It appears an agreement is looming between feuding factions over hotly debated plans to construct a major east-west bike lane in downtown Santa Barbara. Thursday night the City of Santa Barbara’s Transportation and Circulation Committee (TCC) voted unanimously in favor of locating the bike lane on Sola Street as opposed to Micheltorena Street. A few months earlier, the TCC had voted in favor of a Micheltorena Street bike lane, so Thursday night’s vote marked a major change of position.
The Micheltorena Street plan — which would run bike lanes on both sides of the street from the Micheltorena Street Bridge to State Street — generated massive backlash from residents and business owners, who objected that the loss of 85 on-street parking spaces would impose significant hardships to a neighborhood already struggling to meet parking demand. Out of this discontent came forth an ad hoc neighborhood group known as the Micheltorena Neighborhood Association (MNA), which threatened to sue City Hall over the Micheltorena Street bike lane plan on the grounds that the environmental review was nonexistent. City Hall subsequently discovered that the Micheltorena Street plan could be far more expensive and time consuming than first estimated — not to mention vulnerable to legal attack; City Attorney Ariel Calonne put the brakes on council deliberations.
In the intervening time, members of the MNA have been negotiating with their counterparts in the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition, which had been championing the Micheltorena bike lane plan. The Bike Coalition argued that an east-west thoroughfare for bikes was an essential component in the city’s new Bicycle Master Plan, and crucial if City Hall hoped to encourage bicycle commuting.
Initially, the Sola Street alternative had been dismissed as infeasible because it would cost far more and take much longer than the Micheltorena proposal. With that equation effectively debunked — the Micheltorena Street plan could cost as much as $3 million as opposed to the $300,000 first estimated — the Bicycle Coalition began looking seriously a Sola Street alternative.
While a Memorandum of Understanding between the two groups remains at the close-but-no-cigar stage, it’s far more the former than the latter. Under any scenario, there will be a limited bike lane on the block of West Micheltorena Street between Castillo and Bath streets. At issue is whether it’s on both sides or just one. The MNA is pushing the latter; the city’s transportation committee — and the Bicycle Coalition as well — are pushing the former. The MNA proposal could be achieved at a cost of 15 parking spaces; the TCC’s at a cost of 25.
City transportation planners initially argued that the possibility for securing grant funding for the Sola Street alternative was poor to negligible. They have since reconsidered and now say the Sola Street plan affords stands an excellent shot at getting state transportation grant money.