Coleman: Paying More To Drive

Scott Coleman

Traffic on Jamboree Road, Irvine, February 2006

“She loves it,” my friend shared. “We’ve moved back to Irvine because my daughter can now share the rent with me. She graduated from college and has a job to which she bikes from home.”

Some Irvine millennials are living out their environmental values by choosing not to drive. Their choice of eco and car-conscious walk/bike/ride lifestyles in sprawling expensive Southern California has convinced me of the need for legislation like AB 3059. AB 3059 would authorize 2 Go Zone demonstration programs in Northern California and 2 in Southern California. “Go Zone demonstration program” [to] mean a transportation program that reduces vehicle congestion by targeting highly congested areas with additional transportation choices and decongestion fees that encourage people to take transit, carpool, bike, walk, or adjust trip times at congested times of day. Often, Irvine residents complain about congested roads and blame new housing and other developments for it. The primary cause of the congestion on Irvine roads though is the cumulative behavior of drivers who are fueled by the belief that we are entitled to driving as much, wherever, whenever we like.

The City of Irvine was planned to be walkable, cyclable, with work, shops, schools but it hasn’t worked out this way because we Irvine residents are just too addicted to driving. When my family and I first moved here almost 25 years ago we were charmed by the “villages” concept and shocked by the traffic; yes, Irvine traffic was congested even back then. Anyway, we picked our first home where we could walk to schools, grocery, doctor and dentist offices, etc. Our son walked from home to elementary school. Later, he rode his bicycle down busy Culver to middle school. On weekends, we became explorers searching for safer routes to his school. That’s when we discovered how the Irvine trails connected. North Irvine neighborhoods like Northwood Classics, The Ranch, The Colony, College Park, University Park, Woodbridge, and even newer gate guarded ones in Northwood Pointe have trails that lead to public parks, groceries and shopping centers, medical offices.

Yet, we almost never saw young families, like ours, walking or riding back then and the situation has not changed now.

Go into pretty much any neighborhood in Irvine and you will see cars piled on the driveway and the streets. Sometimes, it looks like there must be more cars than homes or adults in Irvine!

I see my Irvine neighbors constantly driving their children to school, sports/music practices, special events, play dates, and more. I walk to the grocery store and almost get run over by drivers rushing to fill a rare empty parking spot. Even at the gym, where you’d think people would park further away if only to get some additional walking done, the frenzy and rush for parking spaces is dangerous. All this surely adds up to the average parent and resident driving around in Irvine innumerable times a day. When we multiply this by the number of children in the family who are at different schools and commuter driving (most who work in Irvine can’t afford to live here), we can begin to understand the magnitude of the problem. It is our driving behavior that is causing traffic congestion in Irvine.

Various solutions have been proposed and tried. Remember the Culver street widening between Trabuco and Scottsdale? Extra lanes were added but within a few weeks, the traffic was once again congested! Research shows that the latent demand for road space does not provide congestion relief for long but actually makes it worse!  Similarly, research shows that mass transit – increasing bus routes, adding a light rail, etc. – does not relieve all traffic congestion; it only eases it a little bit. Transportation experts agree that the only way to reduce traffic and thereby, also ease pollution is by charging for road use.

We – you and I who live in Irvine – have a choice. We can pay attention to the research, experts, and lived experiences of cities with worse traffic problems than ours and change behaviors. Or we irresponsibly continue to waste precious time and resources by fighting growth. The costs of fighting growth include higher home prices which cause many younger people to leave the county, longer commutes for many, more greenhouse gas emissions, and homelessness. Coastal California will always be a desirable place to live. It is up to us to determine how we want to preserve the quality of life we have enjoyed for the future. I suggest that those who use the Irvine roads more should pay more to drive on them too. This is not only fair, it has also been shown in city after city that implemented it to ease congestion and reduce pollution. Another option is to pay those who don’t drive by incentivizing less driving (much like electric vehicle rebates and incentives). Whatever we end up doing, it is imperative that we acknowledge that free use/driving on our roads is the primary cause of the traffic congestion in Irvine.

Anita Coleman is a resident of Irvine and an independent scholar who also curates and manages the Irvine4Everyone Digital Library. Irvine for Everyone is an advocacy and grassroots initiative of residents who support the full spectrum of housing in Irvine.

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