Easing The Automobile Out Of Venice

By Jim Smith

Getting around Venice can be a problem if you don’t have a car. Even then, if you park your car on the street, don’t even think about moving it on a sunny weekend, or nearly any time during summer days. First Friday can extend the problem well into the evening if you live in Central Venice, Oakwood or Milwood.

In spite of having a problem that affects thousands of Venetians, no one seems to be working on a solution. The MTA doesn’t care. Bill Rosendahl’s advisory transportation committee is too busy looking at the big picture to address intra-community transportation problems. There is no Venice committee or organization that addresses this issue.

What exactly is the problem? First of all, there are too many cars in Venice. When Abbot Kinney founded our city in 1904-05, there were few cars and not many places to drive one. Most visitors came to Venice on an excellent rail system. Locals mostly walked around the town which hardly extended east of what is now Abbot Kinney Blvd. Or instead of walking, they could hop on the tram that plied Ocean Front Walk. Many streets were canals and the remainder, with a few exceptions, were and are, narrow.

Until more affluent residents moved to Venice beginning in the 1980s, many Venetians either did not have a car, or had one car per family. In the 1970s, the energy crisis had made small Japanese cars popular.

Detroit struck back by mounting station wagon bodies on large trucks and calling them SUVs. Gasoline became plentiful again and was sold at the lowest prices ever (adjusted for inflation). The growing popularity of Venice as a tourist attraction meant thousands of big vehicles were competing for Venice’s anemic supply of parking places. In recent times, the supply has shrunk even more as the City of Los Angeles has put up restrictive parking signs and red curbs without regard to the needs of local residents.

Growing numbers of Venetians have abandoned their cars for short trips and recreation by bicycle. However, Venice has lagged far behind many biking cities in protecting bike riders and in providing them with equal rights with other vehicles (cars and trucks). The only buffered or separate bike path in Venice is on the beach. Biking down Lincoln Blvd. can be considered a suicide attempt. The ill-considered painting of sharrows on Abbot Kinney Blvd. makes riding a bike there more dangerous because it gives riders a false sense of security. Some cities in Europe have closed some streets to autos and other streets to bikes.

In Venice biking, skating and walking are three popular alternatives to driving. Some streets, particularly near the beach, should be considered for skating lanes.

Nobody walks in L.A., but lots of people walk in Venice, and always have. You might think that there would be lots of accommodations for walkers. There are a few. Ocean Front Walk is the best. No cars and no bikes allowed. Police cars and bikes constantly violate this rule (anyone want to make a citizen’s arrest?). They should not be allowed in vehicles unless it is a genuine emergency. They can walk, can’t they?

On the other hand, there is no crosswalk leading to our circle in front of the Post Office. In order to enjoy this park, one has to evade several lanes of cut through traffic coming from one of five streets. A paranoid Venetian might think the L.A. Dept. of Transportation was trying to kill us off. Further evidence for this belief can be found in the dangerous crosswalk connecting Rialto Ave. and Palms Blvd. at Abbot Kinney. The Beachhead has previously reported on the inability for pedestrians to see whether motorists have a green or red light.

If Venice was a city of its own, it would probably have a flourishing shuttle service and perhaps a street car. A shuttle in Venice could provide two functions. It could pick up visitors to the beach who could park in unused lots on Lincoln Blvd. or in the Marina. During the week and during the winter, the shuttle could pick up some of the thousands of seniors who live near the beach where there are few businesses that cater to people’s daily needs and take them to Ralphs, RiteAid, Ross and other stores along Lincoln Blvd. The shuttle could charge a relatively high single use fee and a relatively low monthly pass fee. This is the fee schedule that is used in Venice, Italy, and enables the city to derive a good income from tourists using its Vaporetto (water bus), while providing a needed and low cost service to residents.

Would there be enough ridership to make a Venice shuttle viable? Yes, if visitors were able to park more cheaply in distant lots, and if the shuttle was attractive.

If Venice was a city of its own, it could build a streetcar down Pacific Avenue from the Santa Monica border to the end of the peninsula, giving sunbathers their choice of 2.6 miles of beaches. The street car could be linked with shuttles that would depart from Rose, Venice and/or Washington and Pacific to circle around Venice on Lincoln and Abbot Kinney Blvd. Ultimately, cars would not be needed to get around our community. Meanwhile, both street cars and shuttles would share traffic lanes with cars.

If shuttles and street cars don’t get you where you want to go, there are always rickshaws. Electric or pedal powered three-wheel vehicles are used in many cities around the world and have made their appearance in parts of Southern California from time to time. It remains for one of Venice’s budding entrepreneurs to navigate the L.A.’s bureaucracy and buy about 20 of the easily obtainable vehicles. Don’t wait too long. Someone might beat you to it.

There is nothing in the suggestions above that is not being done already by progressive-minded cities of all sizes. The main drawback in Venice is that we have no city government of our own. We are dependent on the city of Los Angeles, which has shown a marked reluctance over the years to make any improvements in Venice unless it comes from bond-issue funds or is desired by one of the moguls that runs Los Angeles.