From golf carts to biking, many Laguna residents are finding earth-friendly alternatives to the traditional car or SUV.
By Sharael Kolberg | Illustration by Jenn Prewitt | Photos by Jody Tiongco
When it comes to getting around town, rather than driving a car, more Lagunans are considering alternative modes of transportation these days—more specifically, alternatives that have less of a negative impact on the environment. The carbon dioxide that cars emit can lead to air pollution and climate change. In addition, fossil fuels like petroleum are nonrenewable energy resources and are being depleted at an alarming rate. From benefits that range from financial and environmental to even physical and social, adopting an “alternative” lifestyle may just become mainstream soon enough.
Walking the Town
Most people think walking around town to get errands done takes too much time. But Laguna resident Stacey Rollings says that it can actually be faster than driving because you don’t have to sit in traffic or search for a parking space. She typically walks about 20 miles a week. Her walk includes trips to the post office, the bank, the grocery store or to YogaWorks. She always has a reusable bag in her purse for any shopping she needs to do along the way.
“If more people walked, we’d have reduced noise and congestion,” Stacey says. “And people would be able to interact on their routes. They would shop and dine more locally.”
Not only does Stacey enjoy the ease of walking but she also reaps the benefits of physical exercise and relishes the fact that it causes her to slow down and appreciate the town. “I enjoy looking at the changes people are making to their homes and gardens,” Stacey says. “And I get to meet other pedestrians and their dogs.”
Stacey does caution that you have to be a defensive walker and keep an eye out for cars and bikes, especially when crossing streets. Planning your route in advance might also be smart since Stacey says the sidewalks in town are sometimes overgrown or blocked, and sometimes they just aren’t there (e.g., Coast Highway between Nyes Place and Ruby’s Diner). With the city having allocated $200,000 for city sidewalk repairs in 2012-13, hopefully this will improve pedestrian safety and traffic.
Although Stacey does own a car, she has put fewer than 65,000 miles on it over the last 12 years. Follow in her footsteps—literally—and stop putting the pedal to the metal. “It’s great to get out and smell the fresh air,” she says. “We have beautiful weather and scenery, and it’s easy to make it a habit.”
Traveling by Bike
When Laguna Beach resident Les Miklosy has somewhere to go, unlike most of us, he doesn’t hop in his car. He jumps on his bike instead. “I prefer riding two wheels to four,” Les says. “Laguna Beach is my hometown, and I chose a car-free lifestyle in order to demonstrate that one can still be mobile but carry a light carbon footprint.”
With a home at Top of the World, this is no easy task. For Les, every bike ride to town means a 1,800-foot climb to get back home. “I’m nearly 60 years old but in the best physical shape of my life. Riding a bike beats the blues and is a lot of fun.”
Not only is it great exercise but also Les says that it is also a social interaction tool. He claims that cars are cages and cause social isolation. “Riding a bike gives the rider access to neighbors you would never meet when driving a car,” Les says. He has met about a dozen neighbors along his route that he now stops and chats with regularly. “None of this would have happened had I been driving a car past,” he adds.
Les’ bike is outfitted with panniers big enough to carry books, computer equipment or even groceries, so most of his errands can be done with his bike (although he does have a car for bigger trips). Plus, he doesn’t have to worry about fees for a license, registration, insurance, smog inspection, car maintenance or gas.
Les’ only complaint with riding a bike in Laguna Beach is that he feels city policy is not pro-bike or pro-pedestrian. “Despite years of trying and thousands of dollars spent on traffic consultants, the city is unable to solve the mobility, parking and business problems,” he says. “Riding a bike instead of a car solves all three by simply choosing alternative transportation.”
The city does have a Complete Streets Task Force whose goal is to support a healthy prosperous community with safe, friendly, beautiful streets, walkways and bikeways that meet all the needs of our residents and visitors. In December 2011, the city designated a bike route with signage and painted shared lane markings on Ledroit, Hillcrest and Cypress in north Laguna that is intended to be a parallel alternative to Coast Highway. The city also recently spent $15,000 for additional bike racks around town.
Golf Cart Convenience
Getting around town doesn’t have to be boring. Heidi Draper and her family choose to make getting around their North Laguna neighborhood enjoyable by driving a golf cart. They use it as much as they can. Typically they’ll take it out for things like going to their son’s flag football practice, the local beaches, the farmers market, out to dinner, shopping or running errands. Her husband Mark even puts his stand-up paddleboard on top since the golf cart is easy to park at the beach.
“The golf cart is much more fun to be in than a closed up car,” Heidi says. “It gives me a little vacation-type feeling right here in my own neighborhood. Our EZ-GO electric golf cart only goes 18 miles per hours at max speed, so it prevents speeding around town and provides more of a ‘cruise and enjoy’ mentality.”
The golf cart is not only environmentally friendly but it also makes finding parking in the summer a lot easier. Not to mention that Heidi’s kids (ages 7 and 9) also enjoy the ride.
The downsides of using a golf cart for transportation are that you can only go certain distances (about six hours before it needs to be recharged) and drive on “golf cart approved” streets. It also must be made “street legal,” which requires seat belts, lights, correct DMV permits, registration and insurance.
Heidi says her family is also passionate about walking or bicycling whenever possible versus driving. “The golf cart feels like an extension of that,” she says. Mark also goes green by commuting to work from Laguna Beach to Newport Center by bike most days of the week. On his “off” days, he travels to work in his Toyota Prius hybrid, which averages 45 miles per gallon.
For the Draper family, the pros outweigh the cons when it comes to their open-air golf cart. “I think it’s great for the environment,” Heidi says. “It keeps you from speeding around town, reduces traffic and parking congestion, keeps you smiling and happy.”
Another easy and entertaining way to get around, if you’re traveling solo, is to hop on an electric scooter. “It makes any trip a fun trip,” says Billy Fried, scooter rider and owner of La Vida Laguna. “Scootering in Laguna is extra tasty … windy roads, hills and gorgeous views, mature landscaping, and on sunny days everything looks especially delicious. Plus, I feel like a bloodhound, as I take in so many amazing smells.”
When Billy isn’t scooting around town, he rides his bike from his north Laguna office. When it’s cold or he has to haul bigger loads, he drives his Prius.
Billy says that the biggest danger of driving a scooter, however, is that “you can get flattened by a SUV.” But that doesn’t stop him from enjoying his scooter. The benefits are the gas efficiency, ease of parking and being able to navigate through town on busy summer days. He urges others to give it a try.
“I’d say Laguna has more than an opportunity to do the right thing by the environment,” Billy continues. “Laguna has the will, the means and the obligation. We are deeply touched by it, and we are so very privileged to live in this marvelous town that we must do everything in our power to sustain it for future generations. And that means less energy dependence, cleaner air, a healthier, happier and tighter community.”
Marketed as the “uncar,” the Smart car is an amusing way to still have a steering wheel while helping the environment. Stephen Jacobs and Frank Schaffer, owners of Stephen Frank Garden & Home, say they don’t really think of their Smart car (known as a Smart Fortwo) as a car but as a fun alternative mode of transportation.
“We were looking for a car that was easy to maneuver, easy to park and good for the environment,” Stephen says. “Oh, and it had to be a convertible. What we didn’t expect was a car that was enjoyable to drive as well as being great for the environment.”
The newest convertible Smart car, the Passion Cabriolet, not only gets great fuel economy with 38 miles per gallon but is also up to 85 percent recyclable. Smart cars are certified by the Environmental Protection Agency as SmartWay certified vehicles, which helps consumers identify cleaner, more fuel efficient cars and trucks to help reduce the amount of smog, respiratory illnesses and climate change.
Although the car can only fit two people maximum, Stephen says that there is plenty of storage space. “We’ve never had a problem carrying everything home after one of our stock-up runs to Costco,” he says. One thing is for sure, with a Smart car, parking is a breeze. Stephen says they have found some unusual and nontraditional spots.
The best part is that since Smart cars are not all too common, Stephen and Frank’s car is recognized around town. “We love that so many people in town recognize the Stephen Frank Garden & Home logo on the side of the car and honk and wave when we zip by,” Stephen says.
Plug and Go
Want to ditch the gas altogether? Try an electric vehicle. They emit no pollutants from the tailpipe into the air, so they’re better for the environment and our health. In addition, not using gas reduces the impact on precious fossil fuels. This car does not require engine oil, so there is less runoff into our ocean.
Laguna Beach has embraced this green mode of transportation by installing two electric vehicle charging stations in 2011. Located in the Laguna Canyon parking lot adjacent to Forest Avenue, visitors can enjoy the quaint village section of town or walk to Main Beach while waiting for their cars to recharge before heading back home. Parking is free, but there is a four-hour time limit to charge.
Being green doesn’t have to be hard. Even making small changes can make a big difference. Why not walk to the park with your kids, ride your bike to the post office or carpool to lunch? If you can’t make an everyday commitment to green your transportation, once a month or once a week is a good start—and you’ll more than likely have fun and feel good about it, too. LBM