What seemed like it would be a knock-down, drag-out cage match between bike advocates and those of the automobile quickly became a messy wonk-fest involving almost the entire City Council over the best ways to measure the number of people riding bikes to and from work and whether such statistics are, in fact, particularly relevant. Sparking the discussion was a proposal by councilmembers Dale Francisco and Frank Hotchkiss — both skeptics when it comes to the potential of bicycle commuting to relieve congestion — to spend $20,000 on a study to determine just how many bike commuters Santa Barbara currently has.
Activists with the Bicycle Coalition have trumpeted Census findings that commuting has more than doubled from 2000 to 2012 — from 3.4 to 6.9 percent of the commuting population. Activists with Cars Are Basic have challenged these figures, the methodology upon which they’re based, and the notion that bicycles can play a meaningful role for anything other than recreation and exercise. City traffic planners suggested it would be much cheaper to include bike counts when they hire consultants to conduct traffic counts at the city’s 50 most congested intersections. This happens every two to five years.
Giving urgency to what would otherwise be an esoteric debate is the rewriting of the city’s Bicycle Master Plan now taking place. About 210 people attended the five workshops held on the new bike plan in the past two weeks, and about 1,500 people filled out online questionnaires on the matter. For bike advocates, this planning process has given them a vehicle to argue for improved crosstown bike routes, not to mention bicycle boulevards on both the Eastside and Westside of town.
City Hall just spent $4,000 to acquire riding route data from an app used mostly by high-performance riders to gage speeds and distances. Councilmember Randy Rowse was flummoxed to discover this data showed Mission Street — despite its narrow shoulders and chewed-up pavement — was heavily used by these cyclists. “That sounds like future temporary Santa Barbarans to me,” he exclaimed, adding, “That’s just nuts.”