Thursday, March 22 , 2018, 1:42 am | Light Rain 59º


Local News

Santa Barbara Residents, Officials Ponder Best Direction to Take to Improve Milpas Street Safety

With several options under consideration, residents still voice support for a traffic signal — which city engineers contend isn't necessary

Santa Barbara’s options for making Milpas Street a safer place for pedestrians were at the center of Thursday’s meeting of the city Transportation and Circulation Committee. About three dozen people gathered to listen to the board tackle the issue.

The potential changes come after 15-year-old Sergio Romero was struck by a speeding truck and killed while crossing Milpas at Ortega Street last October. Several public meetings have been held since his death, with overwhelming outcry for the city to install a traffic light to help pedestrians cross the thoroughfare.

But city traffic engineers have said a light isn’t needed in the area and could cause other types of crashes if installed. Traffic engineer Derrick Bailey presented several options Thursday for two Milpas intersections that don’t involve a full traffic signal, but could be effective in helping people cross safely.

At both Milpas and Ortega streets and Milpas and Yanonali streets, two options are possible.

One option would be to remove the marked crosswalks, which city staff say would most likely raise awareness of the pedestrians to cross the street with care, or encourage pedestrians to cross at other signalized intersections. Placing a median “refuge island” in the middle of the street with pedestrian activated lights was also an option. Bailey said this would allow pedestrians more time to cross the street, but would also reduce street parking or eliminate a lefthand turn lane.

At Milpas and Ortega streets, a third option is also on the table: restriping the road. Traffic volume on Milpas Street between Cota and Canon Perdido streets runs about 16,000 cars per day. With that volume, staff said it’s possible to eliminate a traffic lane in either direction between Cota and Canon Perdido, as well as the bus section of Milpas closer to Highway 101. This would shorten the distance for pedestrians, and could be supplemented with a median, curb extensions or pedestrian flashing lights.

Moving bus lanes near the intersections is also a possibility.

“There are some very important questions we need to talk about,” Bailey said.

Public comment brought out about 10 people, who all implored the committee to make changes on the street. Local police and city transportation leaders were in attendance, as well as Romero’s mother, Lupe.

A traffic signal remained the primary preference of those who spoke during the public comment period, and most said they didn’t feel moving bus stops in the area was a solution.

Eastside resident Rose Aldana said she had gathered 514 signatures of neighborhood residents supporting changes on the road.

“They do request pedestrian lights,” she said, adding that people in the area prefer to walk to stores, school and church. “We need to slow traffic down. Flashers in the middle of these streets are a good thing and help identify that there are pedestrians.”

Naomi Green, a resident of adjacent Alisos Street, encouraged planners to think of Milpas as a more cohesive corridor, like State Street, adding that a shuttle taking people up and down the street, as on State Street, could also work.

She said the city should consider the experience of pedestrians instead of just traffic efficiency on the road.

“It doesn’t seem to me that you care about people,” she said.

Sharon Byrne of the Milpas Community Association called the street “pedestrian-hostile” and encouraged city officials to think long term in their planning process for the street. She said removing the parking lanes as well as the ficus trees lining the street that sometimes obscure sight lines could be a start.

Several committee members conjured up the recent restriping on Cliff Drive. The lanes in that area were reduced, which many residents have said has improved the area for pedestrians and bikers.

Santa Barbara City Council liaison Cathy Murillo said that during the Cliff Drive discussion with Caltrans, which owns the road, the city was very limited with with the improvements it could make.

“It feels so good to know that we can do something on Milpas,” she said.

“If I had my way, I’d say let’s put signals in like everyone else,” committee member Keith Coffman-Grey said.

But now that the option isn’t feasible, he said he liked the idea of restriping and suggested curb extensions at Milpas and Ortega. As for the other intersection, he suggested the median with flashing lights but no curb extensions.

Committee chairman Ed France said the city was responding to tragedies on the road instead of acting proactively. He also encouraged the city to take on a more comprehensive planning effort in the area, similar to a previous study examining Upper State Street.

The committee agreed to do a site visit to the area to watch traffic flow and talk to people.

On Feb. 8, the issue will go before the Neighborhood Advisory Council. A joint Neighborhood Advisory Council meeting with the Transportation Circulation Committee is planned for March 22 to craft a recommendation to send to the City Council, which ultimately will decide what action to take.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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