Thursday, October 16, 2008

NO on Santa Monica Propostion T, also known as RIFT


There has been a lot of talk in Santa Monica about this Proposition T, billed as way to reduce traffic in Santa Monica. Also known as RIFT, Residents Initiative to Fight Traffic. It sounds great at first, especially when the proponents leave out the details, which I feel is largely how it got on the ballot in the first place. I first heard of it when a petitioner outside the Co-Op Grocery Market was asking people if they hated and traffic, and if so sign this paper to put . I declined to sign but took home a flier about it. As soon as I read the brief description I already smelled trouble.

The basic premise is the assumption that all commercial activity creates traffic, so lets put a cap on commercial development. However the devil is in the details. What's at work here is moving the blame for traffic congestion from too much automobile dependence to having too much economic activity. Though this prop is billed as anti-traffic, it actually does nothing to address existing traffic problems, and does not address transit issues at all.

This Prop T is misguided and bad on a number of levels, many of which effect cyclists and pedestrians specifically. This measure excludes hospitals, schools, and government buildings, but it makes no distinction between different types of commercial development. It assumes all of it is bad. Mixed use developments, which reduce frequency of car trips by intermingling small businesses integrated into and near residential areas, making them easier to walk and bike to, would be stopped dead in their tracks. Mixed use development and transit oriented developments (building at or near adjacent public transit corridors) are essential components of creating livable cities. This prevention of mixed development runs completely contradictory to the LUCE document the city has been working on with real traffic solutions modeled after the livable streets movement.

Prop T's assumption that all commercial development is bad is short sighted, and fails to grasp the larger issue of movement of people through a city. Traffic in Santa Monica and Los Angeles generally, is fundamentally a problem of too many cars, and as such reducing automobile dependency should be the focus of any attempt to limit traffic. Not some backwards attempt to stunt the economic activity that makes our city so desirable and successful in the first place. This measure also fails to address existing traffic we already have, which also includes trips to non-commercial attractions like our highly popular beaches.

Sunday Before Memorial Day

So Prop T would maybe reduce some car trips to future commercial developments that would be prevented from happening. I have a better idea and one that would effect existing traffic immediately, not some near future maybe scenario. Enforce the Parking Cash-Out law that has been languishing unenforced in our state law since 1992. This law states that businesses which offer subsidized parking real estate by giving their employees free parking are required to offer a rebate for the value of that parking space to any employee who voluntarily gives up their free parking privileges. By offering an incentive for employees and revealing the true cost of these "free" parking spaces, it has the potential to influence workers to consider alternative transit options and car pooling.

I can attest to the power of this parking cash out incentive because I have seen it at work in my own workplace at Sony Computer Entertainment America in Santa Monica. I discovered the law by accident. As I was bike commuting more and more until I no longer used a car at all to go to work, I was still given the shiny reflective seal of approval updated every month for company lot parking privileges. This company lot, shared with other studios was always filled to capacity and would often be valet parked to stuff more cars in there. A company e-mail went out asking that parking spaces that Sony leased from neighboring MTV, be only used by car commuters who drove everyday, due to the cost those additional MTV spots cost the company every month. Then it dawned on me, those parking spaces in this busy business district are worth money. That little reflective card for my car that I never used anymore had untapped economic value.

So I got to thinking, what if Sony offered some kind of program where people who did not need parking spaces could give up their spot in exchange for an incentive, which in turn would relieve parking pressure demands (like the need to lease additional spaces) benefiting the company bottom line. I wrote up a letter to the company HR department, and even included ideas about how car poolers could split cash out incentives. Well as it turns out, all of my ideas were already unenforced state law, crafted by Urban Planning Department Chair Donald Shoup. So SCEA SM adopted the program in compliance with the California's Parking Cash-Out Law, which you can read about on the California EPA's Air Resource Board website.

To get to the point of this story, due to the extremely high value of parking spaces in the immediate area of our company, I now get about an extra $120 a month to not drive a car to work. It didn't take long for this kind of incentive to start influencing behavior. Some part time bike commuters who would occasionally drive became full time bike commuters. Some people who never rode bikes before suddenly embraced it full swing, and would come to my desk to ask bicycle questions.

SCEA SM Bike Racks
(SCEA SM Bike Parking. This photo does not include some who still park their bike at their desk or else where.)

Too many bikes were crowding around cubicles so bike racks were set up under a stair well to comfortably add bike capacity. As more people picked up cycling these racks started filling up. Then when gas prices went up, we suddenly had two bikes racks full everyday and many bikes parked where ever an unused space could be found. The most recent drop in gas prices has not slowed this creeping influence of bicycle commuting driven in part by the parking cash-out.

So if you want to see some immediate results in improving the traffic situation in Santa Monica, or anywhere in California accessible by alternative transit, then demand enforcement of the California's Parking Cash-Out Law. By contrast, Prop T is a non-solution that I feel could in fact make our city worse off, and I hope for it's demise in November.



Adam Rakunas said...

I wish I'd known about the Cash-Out law back when I worked at Activision. I could've gotten back some of the wages I lost to the grind.

joemorgs said...

Hello! Thanks for the info on RIFT. After reading the measure, it didn't make a lot of sense (i.e. them connecting traffic to commerical development), and makes even less sense after reading this.

Gary said...

There is a relationship between commercial development and traffic, however it has been vastly overstated how much this proposition would actually effect traffic. It also ignores the solutions that have been part of the ongoing land use discussions in Santa Monica.

From what I gather, it's really about limiting commercial development period, and is being sold as a traffic solution to get it passed. I feel this is a rather deceptive way to go about creating policy.

casey!!! said...

Hey man,
Thanks for leaving a comment on my voting stance. I would have loved to chat it up with you about propT before today, but thats the nature of the beast.

I agree wholeheartedly that its connections with traffic seemed loose at best, but when I look around Santa Monica, most of what I see is commercial development. Anything that puts a limit on over commercialization of this area is fine by me.

I certainly wouldn't care to have another 3rd street promenade, or an additional Santa Monica Mall, more hotel towers, office buildings and complexes, or even more car dealerships and car lots.

Anyways, I thought this entry was very well thought out, and full of information. Great to see.