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Council OKs Study For Upper State Transit Lane

On 5-2 vote, Santa Barbara gives nod to analysis of possible special transit lane for buses and trolleys. Staff members estimate the cost to be between $200,000 and $500,000.

[Editor’s note: The Santa Barbara City Council has authorized staff to accept proposals for an Upper State Street transit lane study that officials estimate could cost as much as $500,000. An earlier version of the story below was incorrect.]

To the chagrin of some fiscal hawks, the Santa Barbara City Council voted 5-2 on Tuesday to move forward on a study — with an estimated price tag of up to $500,000 — for a special transit lane on Upper State Street that could one day accommodate buses or trolleys.

Specifically, the council authorized city staff to accept proposals from bidders who could conduct a study. Those bidders would include a cost estimate, but city staff has guessed the price tag will be between $200,000 and $500,000.

The idea for a transit study came out of a months-long discussion about the future of Upper State Street, which is becoming increasingly congested and developed. Even if a transit lane were deemed feasible, creating one could take up to a decade, officials say.

Dale Francisco
The two dissenters — Councilwoman Iya Falcone and newly elected Councilman Dale Francisco — shared a concern about spending so much money on a transit study when California is reeling from a budget crisis.

Falcone said the large size of the study is out of sync with the small size of Santa Barbara.

“I think this is killing an ant with an oak tree,” she said.

Francisco, who came to the defense of the automobile during his campaign last fall, voiced skepticism about the ability of mass transit to ease congestion.

“I would like to see, as part of the study, some empirical evidence from some city in America — it should be roughly our size — that says buses or light rail have reduced traffic congestion,” he said. “That the proposed project will actually do something about the problem it is meant to solve.”

On the other side of the debate, Mayor Marty Blum said she believes the study is a good way to begin planning for the distant future.

Blum said it took a visionary council to create the quaint look and feel that has come to characterize the downtown area, and called on the current council to take a similar “leap.”

“I was here when there were four lanes down State Street and it was not that wonderful a downtown,” she said. “It was not a beautiful place and people were parking on State Street. Now it’s an absolutely wonderful place.

Das Williams
Councilman Das Williams said an added transit lane would be a bonus for automobile drivers and bus riders alike, because neither would lose a lane.

The study, he added, has been proposed as an alternative to the status quo.

“The status quo ... all you have to do is drive up there to realize it doesn’t work very well,” he said.

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