’RRHOID RAGE: To the victors have always gone the last word as well as the spoils. Even so, the way history chooses to remember Manuel Micheltorena, the onetime California governor after whom a key crosstown Santa Barbara arterial was named, borders on gratuitous indignity. To the extent Micheltorena — a governor during the last flicker of Mexican rule in the 1840s — is famous for anything, it’s a raging case of hemorrhoids so painful he couldn’t ride his horse off into battle. Instead, he was forced to lay perched on his side atop a covered carriage. The battle in question took place at the Cahuenga Pass, where Micheltorena was defeated by a crew of insurrectionists backed by influential Yankee meddlers who had not yet set about taking over the entire state. At the time, Micheltorena was on his way to chase the Yankee intruders out of Monterey. His failure to make it that far — let alone purge the Yankees — is portrayed as the last gasp of Mexican rule and, somewhat self-servingly, the inevitable necessity of the subsequent American takeover. Given the inexperienced ragtag crew under Micheltorena’s command — from whom the term cholo derives — it’s doubtful the governor’s infamous ’rrhoid rage had any bearing on the battle’s outcome. Still, the tale persists. What should be remembered about that battle instead was how Micheltorena figured out the probable outcome before wasting any human life and ceded the field. At most, only a few donkeys perished. Given the contemporary insistence on heroic futility and maximum body parts, there’s much to be learned from Micheltorena’s approach.
All this useless ephemera came rushing intrusively to mind Monday evening as I attended a community workshop on plans to create five much-needed blocks of new green-striped bike lanes along both sides of Micheltorena Street. It should be acknowledged I have both a dog in this hunt and an axe to grind. As an unreconstructed bipedal supremacist, I tend to be rabidly knee-jerk when it comes to bike lanes, “Anywhere and everywhere” being my motto on the matter. And as a daily bicycle commuter, I ride up and down the wonderfully round rump of the Micheltorena Street Bridge twice a day, to and from work. To one side lies the infinity of the ocean; to the other, the infinity of the freeway. All these years it has yet to get old.
City transportation planners and bicycle advocates contend the proposed Micheltorena Street bike lane will provide a critically needed missing link to City Hall’s antiquated bicycle master plan by creating a safer, more hospitable crosstown route that will entice many of the would-be cyclists out of their cars and onto their bikes. (Actually, the political history is a bit more complicated. Initially, city planners pushed the idea of the Micheltorena bike lane, but after a couple councilmembers asked some critical questions and none of the other five said anything one way or the other, staff concluded they’d been given clear direction to back the heck off. Accordingly, they did so. Then a month ago, members of the city’s Planning Commission and Transportation and Circulation Committee — responding to a packed house of bicycle advocates — insisted that the Micheltorena Street option be put back in. So while city transportation planners believe the proposal to be sound, they technically are not backing it.)
And it turns out that Westside residents bike to work at nearly twice the rate of city residents as a whole, 12 percent as opposed to 6.1 percent. (Driving these high numbers on the Westside are large numbers of Cottage Hospital employees who live there and commute to work. Regardless of what happens to the proposed Micheltorena Street bike lanes in their entirety, City Hall is intent on creating lanes from Castillo Street to Bath Street to accommodate these Cottage commuters. In the morning, they can then turn left up Bath toward Cottage and after work do just the opposite.) And there’s no real alternate route from the Westside; Mission Street is a death trap, and Carrillo Street’s a suicide run. So what’s the catch?
To build the new bike lanes, about 100 spaces of on-street parking need to be sacrificed. For businesses and residents who’ve come to rely on that parking, that’s a very emotional issue. Consequently, city transportation planners Rob Dayton and Peter Brown were feeling a lot more heat than love from the 65 people who showed up Monday evening. What about all my elderly patients in wheelchairs? demanded one doctor. Are you trying to put us out of businesses? demanded several others. You’re killing me, declared the owner of La Bamba Market. “What are you going to do with all the cars you’re going to displace?” boomed the owner of Alberto’s Beauty Salon. “Is your answer that you have no answer?” When Dayton suggested limited city streets might best be used to move vehicles along rather than merely storing them, he got little purchase. When he suggested trade-offs might be involved, they demanded, “Trade-offs for what?” Tough crowd.
I happen to subscribe to the if-you-build-it-they-will-come theory when it comes to bike lanes. This holds new bike lanes actually reduce parking demand citywide by getting more motorists out of their cars and onto their bikes, magically resulting in a net increase of available on-street parking. These benefits, however, tend to be generalized, citywide, and accrue gradually over time. By contrast, the pain inflicted by eliminating 100 spaces is intensely localized and very immediate. In the area in question, all on-street parking spaces are claimed by neighborhood residents come nightfall; there are zero vacancies. Should the plan go through, people living nearby will discover competition for on-street parking just jumped to survival-of-the-fittest mode.
There is, however, an alternative. Early-morning cyclists pouring down the Micheltorena Street Bridge on their way to work can — and do — turn right on Castillo Street, a one-way street with a wonderful bike lane. From there, they can dogleg onto Sola Street to cut across town. And Sola, the traffic planners tell us, can be converted into an inviting bicycle boulevard without removing any on-street parking. But that would be way more expensive. That’s because, they say, they’d have to install traffic lights at De la Vina and Chapala streets so cyclists could safely cross. But do they really? I’ve been crossing those streets on my bike every day for the past 15 years with no ill effect. As a rider, I tend to be both reckless and very slow, typically not a healthy combination. That I’ve managed to survive multiple street crossings so many years suggests they may not be so dangerous as to require stoplights.
I agree the Micheltorena Street proposal is more elegant, direct, and visible. But the street’s namesake, the former governor with hemorrhoids, highlights the higher wisdom in sidestepping fights that can otherwise be avoided. Those who don’t learn from such history are doomed not only to repeat it but to be inflicted with a bad case of the ’rrhoids, as well. And it’s almost impossible to get far on a bike with those.