[Noozhawk’s note: This letter was submitted to Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider and to the City Council and shared with Noozhawk.]

Bulb-outs on the streets of Santa Barbara have been proven dangerous to bicycle riders and create dangerous right-turn conditions at intersections, without producing “any” statistical proof of increased pedestrian use on sidewalks. Removal of the proposed bulb-outs at the mixed-use project planned at the corner of Milpas and De la Guerra streets is in the best interests of (a) pedestrians, (b) bicyclists and (c) safe vehicle flow.

Addressing the above items:

(a) The question of pedestrian safety was brought before the city of Santa Barbara Transportation and Circulation Committee, the Planning Commission and the City Council by the Cars Are Basic organization a half-decade back. When “staff” and supporters of these devices were queried regarding safety claims (and, more important, statistical data) backing their claims, the answer was vague references to studies with no supporting numbers. Statistical evidence is critical when making decisions of this nature and none has been produced. At the same time, a significant. large cohort study was published in the prestigious international journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise regarding pedestrian activity. The sole item confirming increased pedestrian activity was safe travel conditions from criminal elements. No other observed or indicated item in this study was of significance, including sidewalk design or condition. This study was conducted in part as a response to questions of pedestrian use and urban planning.

If these devices were safe they would be recommended at hazardarounds (commonly referred to as roundabouts). The federal guidelines for pedestrian safety state that to make these intersections safe the standard corners need to be sculpted out, forming both an inner and outer circle, not creating a bulb-out intrusion into the intersection. The crosswalks should then be placed a minimum of 25 feet behind the intersection, thus giving both pedestrians and vehicles safe travel, and addressing the issue of line of sight by both groups.

The bulb-outs created at the intersection of Alta Vista Road and Anapamu Street were designed to give Santa Barbara High students a safe crossing at this corner at the school campus. Specifically they were to stop the midstreet crossing by students going to the bus stop on Anapamu. Students being students, this activity has not stopped! The bulb-outs have created additional congestion on Anapamu, introducing more noise and pollution. Working a block from this intersection, I constantly see kids pushing others (as students do) and have seen them pushed into the intersection from the bulb-outs, making them at greater risk of accidents.

A classic example of the dangers of these devices to pedestrians happened at the corner of State and Haley streets. This intersection was designated as the first main street bulb-out conversion. Just prior to this item coming before the City Council, there was a significant accident forcing two of the three vehicles involved onto the sidewalk. If there were pedestrians waiting on a bulb-out they would have been injured. A couple of tons of steel vs. humans is no match. Then-Mayor Harriet Miller, seeing truth of this, led the council to vote against this conversion. State and Haley is a large intersection with very heavy pedestrian use on weekends and holidays, similar to the claims by staff of Milpas and De la Guerra.

(b) Bulb-outs are dangerous for bicyclists. The DMV code states that vehicles not capable of maintaining speed must travel to the right of the road. Bulb-outs do not give this option to a bicycle, which makes biking very dangerous. As a bicyclist for the past 60 years traveling 50-some miles a week, I urge you not to impose these devices on the streets. I have experienced many close calls from vehicles at bulb-out locations and, as a result, do everything I can do to avoid these intersections. In conversations with bicycle patrol officers, I’ve heard them express the same concerns.

(c) Safe vehicle flow is hampered with bulb-out construction. Traffic staff has clearly stated their intent is to use bikes (see “b” above) as traffic-calming devices. The intent is to force bike and rider into traffic, mixing with tons of cars. This is dangerous. As stated, the intent is to then force vehicle to slow.

Bulb-outs are dangerous to emergency response and emergency vehicle travel, as well as standard large vehicles. When these devices were proposed for Chapala Street, then-Councilman Dan Secord questioned turn radius and emergency right hand moves of vehicles. The staff’s answer was that the intent, other than pedestrian encouragement, was to force wide turns — turns that staff admitted would then make street travel more difficult and less safe. Code states that when emergency vehicles in Code 3 mode (siren and lights) approach, traffic is required to pull to the right. These obstructions make this difficult at best. In this same council meeting, staff confirmed this planning was in preparation of “narrowing Chapala Street.” It is obvious this is the ongoing situation on Milpas.

The former Milpas Merchant Association was guaranteed, in exchange for its help, sidewalk landscape improvements and additional lighting, and there would be no move or action taken to narrow this vital commercial corridor. Staff is well aware of the 600-plus signature petition circulated by Cars Are Basic, calling for no changes to capacity or configuration of Milpas. As then-CAB president, I both helped create the petition, organize local Eastside businesses and personally walked many of the residences and businesses collecting signatures. Conditions have not changed and the vast majority on the Lower Eastside continues to support that petition.

A frequently heard statement by traffic staff is “bulb-outs do not interfere with traffic lanes.” From all objective evidence it would appear staff has completely missed the point. Intersections (by their name alone) are just that, intersections of traffic lanes with completely different purposes than vehicle travel along a singular direction and defined space. It is not a difficult concept and is easily observable. Vehicles at intersections move left/right and turn. When people become fixated on just one aspect of traffic management they lose this perspective; it appears the city has lost such perspective.

In the past 15 years, studying conditions of transportation (pedestrian, vehicle, bicycle, rail, etc.) including Federal Guidelines, small and large studies, accident
causes and remedies, it has become obvious most of the City of Santa Barbara’s policy and implementation for bikes and pedestrian use has spectacularly failed.  45 years as an Exercise Science professional encouraging physical activity as well as teaching give me a unique insight.  These devices will not increase pedestrian activity, are an unnecessary burden on the developer, and will create adverse vehicle and commercial conditions. 

I spent many years in this neighborhood with my grandparents, who lived on and operated rental property I now manage. I travel Milpas at the intersections of both Canon Perdidio and De la Guerra weekly and sometimes daily. There is no need for this design. The four-way traffic lights provide a completely safe four-way controlled intersection for pedestrian safety. I urge you to uphold the appeal.

Scott Wenz
Santa Barbara