A discussion Tuesday night about bike lanes turned into a much larger conversation about the identity of Goleta's Old Town and what residents want to see in their historic downtown corridor, which one resident called in its present state "a highway with strip malls on either side."
Making Old Town more of a destination was on the minds of many speakers, who urged the City Council to make it a more welcoming place with more trees and landscaping, more cafe-style patios and slower traffic speeds.
Bike lanes were at the heart of the talk, and city staff presented several scenarios that would eliminate a mixture of traffic lanes, a turn lane and street parking. At the end of the night, the council agreed to have city staff come back with cost estimates for each of the plans so they can make a decision in the future.
The challenge, according to Public Works Director Steve Wagner, is that Hollister Avenue is the only east-west arterial south of Highway 101. There's no grid system because the community developed as a rural one and the infrastructure has followed suit, he said.
The Hollister Redesign Plan has been on the city’s to-do list for years, but the projects were placed on hold with the state's elimination of Redevelopment Agencies, or RDAs, and the loss of the funding that followed.
The plan has kinks to work out, however, not the least of which is that the street improvements called for in the plan exceed the actual right of way by almost 30 feet.
Since many of the adjacent buildings along Hollister are located at the edge of, or partially in the right of way, the city came up with some alternatives that would work with the available right of way.
"There's not that much right-of-way available," Wagner said.
The sidewalks are as narrow as they can be — "in fact, they really ought to be wider," he said, leaving parking and traffic lanes that could be sacrificed.
Wagner put forward three alternatives, the first of which would reduce the lanes of traffic down to two, sacrificing traffic lanes. One 12-foot travel lane would remain in each direction along with a center turn lane, 7-foot-wide Class 2 bike lanes on both sides and 8 foot parking on both sides. Existing sidewalks would remain.
Downsides to this plan include traffic having to fit through two lanes, much of which could divert to other streets, and could cause pollution as traffic waits in a queue.
Another alternative would preserve the current four lanes of traffic, but no parking would be available on the south side of the street. A 5.5-foot bike lane would be on each side of the street under that plan, and sidewalks would stay the same.
This alternative would remove up to 27 parking spaces on the south side of Hollister, the main problem with the second plan.
Another would keep all the traffic lanes, as well as parking on either side of Hollister but get rid of the turn lane. It's unknown at this point how many spaces would be sacrificed.
"These all would take more analysis," Wagner said.
Julia Crookston, owner of Goodland Market, said removing parking would put undue strain on businesses.
"You've got to have parking," she said, adding that she supported the two-lane design.
Tim Stillinger, a UCSB graduate student, said he walks, cycles and drives through that area often, but doesn't feel safe doing any of it.
"I don't feel safe due to the current road design," he said. "I feel like I could die or become seriously injured on this stretch of road."
"I'm pushing for whatever it is that gets safe lanes as soon as possible," said Robert Bernstein, adding that hundreds of people have been injured and three killed along that stretch of roadway throughout the years.
"I would love to see an outdoor cafe on Hollister," Councilman Jim Farr said.
He recommended that the city look at the two-lane option for a shortened portion of Hollister, from Kinman to Fairview avenues. If the city decides it must keep the four lanes, Farr said he would like to see parking moved off Hollister altogether to other areas.
Mayor Roger Aceves said four lanes were needed in the area.
"We have a unique situation in Old Town," he said. "We don't have multiple east-west streets" like in downtown Santa Barbara.
Aceves said he'd like to continue talking about the options.
"This is going to be a long-term project," he said. "Just because the RDA went away, we don't give up."
Mayor Pro Tem Michael Bennett suggested Class 2 bike lanes, working on replacement parking and looking at parking options and then come back with a more comprehensive discussion about how to get traffic down to two lanes in the future.
Councilwoman Paula Perrotte said she supported the two-lane option and the idea of making Old Town the "heart" of the city.
"Old Town can be that, I just don't know how to get there," she said. "I need more information. How much would it cost? What would be the next step?"
Councilman Ed Easton said the city will have to budget two years from now an ongoing amount for Old Town for the improvements.
"We'll figure that out when it's time," he said. "But we need to know what the two-lane version is in time and money."
The council asked Wagner to return with preliminary estimates of costs for the plans.