If any urban planning project in Santa Barbara has garnered residents’ attention, ingenuity and ire over the past year, it is the drafting of the Bicycle Master Plan, the document outlining how to fill in and update the city’s patchwork of bike paths.
As simple as painting a bike lane on pavement may seem, the volume of traffic, the amount of parking on the street, and the residences and businesses lining it — along with the neighborhood’s collective values — all determine what type of bikeway can be implemented and what effects it will have.
To date, the effort to establish the best route for the so-called east–west connection — which will join Santa Barbara’s Eastside and Westside neighborhoods — has received by far the most attention from the city and residents.
But the proposed bike boulevard for the Westside will also change up how cyclists — and the drivers they share the road with — will travel through that neighborhood.
The leading option for a bike boulevard there is Chino Street, to run between West Carrillo and West Mission streets. Bike boulevards are also proposed for Alisos and Cacique streets on the Eastside.
Bike boulevards aren’t typical bicyce lanes — in fact, they’re not lanes at all. On these bikeways, cyclists share the road with automobile traffic, with signage and stenciling pointing this out.
The boulevards are only feasible on low-volume streets, and the bikeways’ chief mechanism for ensuring this are diverters that are placed every so many blocks. The diverters redirect motor vehicles down a perpendicular street but allow bikes to continue through.
Diverters tend to be low-to-the-ground medians, often with signs directing the bikes and cars.
An attractive feature of this set-up is that parking is typically preserved; the installation of a bike lane often requires the removal of spaces — not an easy pill to swallow in a city with an often-saturated parking environment.
The Westside bike boulevard is meant to be an alternative to a one-way bike-lane couplet, which would have one direction on Chino and the other on San Andres Street, which is one block east.
The boulevard can redirect excess traffic to San Andres, which already sees a high volume of cars.
Due to all the effects a new or altered bikeway can have on a neighborhood, the city has undertaken public engagement and informational events to gauge the public’s feelings on the proposals it has developed.
The Westside Community Group hosted a city presentation on the Bicycle Master Plan last year.
On April 25, the group hosted another discussion and Q&A meeting on the bike boulevard proposal with the city’s principal transportation planner, Rob Dayton, and associate transportation planner Peter Brown.
Dayton told Noozhawk that the meeting had attracted roughly 40-50 people, who, for the most part, appeared open to the Chino option.
Susan Lafond, a principal organizer for the Westside Community Group and a member of the Neighborhood Advisory Council, told Noozhawk that no one appeared to leave the meeting with a particularly strong feeling against the Chino bike boulevard. She also said she did not hear anyone voice dissatisfaction with the Bicycle Master Plan.
Lafond said the Westside Community Group is a neutral organization that doesn’t take stances on the plan and its proposals, or other city issues. Its goal with the bike plan, she said, is to educate residents.
The bike boulevard proposal is not without its Westside critics, however.
One resident, Catherine Bastug, has been working to round up neighborhood opposition to the Chino Street option, asking residents to forward their concerns to the city.
She has sent lengthy emails to various city officials and local news organizations, including Noozhawk, outlining her objections to the “hotly contested” Chino option.
One of her primary objections is what she’s said is an unfair public engagement effort that has largely ignored her neighborhood’s concerns and input.
Placing a bike boulevard on Gillespie Street, an alternative to Chino one street to the west, she wrote, would make for a safer bike route for kids headed to and from Harding University Partnership School and La Cumbre Junior High School, which abut Gillespie.
Bastug also asserted that Chino would require more taxpayer dollars than Gillespie — a claim Dayton says is not accurate.
One email shared with Noozhawk featured photos of 15 surveys Bastug had sent to Chino residents in which the residents express the same concerns.
Bastug did not return Noozhawk emails requesting comment.
Dayton said Chino Street sees a relatively high amount of cut-through traffic, meaning motorists use it as a shortcut to their destination to avoid higher-traffic streets like San Andres. The effects this has on cyclists, he added, is a valid concern.
About 1,000 to 1,200 vehicles a day is the ideal volume for bike boulevard streets, he said.
The potential danger to cyclists of residents backing out of their driveways, however, hasn’t turned out to be an issue in other bike boulevards around the city, Dayton said, since cyclists are traveling in the middle of the street instead of down bike lanes that are off to the side.
A primary reason Gillespie is generally considered a Plan B by city transportation staff is that it’s one block further from San Andres than Chino and doesn’t connect to Carrillo, potentially increasing Chino’s traffic load, Dayton said.
If Westsiders aren’t comfortable with Chino, he said, then he’d advise against the City Council choosing one of the two options when the Draft Bicycle Master Plan goes before it June 14.
The differences between the two options are ultimately small enough to the State of California that a grant application can be written as effectively for one as it can for the other.
If grant funding can be secured for a Westside bike boulevard, however, city staff will begin designs and undertake a “more focused” public process, Dayton said. The neighborhood will have further opportunities to provide input under such parameters.
For some months now, debate over the Bike Plan has focused on the controversial east–west connection that originally was proposed to go down West Micheltorena Street between San Andres and State streets. That proposal would require the removal of nearly 100 on-street parking places in the already parking-starved neighborhood.
Although the City Council gave the thumbs up for it after several hours of heated public disagreement, the council ultimately directed staff to get more input from the public, the city’s Transportation & Circulation Committee and the Planning Commission.
The result was a list of 12 possible alternatives, with the favorites being Sola Street-oriented options requiring minimal parking removal.