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Sunday, December 16 , 2018, 1:35 am | Fair 45º


Letter to the Editor: Could Santa Barbara Become the Bike Capital of the Nation?

Bicycle commuting reduces greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution and traffic congestion and improves quality of life, public health and recreation.

Bike-friendly cities both provide an affordable transportation option for young people and those who can’t afford the costs of driving and create fun, vibrant and livable neighborhoods and safer streets for everyone. 

Many cities are working hard to make biking more attractive to residents and visitors because of these multiple benefits.

Higher bike rates are also correlated with economic health and job creation. For instance, you find dynamic cities like cities like Palo Alto, Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, Madison, Fort Collins and Boulder rank in the top 20 for both bike commuting and economic health.

A healthy, outdoor lifestyle, tourism, local colleges and universities and lots of tech jobs tend to go together.

Lucky for us, the Santa Barbara area is perfect for biking with its year-round mild weather and sunny skies, a relatively compact downtown, stunningly scenic bike paths and abundance of casual office environments where one can transition easily from bike to desk.

It already is a good place for biking. It could be a great place.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey ranks cities by bike commute rates. In 2006 Santa Barbara was ranked No. 6. In 2014, it fell to No. 10.  Here’s that list and bike commute percentages.

1. Davis, California 23.2 percent

2. Berkeley, California 9.7 percent

3. Boulder, Colorado 8.9 percent

4. Somerville, Massachusetts 7.4 percent

5. Cambridge, Massachusetts 7.4 percent

6. Palo Alto, California 7.3 percent

7. Portland, Oregon 7.2 percent

8. Eugene, Oregon 6.8 percent

9. Fort Collins, Colorado 6.2 percent

10. Santa Barbara, California 6.1 percent

In recent years Santa Barbara has fallen behind cities like Fort Collins, Portland and Eugene, which all have robust bike policies and improved bike networks. However, with the recent vote by the City Council in favor of the Santa Barbara Bicycle Master Plan, Santa Barbara is on track to set an ambitious goal of 15 percent bike commuters by 2030.

According to the metrics above, that would move Santa Barbara into the remarkable No. 2 position in the country and make it a truly world-class bike city.

It’s not an easy accomplishment. There is only so much room on city streets, and making room for bikes can mean trade-offs.

For instance, a key cross-town bike path on Micheltorena faced opposition from area residents due to the need to eliminate on-street parking. However, other alternatives would have been harder for bikers to find and possibly impossible to fund.

That part — funding — is the trickiest part given limited money for infrastructure projects. Santa Barbara plans to pursue grants to achieve its full bike plan objectives.

Not every municipality in the area has stepped up to the same degree. Goleta, for instance, has failed to prioritize biking and make needed projects happen, though the County may share some of the blame.

Payments made by the developer of the Camino Real shopping center for a bike and pedestrian path over the 101 were re-appropriated by the County to fund other things.

Additional developments in the Hollister and Storke area have just made the problem worse. We can, however, hope that improvements are on the horizon as Goleta is currently working on its own bike plan.

The vision of a bike-friendly region is a goal worth pursuing. Over the past 10 years there have been 1,051 bicycle-involved collisions in the city of Santa Barbara. This is unfortunate and unnecessary. 

It is also a gender issue. In bike-friendly Germany and the Netherlands men and women bike at similar rates, but in the United States 75 percent of bike trips are made by men, and the number one reason cited by women as to why they don’t bike is safety.

Santa Barbara’s Bike Plan aims to eliminate those collisions and make biking safer for everyone.

Increased biking is also one of the most effective and immediate ways to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, as we need to do to meet the goals of our Climate Action Plan.

Bike paths, public transportation, a charging infrastructure for electric cars, green building codes and a move to clean energy are ingredients of the cleaner, greener cities of the future.

Thanks to the city leaders, bike advocates and others who are working toward the common goal, that audacious vision could become a reality. 

Katie Davis

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