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Local News

Santa Barbara Council to Reconsider Requirement to Put In Bulb-Outs on Chapala Street

Not everyone agrees on the effectiveness and safety benefit of the curb extensions, with one business owner calling them 'simply inappropriate'

Whether you’re a pedestrian, a driver or a cyclist in downtown Santa Barbara, you probably have an opinion about “bulb-outs.” They’re the curb extensions that have popped up as many of the intersections around town have undergone improvements. But one resident and business owner says they’re ineffective, and she’s hoping she doesn’t see more being built outside her Chapala Street business.

Karen McFadden, owner of Santa Barbara Lights at 509 Chapala St., challenged the city when a remodel of the Verizon building at 101 Canon Perdido was approved late last year. Though McFadden said she loved the changes to the building, even calling them “a win-win for Santa Barbara,” she had a problem with one part of the plan that had nothing to do with the actual building. The project needed to comply with the area’s street design guidelines, which called for a curb extension to be placed on the corner.

The guidelines, which cover Chapala from Carrillo Street to where it dead-ends into Highway 101, call for curb and sidewalk bulb-outs to be added at each intersection. The city’s traffic planners say making pedestrians more visible to motorists is a key advantage of the extensions, as well as enforcing the paths of bicycles alongside vehicle traffic.

But the city has yet to issue official data on the effectiveness of curb extensions as a safety measure, and both sides have relied on anecdotal evidence to make their respective cases.

McFadden said that when she realized the curb extensions were going to be put in up and down the street, “I said enough is enough.” She appealed the decision, saying that further narrowing of the street was “simply inappropriate,” according to staff reports. Because she and her husband have been in the location for 13 years, and she lives on Chapala as well, walking to work everyday, she said she has a front-row seat to Chapala’s traffic issues.

“These bulb-outs have created chaos on our street,” she said.

The Chapala and Carrillo intersection gets 3,050 pedestrians a day, making it the fourth-busiest pedestrian intersection in the city, according to counts from the city’s pedestrian master plan.

“As a pedestrian, you’re more exposed,” McFadden said, adding that she doesn’t think cyclists are safe either. She recounts watching the new bulb-outs on Chapala and Gutierrez Street be unveiled. One of the first vehicles to go through the intersection to make the turn onto Chapala was a Santa Barbara MTD bus, which she says struggled and turned into the oncoming traffic lane.

The debate isn’t isolated to the Chapala area. Business leaders in the Milpas area contested bulb-outs that were part of a mixed-use project slated for Milpas and De la Guerra streets last year.

Councilman Dale Francisco and Councilwoman Michael Self also questioned the requirement, and McFadden’s appeal was withdrawn — on the condition that Public Works would postpone the curb extensions until the City Council could revisit the issue.

Last month, Francisco and Self formally asked that street design guidelines be changed so that curb and sidewalk bulb-outs wouldn’t be required at intersections.

Francisco told Noozhawk he would have brought up the issue eventually, even without the appeal, “but the Verizon building appeal made me realize that we could end up with an appeal for every remaining bulb-out proposed for Chapala Street.”

“Outside of the alternative-transportation activists and the smart-growth architects, the vast majority of people I’ve talked to oppose these things,” he said. “We have narrow streets that are already often difficult for delivery trucks, emergency vehicles and buses to navigate.”

Francisco said he also took issue with the staff report, which states that “there have been no traffic-related safety problems associated with these types of public improvements.” He called the statement “absurd,” and said Chapala Street is not only a major commercial thoroughfare, but that it’s also an emergency route for Fire Station 1 on Carrillo Street.

Curb extensions have a marked effect on larger vehicles, such as buses, moving down the Chapala Corridor.

“We have to work a little harder to make those turns,” said Sherrie Fisher, Santa Barbara MTD’s general manager, but that other than slowing buses down a bit, she said the agency hasn’t had any major problems with the bulb-outs. She said the agency favors any circulation improvements that increase safety for pedestrians as they board or disembark from the buses.

“Any time we’ve had concerns, (the city) has listened,” she said.

Three MTD stops exist between Haley Street and the bus depot on Chapala.

When the street improvements and bulb-outs were put in at the corner of Chapala and Gutierrez streets, which made turning north a notoriously tight turn, Fisher said the city did work with MTD and listened to its representatives’ concerns.

Ed France, executive director of the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition and Bici Centro, said the bulb-outs don’t impede cyclists. He said cyclists who ride safely don’t bike in and out of a row of parked cars.

“As a bicycle commuter of over a decade and a nationally accredited safe bicycling instructor, I can tell you, this whole controversy is much ado about nothing,” he told Noozhawk in an e-mail on Monday. “If these proposed curb extensions were blocking the right of way for bicyclists, we’d be the first ones out there to oppose them.”

He said he has yet to hear any rational, compelling reasons for why they shouldn’t be used, adding, “After all, don’t we want our roadways to be safe to walk, bike and drive in?”

Tuesday’s City Council meeting will begin at 2 p.m. at City Hall, 735 Anacapa St.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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