Sunday, May 27 , 2018, 7:38 am | Fair 52º


Local News

Santa Barbara Council Tinkers with Nuts, Bolts of Transit Planning

From congestion to alternative transportation, city leaders weigh in on the General Plan update process

Having already begun a lengthy discussion about the city of Santa Barbara’s General Plan update process at an earlier meeting Tuesday, the City Council focused during an evening session on the transportation elements associated with the city’s planning process.

Having opted to compromise with a hybrid of project alternatives, council members and staff turned their attention toward several specific areas of transportation planning. Included in the colloquy were future vehicular traffic congestion, pricing on-street parking, alternative forms of transportation and part of a Travel Demand Management (TDM) program designed to keep regional congestion at a reasonable level.

“We don’t know all the answers; we’re setting courses in directions we want to go,” said Councilman Grant House, who pushed an adaptive management strategy after hearing the staff’s tentative transportation plan from Rob Dayton, the city’s principal transportation planner. “In reality, the adaptive management approach is what we do anyway — we’re just formalizing it.”

But in Santa Barbara, old ideological battles about transportation options die hard. The council was divided roughly in half regarding attitudes toward automobiles, with Councilmen Dale Francisco and Frank Hotchkiss and Councilwoman Michael Self defending staunchly the role of the automobile in the city’s transportation reality.

“Most of us got here by car, and wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the availability of the car,” Self said, offering that no job she has held could ever have been done successfully without the “privacy and convenience” of owning and driving an automobile.

Suggesting that people discouraged from using their cars would no longer possess the will to shop and help support the city’s economy, Self was backed handily by Hotchkiss, and to some extent Francisco, who said that short of instituting a totalitarian society, there is no way to force people not to use cars. Self also made a foray into the debate around traffic-calming devices, offering that the curb extensions and mini roundabouts installed in several of the city’s intersections had only made matters worse.

House urged caution in crafting the city’s transportation plan, offering that vehicular traffic could increase drastically if and when the economy makes a turnaround.

But one of the main points brought up was role-played by employee vs. customer parking in the downtown corridor. Having the option to park for free for 75 to 90 minutes (depending upon the zone), many downtown employees engage in the 75-minute (or 90-minute) shuffle throughout the workday.

“We have priced parking on the street,” Mayor Helene Schneider said, touting the city’s past accomplishments in the arena of improved parking management — namely The Granada parking structure and the Highway 101 widening project under way between the Milpas and Hot Springs exits. “If you’re there more than 90 minutes, it costs $45. If there’s a kiosk out there, you get a big discount after 90 minutes.”

Reaching a point of contention over the number of parking spaces allowed for new construction downtown, Francisco and Councilman Das Williams reached what Schneider called a “Kumbaya moment” on the issue, agreeing that it will require nuance and some flexibility as it applies to different areas of the city. Before the accord was reached, Williams had been ready to vote against the plan in the face of multiple spaces per unit on new construction.

Spokespeople from organizations such as the Community Environmental Council, the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition and the Coalition for Sustainable Transportation (COAST) called for better support from the city for alternative forms of transportation, such as bicycling and riding mass transit.

But Randy Rowse, vice president of Santa Barbara’s Downtown Organization, called for a much more accurate and in-depth census regarding the city’s parking and congestion issues.

Noozhawk staff writer Ben Preston can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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