Riders cruise along the new Cota Street bike path

Andie Bridges

Riders cruise along the new Cota Street bike path

Santa Barbara Gets First Protected Bike Lane

New East Cota Route Improves Travel for Commuters and Students

Cycling advocates are celebrating the first project completed from the list of improvements included in Santa Barbara’s Bike Master Plan. The new lane, running between Milpas and Chapala streets, allows residents to move more safely through what had been a dangerous area of the city for cyclists.

Separated from motor traffic by a series of plastic posts, the one-mile stretch is the first such lane in Santa Barbara. Although the posts are insubstantial against the weight of a vehicle, they act as a visual cue and a psychological buffer, helping drivers feel less nervous, and bicyclists feel safer. Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition Education Coordinator Christine Bourgeois said, “It provides a sense of protection for cyclists. It feels like two different roads where we don’t compete for space.”

A growing number of U.S. cities are using bollards, curbs, and cement planters to help create separate spaces for bikes and cars. A research study in Canada found that such lanes profoundly improve safety. The study showed that roads with painted bike lanes saw 50 percent fewer injuries than roads without bike lanes, and roads with protected lanes reduce injuries by 90 percent.

Santa Barbara Junior High School student Dakota Carberry has felt more comfortable on her daily commute since the lane went in. “Those posts make it feel safer, so that if a car breaks down it’s not going to just pull over and hit us,” she said.

SBJH Principal Lito Garcia says the lane has already increased the number of people biking in the area. “I think it’s a wonderful addition. It’s providing a safe route for our students and our community.”

Among the methods used to create lane separation, plastic posts are one of the most cost effective. The total cost for the Cota project was $30,000. “It’s not a big investment,” says Bourgeois, “but it changes the experience of riding in downtown Santa Barbara.”

While new infrastructure can enhance safety, it also requires local residents and businesses to adapt to changes in the environment. Creating the new lane meant removing over thirty curbside parking spaces. Alana Tillim of Santa Barbara Dance Arts says Cota Street businesses are feeling that reduction. She and other local owners plan to meet with the city to discuss the addition of parking lots or structures. “We are anxious to see what other possibilities come about from our discussion,” she said.

Addressing the complex and diverse needs of all residents will be key as the city works toward safer, more sustainable transportation.

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