With the snip of a pair of oversized scissors by Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum, a ribbon was cut to officially open the Mission Street underpass bicycle and pedestrian lanes. City Councilmember Das Williams – who grew up using Santa Barbara bike paths – called the thoroughfare the “missing link” between the Modoc bike path and the Castillo/Bath Street bike lanes downtown.
With traffic constricted by the dimension of the railroad and freeway bridges that go over Mission Street, the design of the $1.5 million project involved collaboration between city and county agencies and various community groups. “People don’t realize how difficult it is to squeeze all of us [cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians] into one space,” said Wilson Hubbell, a member of the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition, which has been a staunch proponent of safer bike routes.
The underpass has long been known as a risky gauntlet to cyclists, who heartily welcomed the addition of the dedicated bike lanes. Just last year, 24-year-old Johan Montoya, a recent UCSB graduate and avid cyclist, sustained a substantial head injury when he struck an SUV that allegedly ran the light from Highway 101. The embankments on the sides of the underpass have been cut back in the new configuration, allowing the sidewalks to be relocated and bicycle lanes to be added in both directions to the four vehicle lanes that already existed. Native plant species have already taken root on the scaled-back embankments, replacing the thick growth of weeds that was there before and giving the corridor a more tidy appearance. “One of the things that made this tough was the confined space,” said Hubbell. “It got down to measuring inches.”
City Councilmember Grant House said that the project was funded by money originally set aside by the county for freeway widening, and that it has multiple benefits for motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians alike. While the project was managed by the city, state funding came through the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments. “We look forward to more projects like this so that Santa Barbara is on the cutting edge of pedestrian and bicycle transportation,” said Gregg Hart, an SBCAG spokesperson. House said that future projects will target the Ortega and Haley Street bridges over Mission Creek.