Wednesday, February 21 , 2018, 4:18 am | Fair 42º


Letter to the Editor: I-5 Closure Should be a Local Wakeup Call for Traffic Relief

Reality butts heads with fantasy.

A wake-up call in the form of the area-wide transportation gridlock happened on the South Coast on Oct. 15. If you were in western Goleta and tried to get to downtown Santa Barbara using Hollister Avenue, it took a minimum of two hours. Using Outer State Street for work-related trips in Santa Barbara was a joke. As predicted Santa Barbara’s roundabouts broke down under the vehicle load.

Southern California has not experienced the weather conditions that closed Interstate 5 for at least eight years. Diversion of commercial and personal traffic headed to Southern California on Highway 101 is historic.

The effect on surface streets throughout Santa Barbara County focused with clarity on the absolute need for main arterial streets to have capacity and flow for emergency conditions. Foothill Road, Carpinteria Avenue, Hollister Avenue, State Street, Las Positas Road and Modoc Road were almost at a standstill for hours. A five-minute trip took a half-hour or more. Buses and alternative transportation were equally affected.

Experiencing this gridlock, is there any question why narrowing intersections and destroying street capacity — traffic flow — should stop?

The I-5 shutdown was not local, but an El Niño storm could produce the same conditions here. For 18 years, Cars Are Basic has warned mayors, supervisors and government agencies that the narrowing of primary arterial streets and collateral circulation is bad planning. Projecting the “lowest” average use to justify destruction of vehicle flow is dangerous and ignores emergency response. Policies hostile to car use throughout the area depend on such projections.

Carpinteria, Goleta and Santa Barbara have all encouraged tourism and promoted housing density, with the outcome of increased car use. They then complain about the cars on the streets. An achingly slow five-year economic recovery sees more congestion magnifying the official disconnect of reality versus policy.

CAB has warned past city councils of the inevitable outcomes: congestion. We question spending millions of dollars for the Santa Claus bike path next to the freeway saving no more than a half-block in travel. Millions for a roundabout at the dead end of Cliff Drive and Las Positas Road is more of this type of planning. Approving dangerous roundabouts where pedestrians-bikes are used makes little sense.

Street and road design must include emergency and expanded use needs of a growing community, not ignore them. Goleta bulls ahead over voter objections to narrowing Hollister Avenue in Old Town. Santa Barbara refuses to see the need of keeping Cabrillo Boulevard or Cliff Drive open in light of the recent I-5-generated traffic nightmare.

It is time for rational traffic policies acknowledging serious emergency needs and a growing population.

On behalf of the CAB board.

Scott Wenz
President, CAB
Santa Barbara

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