The Santa Barbara City Council approved spending $240,000 to hire a private consultant to conduct extensive public outreach as part of incipient efforts to rewrite the city’s bicycle master plan. The consultant has been charged with holding numerous community meetings and reaching out beyond the South Coast’s increasingly well-mobilized community of bicycle activists.
The hope is to determine what changes to the street infrastructure would be necessary to create the sense of safety needed to get more residents commuting bipedally. Likewise, the effort is designed to gauge what public support exists for these changes. Although Santa Barbara boasts one of the highest bicycle commuter rates in the state, it also ranks third in the state in number of bicycle-car collisions.
Not all councilmembers supported the outreach effort expenditure. Dale Francisco described the firm hired as “very hip” and inclined in favor of bicycle commuting. Frank Hotchkiss argued a private polling firm associated with MIT could do a ten-question telephone poll for one-sixth the cost. Traffic planners countered that the outreach effort provides an interactive approach allowing the public to balance competing needs. Polls, they said, tend to be flat, bland, and of limited value when assessing the mixed feelings of the broader community.
Councilmember Gregg Hart expressed frustration that the project is already six months behind schedule and predicted whatever new plan is hatched would likely pit car drivers against cyclists in access to limited road space. Ultimately, he said, “We will have to wrestle with that.” The council voted 5-to-2 in favor of the contract, though Francisco pointedly asked what steps community members might take to challenge it. Take it to court, Francisco was told. Once the public outreach results are in, work on the new master plan should begin in 2016.