone at City Hall — we live in an automobile-saturated society. And it’s not going to be easy to make big changes, at least not quickly, because Newport Beach and all other Orange County cities have taken a blood-oath with the OCTA to not do anything to compromise the efficiency of through traffic.
This made sense, I guess, back in the 70’s, when everything was sprawling and we thought that would bring paradise. But today it means that if we dream up some local innovation, let’s say a pedestrian-friendly improvement at the expense of motorist efficiency — we can’t do it, not without an appeal to OCTA. It’s like we’re compelled to suffer an 18% increase in traffic by 2025 (according to their predictions) in support of south county sprawl. And we could appeal to implement some new safety concept, but so many of us, even fellow members of the Bicycle Safety Committee, have learned how things work, how the system operates, and are reluctant to rock the boat. So first we have to change the way people think about bike safety. Just as important, we must give ourselves permission to imagine change. As human beings we resist change.
In the meantime, life’s all about moving cars quickly. Getting more people out on bikes will be tough, simply because cars are moving at dangerous speeds — even in our neighborhoods.
Where to start?
It’s a simple concept, but counter-intuitive to some — to increase bicycle use we have to make driving more difficult. For example, to encourage people to pedal to dinner we have to make it more difficult to park a car.
Crazy? Perhaps, and it’s probably not a platform for a politician to run on, but think about it. On the peninsula people already understand this; if you lived on the peninsula you’d be crazy to drive to dinner on a summer evening. First you’d lose you your parking place near your home, then you’d be stuck in miserable traffic at the pier, then of course, after dinner you’d have to find a parking place back at home. It’s much less stressful to ride your bike or walk instead. That’s why more people ride bikes on the peninsula than anywhere else in Newport Beach.
While we’re dreaming, let’s go a step further. Revitalization is all the rage at the City Council, so here’s my plan: How could we double the number of shoppers, diners and beach-goers on the peninsula?
Short of teleportation, how could we get the people there? There are big constraints on parking, right?
Consider what we’ll all soon be calling old-City Hall. Let’s turn it into a transportation hub. Picture a shuttle bus going all the way to the Wedge with stops at both piers. We could pioneer, like lots of cities, a bike share system; they’re like zip-cars — you rent them to get from point A to B. Some plans are free for the first half-hour, which would get you anywhere on the peninsula. Then add lots of new parking, and here’s the big idea: some of it would be a trade-off.
For every 3 new parking places we add at old-City Hall, let’s remove 1 space along the routes to the most popular destinations, like the piers. This would encourage people to park at the new hub instead of endlessly circling the neighborhoods looking for parking. And by removing parking at critical pinch-points we could create safer bike lanes.
Get it? This is how you make driving more difficult and biking easier — all in a relatively painless way.
Would this plan work?
There’s bound to be many who laugh in my face and there will be others with plans to convert the old-City Hall site into condos, maybe there’s a way to do both. But creating a transportation hub looks to be a once in a hundred-years’ opportunity for the city. To serve the common good, to move more people to our beaches, to stimulate economic development on the peninsula — the plan has many benefits and I suggest it’s the best plan for today, that is until I get that teleportation system working.