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Santa Barbara, County Support Efforts to Redesign Mission Canyon Corridor

City, activists want to improve safety in the area for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers

Santa Barbara’s Mission Canyon corridor is the subject of proposed improvement plans for pedestrian, bicyclist and driver safety.
Santa Barbara’s Mission Canyon corridor is the subject of proposed improvement plans for pedestrian, bicyclist and driver safety.  (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara is known around the world as a picturesque paradise, but among locals the city is also known to be rich with geographical quirks.

There's the awkward intersection at State and De la Vina streets, where travelers need a a watchful eye to avoid collisions. There's the Castillo Street underpass, which is constantly crumbling from standing water in its unique spot below sea level. And there's Highway 101, which cuts through Santa Barbara and blocks many streets from direct ocean access.

But perhaps the most complex of all these locations is Santa Barbara's Mission Canyon, where just about everyone who has traveled through the area agrees that the paths are perilous for drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists.

"There is no place that is more difficult to do public improvements than this location," said Rob Dayton, Santa Barbara's Transportation Planning Manager, at a recent City Council meeting. "To do anything to change it, has been really hard."

The Santa Barbara City Council recently supported efforts for a dramatic transformation of the Mission Canyon area, in an attempt to improve safety for everyone traveling through the area.

The council voted to put the conceptual improvement plans on the city's list of capital improvement projects and county leaders did the same thing Tuesday, since part of the proposed project falls into the county's jurisdiction. The move means the county and city will try to find grant funding for the project.

The two entities will need to work together to pull off a community census on the controversial project.

There are no continuous pathways through the Mission Canyon area of Santa Barbara and proposed improvements hope to change that. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

The improvements were proposed by the Mission Heritage Trail Association and represents a diverse group of stakeholders that wants to improve pedestrian circulation in the Mission Canyon corridor. The project would be grant funded and would extend from the city intersection of Laguna and East Los Olivos streets to the intersection of Mission Canyon and Foothill roads in the county. 

At the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors meeting, multiple neighborhood associations and transportation groups supported the plans, saying it will improve access and safety for people living and visiting the area. 

In particular, people pointed out the poor pedestrian access to the Santa Barbara MissionSanta Barbara Museum of Natural History and schools in the area including Roosevelt Elementary School, Marymount of Santa Barbara and the Garden Street Academy. 

There are no continuous pedestrian or bicycle connections within the area, which makes walking and biking in the area difficult and hazardous for residents and visitors, according to a city staff report. 

Architect Fred Sweeney. representative of the Mission Heritage Trail Association, told the City Council he is concerned about the lack of Americans With Disabilities compliance. He identified himself as the former chairman of UCP Work Incorporated. He said 19 percent of the population has some form of disability and that they should be allowed to travel this area without "drawing attention to themselves."

Sweeney said it is important to keep the conversation going.

"I urge you to allow us to continue this dialog," Sweeney said at the City Council meeting. "This is a dialogue. This is not about shoving a plan down somebody's throat. We're here to talk as a community."

The project is expected to cost $2.7 million and another $631,500 to design. 

When the council voted 6-1 to put the project on its list of capital improvements, councilman Dale Francisco called the corridor "one of the most dangerous places to bicycle in Santa Barbara."

He supported moving forward, saying, "This is a very, very early stage of this idea. It has a long review process to go through. There will be ample opportunity for people interested in this project to have their say."

Councilman Frank Hotchkiss disagreed. He said he had strong concerns about the direction the city was headed and the way Francisco framed the move as just an "early" step.

"Let's be clear, this sets a course," Hotchkiss countered. "Now it's got to be an adjustment after this. The quirks of Santa Barbara are worth preserving."

Hotchkiss said he had concerns about the stone walls being moved to create more room for pedestrians and cars. 

"I am just not comfortable with it," Hotchkiss said. "Both sides have said they want to keep the ambience of the area. This certainly is a problem, god knows,  but I don't think we have the right solution here."

The city determined that there are six themes that must be preserved through any changes to Mission Canyon: history, view and aesthetics, ecological resources, destinations and connectivity. Conversely, the city believes there are at least five problematic areas that need to be improved, including automobile safety at intersections, pedestrian and bicyclist passages, and sign and utility pole clutter. 

A public workshop also concluded that the Mission Canyon Historic Bridge, iconic stone walls, historic, archaeological and ecological resources and the area's rural quality should be maintained. 

The proposal is still only a conceptual plan, but overall, the city wants to connect Foothill Road, the Museum of Natural History and the Santa Barbara Mission for pedestrians, while improving safety for automobiles and bicyclists traveling on those paths. There will be more public input, environmental review and design work before the proposals move forward. 

Some people don't want the area changed.

"Not every problem needs to be solved and not every problem can be solved. And not every problem is a problem. I don't think this is a problem," said Rich Untermann, a Santa Barbara resident who said he rides his bike through the area regularly. 

Untermann objected to a idea to widening the road and making other changes, saying the city should "preserve the history." 

"If you widen that road, people are going to go faster," Untermann said. "Reduce the speed limit. Reduce the speed limit. Reduce the speed limit. Put up stop signs."

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina 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.

The Santa Barbara Mission, shown here, and Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History are some of the tourist destinations in the Mission Canyon corridor. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

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