Friday, May 27 , 2016, 1:32 pm | Fair 65º

Frank Hotchkiss: Bikes Over Cars — What Do You Prefer?

By Frank Hotchkiss |

City of Santa Barbara planners are proposing to eliminate car lanes and on-street parking in hopes of luring bicyclers to commute to work. This might also reduce traffic and lessen pollution, however slightly. But since only about 3.5 percent of all Santa Barbarans ride bikes — and most of them are recreational riders, not commuters — the actual benefits of this would be negligible. People are just not interested in riding to work.

City Councilman Frank Hotchkiss
City Councilman Frank Hotchkiss

Is this bike push a good idea? Frankly, I don’t think so. Why? Because reducing automobile travel lanes would increase congestion. Reducing on-street parking, particularly for local businesses, could be disastrous because patrons couldn’t park near shops and stores, and therefore wouldn’t patronize them.

Transportation planning should facilitate getting from here to there quickly and conveniently. Initiatives that defeat this purpose do not benefit ordinary people but a select few with a narrow agenda: bicycling.

That’s my opinion, but your opinion is more important than mine. What do you think?

Staff bicycling enthusiasts, along with advocates such as the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition, maintain that if biking is made more convenient, you, I and many others will join them (actually, only some of them, since many of them don’t ride bikes to work either) in peddling to work every day. To that end, the city is planning a number of “outreach” sessions where the public is invited to comment.

Jaded as I may be, I suspect that this will be pointless. Bicycle enthusiasts/advocates will show up en masse to promote any expanded biking plans, while the rest of the city shrugs and gets on with its life. Then the staff will report back to the City Council “overwhelming support” for changes that staff and the advocates wanted all along. Enthusiasts will prevail, while the majority of Santa Barbarans remain unrepresented. Remember, about 96 percent of Santa Barbara residents aren’t bike riders and probably never will be. They want the daily convenience of automobile transportation to facilitate their lives.

Councilman Dale Francisco and I have suggested that to gauge public opinion and preference accurately, we should conduct an independent telephone poll to determine what you really want, whether it’s increased biking lanes and facilities, retaining what we have now but not increasing them, or reducing the number of lanes designated for biking, and returning them to greater automobile usage. This will cost about $15,000, and will be free of bias.

I don’t know if there is a clear-cut consensus on these questions. Some folks think that bicycling is the way of the future. They may be right. Others think bikes are fine for some but by no means for all. They are never going to ride to Trader Joe’s, Ralphs or CVS to pick up goods. For them, their cars are their sole, best means of transportation.

I’d like to know what you think.

Please feel free to send me an email at [email protected]. I look forward to your response.

One thing is for sure: Bike riders are obligated to follow the Rules of the Road just the same as automobile drivers. I hope they take their responsibilities seriously to avoid accidents, particularly to pedestrians who can get mowed down by a speeding biker ignoring a stop sign, crosswalk or traffic direction.

Frank Hotchkiss is a Santa Barbara city councilman.

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