Hundreds of cyclists flooded the streets last year during the annual Fiesta Bike Ride, which is expected to roll through the South Coast again Sunday. The event drew an estimated 800 people a year ago, and even more are expected this time.
The alcohol-fueled, 30-mile ride has been a tradition for more than 30 years, but rankles some because of its low-key organization. The decentralized event has no clear leader, and although local officials say the event technically needs a special-event permit to operate, enforcement of the ride has been difficult.
The ride begins at noon at State Street and Cabrillo Boulevard near the Dolphin Fountain at the foot of Stearns Wharf and winds its way through Santa Barbara and Goleta, eventually ending up in Ellwood. Click here for a map of this year’s ride.
Last year, Santa Barbara police Sgt. Lorenzo Duarte told Noozhawk that dispatchers received more than 90 calls about the cyclists during the two hours of the ride. Duarte said he wasn’t aware of any injuries at the time.
One of those callers was resident Ellen Parton, who was stopped in her vehicle at the intersection of Las Positas Road and State Street while the bikers rode through red lights.
“There were hundreds of them with none obeying any traffic laws,” she wrote in an email to Noozhawk. “When I called the police, I was told there was nothing they could do about it.”
Parton said that if the police won’t do anything to stop the event, then residents should be notified so they can avoid driving on or attempting to cross State Street during the ride.
“Someone is going to get hurt,” she said. “It’s just a matter of time.”
This video, taken in Isla Vista at 2009’s ride, depicts California Highway Patrol cars intervening.
“Don’t wreck this for everybody. Just get out of the road,” an officer says over the loudspeaker in his patrol car. Cyclists complain that the patrol cars are in the bike lane, and bystanders chant “Go away!” at the officers.
Santa Barbara police Sgt. Riley Harwood said the event is unlawful, and that by going through the permit process, police could make the event safer for everyone, by providing escorts in the area to help with traffic.
“The participants don’t want anything to do with that,” he said. “It concerns us each year.”
Harwood said police will be monitoring the activity and posting officers at key locations along the route within city limits, but SBPD resources will already be spread thin with Sunday’s — permitted — Old Spanish Days Fiesta events and activities.
“People have to understand we’re having to look at all of Fiesta,” he said, adding that the city spends $425,000 to police the five days of Fiesta.
— Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.