Cliff Drive is getting a makeover, thanks to an overwhelming show of Mesa residents who appeared Tuesday evening in front of the Santa Barbara City Council.
The council unanimously approved changes to the now four-lane road, which will be restriped to two lanes of traffic, a center turn lane and two bike lanes, with a speed limit reduction to 35 miles per hour from 40 mph.
The changes would span Cliff Drive only from Loma Alta to Meigs Road, where 106 reported collisions have occurred in the past 10 years.
Caltrans, which owns Cliff Drive, also known as Highway 225, has signaled a willingness to work with the city on the road. Last week, a letter was sent from officials at the agency to Mayor Helene Schneider, saying the agency would work with the city to restripe the road.
Nearly 40 people spoke Tuesday in favor of the changes, some with horror stories about the road. Resident Mark Griffith said two people were killed in front of his home in a motorcycle accident.
“I lay in bed at night and listen as people drive by at 80 miles an hour,” he said, adding that he got to know his neighbors as they would respond to accidents outside their homes. “I urge you to vote for this project.”
Christi King, another Mesa resident, said she was lucky to be alive after she was hit in her car at 50 mph by another car traveling on Cliff Drive.
“This seems to me a pretty straightforward opportunity,” she said. “This is an issue of public safety.”
Mesa resident Dennis Thompson is a member of the Mesa Architects group, which has volunteered to come up with improvements for the area, and conduct public meetings and outreach.
“Everyone on the Mesa agrees that Cliff Drive could be made safer and more attractive,” he said.
Browning Allen, the transportation, streets and parking manager for the City of Santa Barbara, said Tuesday that a traffic study will be done to ensure there won’t be an increase in congestion. That section of Cliff Drive gets about 15,000 traffic trips a day, which Allen said is similar to Modoc and Coast Village roads in terms of traffic volume, both of which have only two lanes and a turning lane.
Six people spoke out Tuesday against the changes. Janet Evans said that narrowing the road would hinder safety, using the Painted Cave Fire as an example.
“Cliff Drive is the only way in and out,” she said, adding that the Office of Emergency Services should be consulted on the project.
Councilwoman Michael Self commended the group, saying, “I know what it’s like to come before a council to advocate passionately for your neighborhood.”
Of the speeding that takes place, she said, “I love my car. … That doesn’t mean I would expect anybody to abuse our rules.” She added that she would want to check back in and see how the restriping is working. Allen said the city will evaluate the collision history under the improvements in three years.
Councilman Randy Rowse, a Mesa resident, also signed off on the changes.
“This kind of correction is something I’ve wondered about for three decades,” he said, adding that he was almost hit while driving on Cliff Drive to Tuesday’s council meeting. “I realized that a left-hand turn lane could solve all of those problems.”
Schneider commended Caltrans for working with the city, and the council for working together.
“We should mark the date and time where this particular council is about to vote 7-0 on something related to traffic,” she said jokingly, to applause from the audience.