A large crowd gathered in the evening of Tuesday, April 22, at the Santa Barbara Woman’s Club to attend a community meeting organized jointly by City and County planning staff to learn about conceptual plans for improving traffic flow and pedestrian and bicycle safety across historic Mission Creek bridge.
The meeting followed an earlier community workshop on October 29 of last year that was styled as a “listening session.” In the earlier workshop, City and County staff posed four questions to attendees: What’s important to you? What’s not working? What needs to be fixed? What needs to be left alone? Having carefully recorded the answers to these questions, City and County planners now presented a first conceptual plan for creating a continuous safe path for both pedestrians and bikes from the intersection of Laguna and Los Olivos Streets, along the Mission, and up along Mission Canyon Road all the way to Foothill.
In their presentation, the planners divided the issues to be resolved into two sets: problems with solutions that appeared to be more easily “doable” and might be attacked in the short to medium term, and other issues that presented greater challenges and might need to be wrestled with in a longer term plan.
The more “doable” set of solutions focused on creating a continuous pedestrian path and bike way on the west side of the corridor and envisions a new pedestrian bridge on the south side of the existing, historic stone bridge. The concept involves slight adjustments to two small portions of the old stone wall in that area and would also include some adjustments to the roadway that would improve safety not only for pedestrian and bikers but also for motorists.
The conceptual plan, presented in easy-to-understand and attractive graphics, would be sensitive to the important historical nature of the area and to its semirural character. It would also create full ADA accessibility in accordance with federal law. No design details for the execution of the proposed concept were presented. Decisions about such details would follow public acceptance of the scheme and approvals by existing historic landmarks and planning bodies of both County and City.
The second set of issues, judged to be more challenging and needing more extensive study and planning in the long term (and also being likely far more expensive to resolve) included a series of wishes expressed by members of the community, including a continuous pedestrian and bicycle path along the east side of the corridor, undergrounding of utilities, replacement of the existing pedestrian bridge that is not ADA accessible, removal of the unsightly sewer line across the creek on the east side of the bridge, dealing with dangerous intersections at Alameda Padre Serra and Mountain Drive, and others.
The workshop was attended by more than 90 interested community members, an unusually large turn-out for such meetings, and attendees posed many important and pertinent questions regarding the presented concepts. The planners asked the attendees to “vote” on the ideas presented by placing green (fully endorse), yellow (not ideal but possibly acceptable) and red (absolutely not) stickers on graphic panels representing individual elements of the concept plan. Remarkably, the “doable” set of concepts received an enthusiastic endorsement with all green dots save one single red dot! The issues judged by the planners as more problematic received mixed votes.
The April 22 workshop was a major step forward toward resolving problems of very long standing. Attempts to address traffic and safety issues in lower Mission Canyon and across Mission Creek Bridge go back many decades and have seen multiple efforts over the years. In 2011, a grassroots group, Concerned Citizens for Safe Passage, was formed, composed of individual and institutional land owners along the corridors, representatives of three neighborhood organizations (Mission Canyon, Upper East Side, and Riviera), representatives of organizations focused on historic preservation, and others.
This group has worked diligently to build a broad consensus regarding problems, needs, and priorities for individuals and organizations represented. Their work has added importance because the area in question is one of the historic cores of Santa Barbara, it is home to some of the city’s premier cultural and educational organizations, it is endowed with great scenic beauty and natural resources, and it is one of the City’s primary tourist attractions.
The diligent work of the Safe Passage group was noted by both the City and County (whose boundaries run through the area) and motivated the two governments to engage in an unusual collaboration. That collaboration, in turn, enabled the County in 2013 to apply for, and receive a $89,000 grant from CalTrans for preliminary design studies improvements in the traffic corridor. The April 22 workshop was in part organized in fulfillment of requirements by that grant. One more public workshop is planned later this spring or summer as well as joint meetings of the City and County Planning Commissions to review the concept plan.