It’s five o’clock on a Wednesday evening in western Goleta. I reluctantly head to Storke and Hollister. With traffic to and from UCSB and the three nearby shopping centers, it takes a while to get through that intersection. I wonder what this trip will be like when the 270-unit Westar project plus the new hotel at this intersection are completed in about a year.
When traffic slows again at Los Carneros near the new Cabrillo Business Park, I again wonder what traffic will be like when the nearby 465-unit Villages at Los Carneros and the likely new Target are completed. And I wonder how much Hollister Avenue and Los Carneros Road can be widened to absorb traffic from the anticipated additional 6,000 new UCSB students, professors, and staff (plus their families) living in campus housing being built over the next 10 years.
After waiting for the light to change at the crowded Fairview intersection near the airport, I head through Old Town Goleta. Slowing for traffic signals, bicyclists (there is no bike lane in Old Town) and pedestrians in crosswalks, I pass the bustling Goleta Community Center and wonder how much more traffic will be generated if Goleta’s new City Hall is built there.
Passing the intersection with Ward Memorial Drive, soon to have two roundabouts, I arrive at Turnpike, where I encounter San Marcos High School’s after-school-activity traffic. Skipping my once eagerly anticipated Java Station coffee, I finally arrive tired and late at Five Points. My less-than-seven-mile crawl has taken 35 frustrating minutes.
This trip, which usually takes about 15 minutes, yielded two insights. First, Goleta doesn’t have a traffic problem. It has a rush hour traffic problem. If you’re not driving during the peak times, Hollister is usually clear and flowing. But Hollister rush-hour commuters are increasingly caught in slow and sometimes dangerous traffic.
Goleta is unique in having only one, (I’ll say it again, one) continuous surface street through its main commercial corridor, Hollister Avenue. And Goleta’s General Plan clusters even more development along this single artery. With no alternative surface street to absorb growing traffic, rush hour threatens to go from California cruisin’ to Goleta gridlock.
My second insight was that traffic congestion doesn’t develop slowly and evenly. As was repeatedly demonstrated by the Three Stooges, two people can go through a doorway smoothly. But when three people try to go through that door simultaneously, the outcome is either comical or bruising. In the case of Hollister Avenue, ongoing development will make traffic slow dramatically as the circulation challenges increase geometrically, and drivers will suffer.
Continually widening and maintaining Hollister can’t be the only answer. Santa Barbara County’s experience mirrors Los Angeles and other California cities: Tax revenues and fees fall far short of the funding needed to build and maintain sufficient roads. It costs $2 million-$8 million per mile for new road or lane construction, and even more for ongoing maintenance costs. And with only Hollister to carry the load through Goleta’s business core, Goleta has severe right-of-way limitations on roadway expansion.
Fortunately, the aptly named Traffic Solutions, headed by Kent Epperson, exists as a part of the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments. SBCAG, a regional planning agency, distributes local, state, and federal transportation funds to address regional and multi-jurisdictional issues.
Traffic Solutions has successfully implemented innovative methods proven to reduce rush-hour traffic: promoting better and expanded bikeways, subsidies for van- and carpooling, ride sharing, telecommuting, bus ridership, and flexible work days and hours. It has shared information with employers on increasing worker productivity by reducing commuting hassles. These have helped significantly shift car commuting away from rush hour as well as creating car commuting alternatives.
Only a few of Traffic Solutions’ successes in 2013 are the elimination of more than 893,000 vehicle trips and 9 million miles of travel. This was accomplished with a less-than-$700,000 budget. Compared with the $2 million-$8 million price tag of adding one mile of roadway, Traffic Solutions has demonstrated that savings and circulation effectiveness absolutely can be achieved with innovative alternative strategies.
Goleta’s city government itself has already provided some incentives for its employees to use bikes, buses, and car and van pools to get to work. It also allows flex time and days, with only limited staff working on Fridays. Not only is traffic reduced, but employees also view such flexibility as a significant benefit, helping to increase employee retention and thus reducing the city’s recruiting and training costs. The city is working with the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition on a comprehensive area bike route plan.
While it may be necessary to increase some road capacity to address Goleta’s ongoing growth impact, local governments and SBCAG should increase efforts to better utilize existing capacity. Local governments should more actively encourage developers and employers to provide bike racks, showers, subsidies for non-auto commuting as well as for flexible work times to reduce rush-hour traffic.
Hollister truly is Goleta’s main artery. As is true for people, keeping Goleta’s main artery freely flowing is vital — to both Goleta’s quality of life and economic well-being.