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Santa Barbara’s Sign Plan for Parking, Pedestrians Finds Its Way to Approval

After debate about colors, council votes to begin 3-phase project to add 300 directional signs around downtown, waterfront

The City of Santa Barbara initially proposed brown signs to direct visitors around the downtown area, green ones for the city at large and blue signs along the waterfront. In the end, the City Council went with blue for all of the signs.
The City of Santa Barbara initially proposed brown signs to direct visitors around the downtown area, green ones for the city at large and blue signs along the waterfront. In the end, the City Council went with blue for all of the signs. (City of Santa Barbara file photo)

In a sign of things to come, the Santa Barbara City Council has signed off on a plan to install dozens of new signs around the city to help pedestrians find their way and motorists find their parking lots.

The council has agreed to spend about $200,000 on the new signs — the first of a three-phase process to install 293 signs in the El Pueblo Viejo District downtown and along the waterfront. The project will cost a total of $723,925 when it’s all said and done.

The City of Santa Barbara has hired Pasadena-based consultant Hunt Design, an “expert in municipal wayfinding,” according to Browning Allen, the city’s transportation manager.

“The idea ... is to help out-of-town visitors get to all of your wonderful destinations in the downtown area,” said Jennifer Bressler, principal at Hunt Design. “We wanted to turn drivers into walkers and walkers into shoppers.”

Much of the discussion at last Tuesday’s council meeting, where the project was approved on a 7-0 vote, centered on whether to paint the parking signs blue or green.

The Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Parking Committee strongly advocated for the blue signs, while Allen countered that there is no international standard for parking signs.

Hunt Design, the city’s Sign Committee and the Historic Landmarks Commission backed green signs.

“Our staff did a search and they found all kinds of different colors,” Allen said. “We found blue. We found green. I found red. We found yellow backgrounds. There’s not an industry standard.”

But members of the business community and transportation activists said blue parking signs make logical sense.

“Just because there are exceptions doesn’t mean there aren’t standards,” said Ed France, a member of the city’s downtown parking committee and executive director of the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition.

“There is a generally understood standard that parking signs are blue. The contrast is better. This is a very important program.”

France said the city should not design the signs based on looks alone.

“The process understandably has skewed heavily under aesthetic considerations,” he said. “But the content matters. Getting people to downtown parking garages, it will function better if it is blue.”

Ken Oplinger, the chamber’s president and CEO, agreed.

“We certainly agree that there is no international requirement, but there are certainly international standards when it comes to colors,” he said. “Green signs are for directional. Blue signs are for motorist services. Blue parking signs are the standard.

“Frankly, when it comes to being able to see them from a car, it is easier ... to have a blue that will stand out.”

The council members also believed that blue is best, and went with that choice.

Councilman Randy Rowse, owner of The Paradise Café at 702 Anacapa St., said he hopes the new parking signs will be easy to read.

“My criticism of the parking system has always been that, unless you know exactly where the lots are, it’s hard to find your way there by signage,” he said. “If  you are not doing 15 mph and have 20/20 vision, it may be an issue.”

While the city plans to replace existing parking signs with new blue ones, the new pedestrian signs will all be new.

“There will feel like there are more signs,”​ Bressler said. “There are no pedestrian signs currently.”

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.

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