Santa Barbara City Hall has spent $840,000 building 26 new bulb-outs and installing 32 new brick crosswalks as part of its west downtown neighborhood enhancement project. That’s according to assistant Public Works chief Pat Kelly, who said they were part of a $2.5 million project, $1 million of which went directly to the bulb-outs and crosswalks and their associated administrative costs.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, bulb-outs have become a subject of considerable controversy among city hall watchers. Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider has taken exception to recent accounts blasting city hall for spending as much as $4.8 million on the traffic calming devices. Schneider said that money paid for new street lights, landscaping, and other improvements as well as bulb-outs and street crossings. Each bulb-out costs about $20,000, according to Kelly, and each brick street-crossing $20,000.
The west downtown project included 26 bulb-outs—four to an intersection—and 32 brick crossings. Neighbors requested the brick crossings, Kelly said, because they’re more aesthetic and because drivers can see them better. Kelly said these costs do not reflect design and administrative expenditures associated with these improvements, but only actual cost of construction.
Money for the bulb-outs comes from the city’s Redevelopment Agency, and not the General Fund, which covers the costs of police and fire protection as well as a host of parks and recreation functions. Redevelopment Agency representatives said the project came partly out of a concern that the agency spent so much on State Street projects and, at the request of neighborhood residents, wanted to spread the wealth to other areas of the city.
Bulb-outs tend to generate controversy wherever they’re installed, and in Santa Barbara, neighborhood activists leery about city hall’s efforts to promote alternative transportation have regarded bulb-outs as a coercive form of social engineering to make driving so inconvenient that drivers seek out other modes of transit.