The Milpas Street corridor has one of the highest number of pedestrian-involved vehicle collisions in Santa Barbara. The crowded street corners and narrow sidewalks have led to a history of crashes in the Lower Riviera neighborhood.
As part of the city’s Vision Zero strategy to reduce traffic fatalities, the Public Works Department held a virtual public meeting last week to share designs and review the timeline for the Milpas Street Crosswalk Safety and Sidewalk Widening project.
“The city has their ideas of what needs to be improved, according to state regulations, but it’s different when you actually get community input,” she said.
“They’re actually driving on that street, or even walking day to day.”
The Milpas Street project includes new curb extensions, new lighting and flashing beacons at crosswalks.
Three-foot-wide buffers will be added to the existing bike lanes between East Cota and East Canon Perdido streets to improve safety for cyclists along those three blocks.
At Wednesday’s meeting to share the preliminary designs, associate transportation planner Michelle Bedard said accessibility improvements will include push buttons, access ramp and curb extensions to limit pedestrian exposure in the street.
Additional street lights will be added at all intersections, according to Bedard, and the city will add bicycle parking along the corridor.
Bedard also said the city plans to remove the ficus trees along North Milpas Street and the city will work closely with the city arborist and technical consultants to determine what new trees should go in.
Gutierrez said the area needs better and wider sidewalks due to how much foot traffic there is along Milpas Street.
“The sidewalks have not been maintained,” she said. “A lot of them are lifted because of the big trees, and we have a lot of children who walk to school.
“We have grandmas who take care of the children, moms with strollers. So it’s been a big issue.”
Gutierrez said her council District 1 is a working-class district with lots of movement and the dangerous conditions make it harder for residents to go where they need to.
“For me, it’s really, really important to the safety of our families, our children, our youth and our elderly,” she said.
“This is a need that’s been long overdue. It’s been a struggle since I can remember.”
In 2011, 15-year-old Sergio Romero was hit and killed by a work truck while walking in the crosswalk at the intersection of Milpas and East Ortega streets.
The following year, residents marched from where the San Marcos High School student was killed to a joint meeting of the Neighborhood Advisory Council and the Transportation and Circulation Committee to advocate for neighborhood safety.
Some of the suggestions from that process, like flashing light beacons for crosswalks, are among the ideas in the current safety improvement plan.
In 2022, the city received an $8 million grant for the project design and construction.
During Wednesday’s webinar for public input, a community member expressed concern that the removal of the ficus trees would limit the amount of shade on Milpas Street and that new trees would not look good in the area.
Jessica Grant, supervising transportation planner, said the city staff members don’t yet know how many trees will be taken out or what they will be replaced with, but that they do realize shade is important to the walking conditions.
Click here for the conceptual designs for Milpas Street.
City engineer Derrick Bailey said the plans are not final and the city is willing to re-evaluate certain aspects of the study to address community concerns.
An in-person meeting to go over the conceptual designs will be held from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Oct. 18 at the Franklin Neighborhood Center, 1136 E. Montecito St.
Residents can ask questions and share input on the project plans.
From now until spring 2025, the project will go through the design phase, environmental review, community meetings, and review from city boards and commissions.
Final design and construction is scheduled for mid-2025 through fall 2028.