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In Support of Santa Monica Bergamot Transit Village

On the eve of Tuesday’s Council vote, proponents of the Bergamot Transit Village sent several letters saying that dense development along Los Angeles’ bourgeoning light rail network will not only help reduce traffic in the long run, but is necessary to support the growing public transit system.

Dear Editor,

Anyone who has an opinion on the Bergamot Transit Village seems to have a view on how it will impact Santa Monica’s future mobility.  Some claim that the Transit Village will lead to future delays in personal vehicle travel at nearby intersections.  Others claim that, because Santa Monica has far more jobs than housing for workers, adding more residents to the city will relieve afternoon traffic congestion for those leaving Santa Monica.  And still others point out the need to locate new jobs and housing near transit in order to provide alternatives to personal vehicle travel.

I think that all of these claims miss the greatest potential effect on Santa Monica’s future mobility. Focusing solely on personal vehicle travel hasn’t served any city well in the past. Adding residents near jobs is essential to Santa Monica’s future, but the city must make efforts so those new residents see viable alternatives to driving a personal vehicle around the city. Public transit excels at serving trips that many other people are making, but can’t serve all door-to-door journeys.  

None of these claims focus on the role of shared transportation services, including transit, vanpools, bike share, car share, and even carpools. Unlike personal vehicle travel, where greater demand for limited roadway space leads to more and more traffic congestion, shared transportation services get better when more people use them.  I believe that shared transportation services, which can improve mobility while serving more trips, are crucial to the future mobility of Santa Monica.

When more people use vanpools, it becomes more likely that someone can join a vanpool that goes from their home to work and back at the right times for their schedule. The same is true for carpools.

The more people use bike share or car share in their neighborhood, the more feasible it becomes to place additional bikes and cars there. Rideshare similarly becomes more convenient in areas with greater demand.

When more people use transit, the service runs more frequently, earlier in the morning, and later into the night. When more people use transit than would otherwise use a traffic lane, then it’s justified to give the vehicle priority. Shorter, more reliable trip times in turn brings more people to transit and the virtuous cycle continues.

One of the greatest advantages of shared transportation is that it enables an individual to tailor a trip to meet their needs.  Someone looking to get east of the 405 during rush hour can take the Expo Line, which won’t get stuck in traffic, to get across the 405 and then use shared transportation, such as a bus or rideshare, to get to where they want to go.  That flexibility isn’t possible with a personal vehicle.

Making shared transportation work for Santa Monica isn’t a question of funding. The federal government, through Metro, provides substantial funding for vanpools.  Full buses are cost-effective for a transit agency.  Santa Monica has a grant for bike share, and has entered an agreement with a car share provider who will cover the cost of placing vehicles in the city.  Shared transportation can also help people save money versus owning, maintaining, and using a personal vehicle.

Making shared transportation work for Santa Monica is a question of priorities.  Do we think traffic will get better on its own?  Or is a concerted effort to move towards shared transportation needed to move the city beyond gridlock?

Santa Monica, Los Angeles, and much of the nation has taken great care over the past several decades to spread places out in order to avoid traffic congestion. In much of Los Angeles County and especially on the Westside, we’ve come to learn the effects of this strategy: spreading traffic out over layers and layers has led to traffic gridlock with limited alternatives to personal vehicle travel.

Where we have concentrated residents, workers, or visitors, we’ve been sure to put stacks of parking, ensuring more vehicle trips and fewer shared transportation users.

While the fact that shared transportation services get better with use is their greatest virtue, this is also their greatest shortcoming.  The services aren’t very feasible if few people are using them.  All shared transportation services need an initial investment and base of users - a foundation.  

The Bergamot Transit Village project helps create this foundation by supporting the city’s first transportation management association.  The association will facilitate shared transportation services for the area’s workers, residents, and visitors.  This foundation is essential to creating a critical mass of shared transportation services that benefits those around Bergamot and the community.

I’ll guess that most Santa Monicans don’t think the Bergamot Transit Village proposal is perfect.  However, I’d also guess that people have different views of how the proposal should change.

Personally, I’d add more residential units, even if it made for a taller or denser building.  Though the city consider approving this building in 2014, it wouldn’t open until after the Expo Line and must remain relevant decades from now when gasoline is many times more expensive and the city’s greenhouse gas emissions are at one-fifth of today’s levels.

I’d also hold the number of parking spaces the same - or reduce the amount.  As long as the city doesn’t allow those visiting or living at the project to park at unmetered spaces on surrounding streets, fewer parking spaces means less automobile traffic and more people using shared transportation services.

I doubt many of you share this preference. That’s the nature of cities.  Because individual preferences differ, no one gets exactly what they want from every decision all the time.  But its from those diverse preferences that arise amenities as varied as Bay Cities Deli and Port Royal Cafe, the Aero Theater and Zanzibar, parks for dogs and parks for people, soon-to-be five public libraries and and an ale house, Crossfit gyms and studios that specialize in at least five different types of yoga.  This is why cities like Santa Monica work so well, and cities without our variety aren’t doing as well.  

Diverse preferences are also why shared transportation services would work so well for Santa Monica. In fact, the future mobility of people who drive cars and people who use shared transportation alike depends on this diversity. Not everyone in the city sees driving alone in a personal vehicle as the best choice for them, especially as the convenience of shared transportation services improves.

But maybe we can all agree that if the city council approves the project, they should require a neighborhood-serving grocery store of no more than 15,000 square feet.  This store will serve future Bergamot residents and the three thousand existing residents who live northeast of the future Expo Station, allowing them to avoid a 15-minute walking detour to the Ralphs to pick up a few groceries after getting off the train.

I’ll close with a PSA: Valentine’s Day always produces more discretionary afternoon peak automobile trips as people drive to dates on the same night. This year, the 80-hour partial closure of the 405 begins on Valentine’s Day, which is also a Friday.  Friday evenings are typically busier as more evening activities and road trips are layered on top of commutes.  If you’d like a romantic night that doesn’t involve sitting in traffic, you might consider picking a dinner spot within walking or biking distance.

Juan Matute
Santa Monica

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