Sunday, October 19, 2008

Reason #1. Reducing commercial development to 75,000 square feet per year will not reduce traffic and may even increase it.

Actually, Proposition T don’t claim that RIFT will reduce traffic, only that it will slow the rate of traffic increase. So, of course, we’ll never know if it has worked or not, because there is no base line. How do we know how fast traffic would have increased if the measure hadn’t passed? How do we know if Proposition T reduced that rate of traffic growth by 10%, 50%, none at all, or even made matters worse?

Another way to frame their argument it seems to me, is that traffic in Santa Monica is terrible, and and that RIFT is a measure that will allow it to get worse slower than it would have otherwise gotten worse. Sounds amazingly half-baked. I think my six-year old framed it best when he said, “that’s just dumb.” I mean if you went to a doctor, with a chronic and debilitating disease, and she offered you a therapy that would slow your rate of decline, but you knew that other therapies existed that, over time, would actually allow you to see an improvement, wouldn’t you fire that doctor?

The Proposition T literature loudly proclaims, in bold type, “Our city's own traffic consultant says we can’t fit any more cars on our gridlocked streets,” How is a measure that acknowledges a problem, but then fails to provide anything resembling an adequate solution acceptable? (By the way the City uses a lot of traffic consultants, so I’d like to know which one made such an inane and unprofessional remark).

In other words, why doesn’t this measure attack the root cause of the problem, which is how people get around to work, to shop or to play? We know that there are cities with far greater density with less traffic burdens. The reason, this measure doesn’t attack the root cause, is that by doing so, the Prop-T advocates would acknowledge the value of appropriately designed mixed-use development to the long term health of the city. This measure uses the traffic as a Trojan horse to fight something more at the heart of every development issue in the city, which is that the Prop T backers simply do not want to see any more growth. Proposition T backers, would like to put a wall around this city and freeze it as is.

How do I know? Well again, look at the literature from a recent “Yes Prop T” mailing: “And more development is coming, Lots more. Our City Council just voted to INCREASE new building heights on all of our major boulevards from Wilshire to Pico to as high as six stories tall.”

So what does this have to do with Proposition T? Not one thing. Proposition T does not in any way affect the building heights in the city. This is just a scare tactic. It is intended to get the reader to distrust all developers, those interlopers “(some from San Francisco and Beverly Hills),” who would continue to do work in this city, and contribute to its evolution and its tax base.

Moreover, residential development, which is unaffected by Prop T, will probably increase as a result. So if you think voting for Proposition T will somehow change or overturn what the Council has just passed than you are in for a disappointment. All that will happen is that you will assure that this six-story development is almost exclusively residential. But you respond, well doesn’t residential development generate less traffic than commercial development? Not necessarily; it depends on the context.

“Okay, so maybe Prop T won’t affect traffic at all, where’s the harm?” you ask, “how could Prop T actually increase traffic (at least more so than not endorsing Prop T)?” Simply put, because it is fundamentally contrary to the smart growth principles that affect mobility and travel impacts that so many progressive cities, cities that are attempting to be as green as Santa Monica are incorporating. And please don’t take my word for it, go to:, a web site put out by Fehr and Peers, one of the largest and most respected transportation planning firms in the nation.

The literature identifies five key measures:

1. Transit Proximity
2. Density of Development
3. Diversity of Development
4. Design of Development
5. Destination Accessibility of Development

Let’s highlight three of them:

Density of Development: Higher numbers of residents and jobs per acre are often a Smart Growth planning objective, and are effective at reducing travel and other impacts, especially when accompanied by high levels of regional accessibility, mix of uses, and quality urban design. Development density is a useful indicator of Smart Growth plans, and is usually measured in terms of total population and employment per acre. Density also reduces the need to convert exurban land to urban uses.

Diversity of Development:
Land use mix measures the relative balances of jobs and housing as well as the mix of retail and non-retail jobs within walking/ biking distance or, secondarily, short driving distance. Diversity is correlated with reductions in vehicle trips and vehicle miles, and is therefore an indicator of a Smart Growth plan.

Design of Development: Smart Growth concepts often involve walkable neighborhoods. When measured in terms of connectivity and density of the street and pedestrian networks and sidewalk completeness, walkable urban designs are correlated with reduced vehicle travel, and represent a useful indicator of Smart Growth.

So if you think substituting residential development for commercial development is the right way to go because you think the former will generate less traffic than you are being duped for a second time. As I’ve said before, it all depends on context.

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