Caltrans officials have tentatively agreed to re-stripe a four-lane section of the Mesa’s Cliff Drive, widely regarded as unsafe for motorists and pedestrians alike, if the City Council signs off on the proposal next Tuesday. Because the proposal would reduce the number of lanes from four to three between Loma Alta and Lighthouse Road, it could become the subject of political controversy particularly among those on the council prone to regard such “traffic calming” plans as a form of social engineering.
Caltrans’s suggestion came in response to last week’s Mesa community meeting, attended by nearly 200 people, about the traffic problems posed by Cliff Drive. Caltrans representatives said if they got the council’s seal of approval, they could fold the re-striping into slurry seal work that’s scheduled to begin next week. In lieu of the fourth lane, the road would offer two bike lanes and a dedicated left-turn lane. Currently, this stretch of Cliff Drive—owned by the State of California and operated as a state highway—is the site of many rear-end collisions accidentally inflicted on westbound motorists trying to turn left into side streets.
The City of Santa Barbara and Caltrans have been negotiating over ownership and control of Cliff Drive for some time. While Caltrans is happy to give up the road, City Hall lacks the funds necessary to pay for it or the improvements that Mesa residents insist are necessary to make the road safer. Caltrans has heretofore resisted any entreaties to install crosswalks or reduce allowable driving speeds, arguing they are not appropriate for state highways.
The two sides were at loggerheads until Mayor Helene Schneider convened a rolling meeting six weeks ago—a van-load of state bureaucrats, county officials, and City Hall movers and shakers—to discuss the matter. After that meeting, Caltrans first indicated a willingness to budge. Throughout it all, the discussions have been the subject of intense community focus and organizing by Mesa residents upset with traffic conditions on Cliff Drive.