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Local News

Community Cycles Through Options for Update to Santa Barbara’s Bicycle Master Plan

Eleven alternatives are on the table for a route that would connect the west and east sides of the city, with the proposal for West Micheltorena Street at the forefront

Local residents gather into small groups to discuss the alternatives for updating Santa Barbara’s bicycle master plan during a Community Listening Workshop and Open House held Tuesday evening at Trinity Episcopal Church.
Local residents gather into small groups to discuss the alternatives for updating Santa Barbara’s bicycle master plan during a Community Listening Workshop and Open House held Tuesday evening at Trinity Episcopal Church. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk)

It was back to basics Tuesday evening for the “east-west gap” update to Santa Barbara's bicycle master plan.

In a Community Listening Workshop and Open House held at Trinity Episcopal Church on State Street, city officials reviewed the 11 options on the table for the creation of a bike route connecting the west side of the city to the east before answering questions and having attendees break up into small-group discussions.

“We want to make sure that everyone shares all the information we have,” City Councilman Gregg Hart said at the outset of the meeting. “We want to know what you think about this, the ideas that you have about this that you bring to this conversation, and really take the time tonight to get everything on the table. We are all here to do this right this time — this process.”

The hearing addressed what is by far the most controversial project of the master plan update: a lane proposed for four blocks of West Micheltorena Street.

The hour-long review of the alternatives was led chiefly by Rob Dayton, principal transportation planner for the City of Santa Barbara.

The West Micheltorena Street lane was chosen, he said, because its bridge over Highway 101 is the only one that crosses the freeway without leading cyclists past on-ramps or over a steep hill.

Using slides with satellite images of the area, Dayton explained that several of the alternatives would primarily utilize Micheltorena. The options differ over how much the intersections would be widened, how many parking spaces could be restored and whether traffic signals would be installed.

Given the infrastructure changes that would be necessary, most of the options carry a price tag between $1 million and $3 million, according to Dayton.

A couple of the alternatives call for utilizing Arrellaga Street for one direction of bike traffic and Micheltorena for the other.

To fund the eventual chosen option, city officials plan to apply for state-offered grants. The State of California, Dayton said, wants to provide its bicycle- and pedestrian-oriented grants to projects that result in considerable expansion of bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

That is why, he explained, the popular option to send the lane down Sola Street isn’t likely to attract consideration from grant-makers. The only Sola Street option that would stand a decent chance of receiving a grant, according to Dayton, is a more expensive version that would extend the lane east across State Street for several additional blocks.

Attendees’ restlessness was nearly palpable throughout the overview, and the questions Dayton had been trying to hold back until the subsequent Q&A session poured forth when he opened the hearing to them.

Many attendees inquired about the rationale behind adding traffic lights, which primarily would be for safety reasons, and about the uncertain funding plan, which would depend on the option chosen, according to Dayton.

A massive turnout at a February City Council meeting generated five hours of discussion and debate that resulted in a 5-2 vote in favor of adding the West Micheltorena Street lane. Opposition to the decision was so fierce that the City Council decided to put the project on hold and send it to the Transportation and Circulation Committee later this month and the Planning Commission early next month.

Many of those boards’ members were in attendance Tuesday evening to observe the public’s response to the options.

The update to the bicycle master plan was originally drawn up by city planners and the Los Angeles-based planning and design firm Meléndrez, which cost the city $219,000.

One of the criticisms the Micheltorena route faces is the council's decision to decline paying for a review that would examine the project’s impact on the environment. City staff had concluded that the project could be exempt from further environmental review.

However, much of the disagreement over the Micheltorena option stems from competing community values and priorities. Businesses in the area worry that the removal of so much parking would make it harder for customers to make it to their establishments and potentially hurt their commerce.

Many residents who rely on on-street parking object to how the option would force them to find spots farther afield in an already saturated parking environment, which could potentially lead to unsafe walks at night between their cars and homes.

Supporters, however, have insisted that the route would provide cyclists with the respect and recognition they and their mode of transportation deserve, and would increase safety with the addition of a clearly demarcated lane.

Despite all the attention the east-west project has received, the updates to the plan include numerous other projects unanimously approved by the council, including painting green lanes on State and Haley streets. In total, the projects are estimated to cost about $50 million.

According to Dayton, about 6 percent of Santa Barbara residents commute to work by bicycle. In a few areas, he said, the number is as high as 20 percent.

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman 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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