Ana Rico on the all new Cacique bicycle and pedestrian bridge.
News Commentary: Ribbon Cutting Is Not As Easy As It Looks
New Eastside Bridge Culminates Years of Struggle
Friday, May 25, 2018
I’m a sucker for a new bridge ribbon-cutting ceremony. I’m not sure why. I’m not a public works junkie, nor do I get off uttering the word “infrastructure.” But new bridge openings — like this week’s celebration at Cacique and Soledad streets on Santa Barbara’s Eastside — convey a tingle that things can still get done. Despite appearances to the contrary, they remind us that entropy, friction, and inertia didn’t manage to kill us all in the cradle when we were looking the other way.
When I showed up — a few minutes late — City Councilmember Jason Dominguez was wrapping up his remarks. The old bridge had been a rickety, bumpy, jarring wood-plank footpath and bikeway — only four feet wide — that spanned Sycamore Creek. It was buttressed on both sides by wooden railings that looked like they’d collapse if you looked at them crosswise. When I’d ride my bike over the old bridge, I always half expected some troll to rear up from underneath and challenge me to a fight, staff to staff, like something out of Robin Hood.
City of Santa Barbara
The old Cacique Street footbridge looked like trolls lived beneath it.
Dominguez noted that the former bridge — which functioned as the darker end of an already dark street — had been the hangout spot of choice for what he delicately described as “wayward youth,” who used it as an “escape route.” Sebastian Aldana, a longtime neighborhood activist of the old-school variety, put it succinctly. “It was a half-baked bridge with a couple of trash cans and a bunch of weeds.” Much to the chagrin of some residents, that half-baked bridge lay baking in the Eastside sun — which exudes a decidedly distinct quality of light compared to other parts of town — from sometime in the 1970s.
The newly reincarnated bridge is, by contrast, a revelation and an invitation. It’s more than twice as wide and made out of fresh concrete. For bicyclists and pedestrians, it’s more than hospitable. For cars, however, it remains decidedly off-limits. That was by design. Actually, the new bridge is two new bridges built almost kitty-corner to each other, both crossing a bow in the creek at different ends of the bend. One crosses at Cacique Street, the other Soledad Street.
For residents and schoolkids trying to get to nearby Adelante School, it’s a huge convenience. For transportation planners, it’s another spoke in the wheel allowing otherwise “landlocked” Eastsiders to make their way to the beach. This, we were told by traffic planner Rob Dayton, was the vision of former city councilmember and sewing-machine shop owner Grant House, who more than 20 years ago helped hatch and incubate an unlikely bunch of wonks who dubbed themselves the Eastside Study Group.
Plans to build the new bridge had been kicking around City Hall for decades. That it took so long, some held, was more evidence there was little benign about the neglect the largely Latino Eastside experienced at the hand of the largely all-white city councils elected — until just recently — at large. But as one city official noted tongue somewhat in cheek, “Even white racists get the picture eventually.”
By Paul Wellman
The all new Cacique bicycle and pedestrian bridges
The first domino to fall was the Cacique Street underpass — funded in 1995 and built in 2008. That, for the first time, allowed motorists and cyclists to drive under the freeway up Cacique Street and into the Eastside neighborhoods. In the face of this easy ingress, the beat-up “half-baked” bridge seemed a cruel taunt.
Bridges are not merely engineering works; they are expressions of political crosscurrents that often can only be guessed at. In this case, the precipitating event was the death of 15-year-old music student Sergio Romero, struck by a truck carrying shopping carts as he tried to cross Milpas Street by Ortega Street one winter‘s evening in 2011. Romero’s death proved the last straw for neighborhood residents long upset by the myriad of well-documented safety challenges on Milpas Street. They demanded action and would not be denied. They showed up at City Council meetings in large numbers. Traffic engineer Derrick Bailey had just been hired by City Hall, and for him it was a sink-or-swim moment. Bailey, as it turned out, swam beautifully, though at the time it wasn’t obvious if he would make it or not.
Even before Romero’s death, the bridge had been identified by neighborhood advocates sitting on the Franklin Advisory Committee — since subsumed into the broader Neighborhood Advisory Council — as one its top-three priorities. “We’d been banging on this one for at least 12 years,” said Sebastian Aldana.