Bridging the divide between cyclists and motorists in Santa Barbara

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Photo: Christa/Wikimedia Commons

Santa Barbara has a famous history of taking the lead on environmentally progressive issues. So you might think that passing a sweeping, cutting-edge bike master plan would be easy, right?

Not really.

There’s been friction within Santa Barbara City Council and among local residents about the Bicycle Master Plan, a collection of bike infrastructure improvement projects set to go into effect next year.

The last plan was created in 1998. Since then, daily bicycle commuting in the city has grown by 3 percent.

“The question is, what’s next?” asks Rob Dayton, Principal Transportation Planner of Santa Barbara. He’s currently working with the community and Melendrez, an urban planning firm based out of Los Angeles, to finalize the draft BMP and submit it to the City Council before or shortly after the new year.

Here is Santa Barbara’s existing bike network (click to enlarge):

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Source: Public Works Dept. of City of Santa Barbara (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Here is the draft proposal:

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Source: Public Works Dept. of City of Santa Barbara (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

As it stands now, the draft plan includes 28 proposed bikeway projects. Highlights include creating new crosstown routes on Haley Street and Cota Street, and new green-painted lanes on State Street to emphasize bike-only areas. Some community members are upset about the prospect of losing parking spaces to bike lanes and transforming certain streets into one-ways. Others believe the plan doesn’t go far enough to create a rich network of safe, accessible routes for bikers.

“This plan has unfortunately dropped some of the considerable public input,” says Ed France, Executive Director of the Santa Barbara Bike Coalition. He was one of about 2,000 people who submitted comments to the draft.

“Santa Barbara used to be a leader in bicycling. We’ve now been passed up by a lot of communities,” he said.

Although some routes were addressed, like Haley Street and Cota Street, other routes that received public support were dropped in the latest draft.

“The problem is, we only get one shot at this,” said France. “For the next 15 years, this is what we have. So if a gap in the network is not being addressed by this plan, it means it’s not going to get addressed.”

For Dayton, it comes down to alleviating traffic congestion.

“Anything we can do to get more people who want to cycle to feel comfortable and do that, so that people who do want to drive can do that without congestion in our city, that’s a quality of life thing that we all want,” said Dayton.

In his opinion, the crux of the issue comes down to an “us-against-them” mentality between cyclists and motorists. He’s witnessed this divide since he started working as the transportation planner 24 years ago.

“Cyclists and motorists need to see each other as benefits to both,” he thinks, before a comprehensive plan can be drafted and executed with support on both sides.

France uses himself as an example of a win-win.

“If we could go from 10 percent biking to 15 or 20 percent, not only are we helping alleviate traffic, but the tiny amount of parking that was converted to bicycle thoroughfare would actually be made up in the overall pool of parking because families like mine can become a single car household,” he said. “My wife and I can share one car because I can bike to work.”

Dayton plans to submit a finalized draft to City Council late this year or early 2016.