Opponents of transportation elements slated for Milpas and De la Guerra streets had their say last week, but on Monday, advocates for the curb extensions included in the mixed-use project at 803 N. Milpas St. gathered to share with the media why they say the extensions should be kept in the plans.
The issue will go before the Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday. It will decide whether to deny the appeal of Milpas business owner Rick Feldman, who contends the extensions would hinder the flow of traffic on Milpas.
Standing at the corner of Quarantina and De la Guerra streets, less than a block from the project, Santa Barbara Walks Director Courtney Dietz acknowledged Monday that the issue has become a hot topic. But the group’s goal is to keep the issue focused on pedestrian safety, something she said the curb extensions — also known as bulb-outs — do well by reducing the speed of cars as they turn.
Dietz maintains that the setups provided by curb extensions are better for cars, too. By shortening the time a pedestrian is actually in the street, Dietz said cars can move through intersections more quickly, turning around an extension she says would extend no farther than would a parked car.
“It’s easier to see and be seen” as a pedestrian, she said.
City traffic engineers have estimated that traffic trips in the project area hover around 10,000 per day, while Milpas traffic reaches 25,000 to 30,000 trips daily closer to Highway 101.
The project also would widen the sidewalks to 12 feet to encourage more pedestrian activity, of which there’s already a lot of in that area.
Planners estimate that more than 1,600 pedestrians pass the Milpas and Cota intersection, just two blocks south of the project site.
Traffic seemed to be flowing smoothly in the area at the time of Monday’s news conference, but Eva Inbar, president of the Coalition for Sustainable Transportation, said it hasn’t always been like that.
Inbar also coordinates the Safe Routes to School effort, which works with 30 local schools to make it safer for students to walk and bike to class, and she said the area had been a problem for children walking to school.
“It was a zoo,” she said, adding that since the city put in a set of curb extensions at Quarantina and De la Guerra, the group hasn’t heard of any problems.
“Children deserve a stress-free route to school,” echoed Paula Perotte, who served as the area’s PTA district president from 2007 to 2009.
Wilson Hubbell, vice president of the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition and a retired transportation planner for the county, provided a voice for bicyclists traveling streets that have curb extensions. He said that if the bulb-outs had been detrimental to cyclists, an influx of accidents would have occurred.
“Quite frankly, that hasn’t happened,” he said.
The project has been in the pipeline for several years, but only recently has been appealed — a point not lost on David Pritchett, chairman of the city Transportation and Circulation Committee.
Pritchett called up the Pedestrian Master Plan, which calls on the city to improve traffic corridors as the opportunity arises, such as when a new project is put forward. He said the appeal “puts chaos in our planning process. It’s not good practice.”
One thing both sides are forced to agree on is the lack of data on the effectiveness — or lack thereof — of the extensions. The city is working on assembling traffic data on intersections that have had extensions put in, but until that is issued, both sides rely on anecdotal evidence.
An example of that Monday came from Dennis Thompson, of Thompson Naylor Architects on Philinda Avenue, who said the city put in a curb extension at Canon Perdido and Milpas near his office. Thompson said he would hear crashes frequently while working at his office before the installation.
“I haven’t heard a crash since,” he said.
The City Council meeting will begin at 2 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 735 Anacapa St.
— Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.