Putting the Cart Before the Horse


A major component of Santa Monica’s new traffic demand management program is based on the idea that limiting parking will compel people to abandon their cars in favor of mass transit, bicycles or walking.

Although TDM sounds good “in theory”, some parts of this initiative might better be described as “traffic design magic,” based more on wishful thinking than fact. This is particularly true in Los Angeles where urban sprawl has made the automobile a necessity and mass transit, at present, still a work in progress.

An example of this was highlighted in the environmental impact report for the proposed Bergamot Transit Village (BTV). Although the project was directly across from the new Expo Line, the project’s environmental report estimated that of the 10,857 daily/person trips, only 3.5 percent would be on public transportation (EIR Section 4.16-72). The remaining 96.5 percent would be in vehicles. Based on the faulty assumption that proximity to the Expo Line would lead to more transit usage, the developers were allowed to provide 40 percent fewer parking spaces than normally required. The developer was on track to save $35 million with the removal of 650 spaces (40 percent of total) at $55,000 each from their subterranean garage. Their gain would have been at the expense of the surrounding community. The city estimated at least 20 percent of the development’s cars would end up in the surrounding neighborhoods. The actual number of cars unable to find a place in the 2,000 space lot would likely have been much greater with five times more daily car trips than the available spaces (Note: TDM normally targets 1.4 riders/car).

A major barrier to the implementation of mass transit is the “first mile, last mile issue” — how to get to the station and then to one’s final destination. This is why the car is still favored over other options. One solution to this dilemma would be a bike share system coupled with a network of paths reserved for bicycles and/or other alternatives (Segway’s, e-bikes, e-skateboards etc.) that could move commuters around the city as well as to the transit hubs. This system has been shown to be successful in other large cities, particularly when the mobility devices are small enough to be brought aboard the transit lines or made available at both ends of a trip.

Many of these devices are available for all ages, non-polluting, require smaller parking areas and often a faster, safer alternative for city travel. Ideally, it would also involve the repurposing of some streets and/or parking lanes to provide safe paths of travel. Since Santa Monica is only around three miles across, a bicycle traveling at 15 MPH could traverse the city in less than 15 minutes. This strategy could help alleviate traffic, and finding parking for a bike is far easier than for a car.

Alternatively, a DASH type system, such as The Free Ride, could run six-passenger electric golf carts that stopped throughout the city at no cost to residents or visitors. These bike and shuttle systems are viable, and could come on-line quickly. TDM reductions do the opposite — move more cars onto the streets making parking and traffic near transit hubs more congested while offering few alternatives for shorter trips. Filling our streets with cars would also make it less likely that streets could be repurposed for alternative modes of transportation at a later date, be it for personal devices or dedicated lanes for buses and shuttles. The current approach is piecemeal rather than designed as an integrated transit system.

Two other problematic aspects of the TDM program are: 1) permitting tenants to sell their spaces back to the developer and, 2) providing shared parking instead of assigned spaces for tenants. The result of both policies could incentivize those with parking, but also tight finances, to sell their spaces and take their chances with street parking. To avoid putting more cars on our streets, landlords and developers must continue to be responsible for providing space for their tenants’ cars as required under current standards.

The TDM concept of decoupling parking from units will also be applied to new multi-residential projects. New renters in the city may soon discover that what was once included in their rent will be sold to them separately. Unsold spaces will be offered at market rates to non-tenants for parking, storage or perhaps be even resold. Again, great for landlords but less so for tenants and residents who will now be competing for increasingly scarce street parking. Aren’t most residents and their guests already having enough difficulty finding a spot on the street? Cars should be housed in buildings, not on our streets. As it currently stands, TDM provides substantial financial benefits to landlords and developers but only additional expense and inconvenience for residents.

Santa Monica’s TDM program is not all bad. Some TDM strategies are workable and, if properly implemented, could reduce traffic. The relaxation of parking standards is not one of them. Good for the developers but bad for residents. The BTV project alone would require monitoring the use of over 10,000 cars. The TDM program will create another layer of bureaucracy in a City Hall that is already overstaffed and yet unable to enforce its current regulations. The TDM program should not use Santa Monica residents as guinea pigs for an unproven program with consequences that, in some cases, might be irreversible. More research needs to be done before this program is ready for implementation. Until such a time, our current standards should stay in place as they are. To Implement TDM at this time is to put the cart before the horse.