An attorney representing a new organization of Micheltorena Street business owners and residents charged that City Hall’s plan to create a major east-west bike thoroughfare along Micheltorena from Castillo to State Streets violates California’s environmental law. The reason being no plans have been prepared showing how city traffic engineers plan to mitigate the loss of 100 on-street parking spaces caused by the creation of the bike lanes.
The Micheltorena Street bike lanes are considered “the spine” of the city’s Bicycle Master Plan, which the City Council is scheduled to review next Tuesday evening. Attorney Todd Amspoker of Price, Postel & Parma was hired by the Micheltorena Neighborhood Association to fight the new bike lane, which the association contends will create undue hardship on residents, businesses, and their customers. The organization supports the creation of bike lanes but argues that Sola Street offers a safer venue for cyclists with less blowback to the neighbors.
At the very least, Amspoker charged, City Hall should have prepared a traffic and safety plan for the proposed bike lanes, not to mention a detailed blueprint for mitigating the negative impacts caused by the loss of on-street parking. The Sola Street alternative is considered politically problematic because it would require the installation of two traffic lights, which would cost $750,000. Because traffic lights already exist along Micheltorena, the new bike lanes could be installed for the price of the green paint required to stripe the street.
City traffic planning czar Robert Dayton countered that green-striped bike lanes, such as the ones proposed for Micheltorena, are exempt from environmental review under state law. He acknowledged no traffic or safety study had been prepared, but stated that with the bike lanes, vehicular traffic would flow safer and faster. He said city traffic planners are currently producing a laundry list of ways to ameliorate the loss of on-street parking. Those include special loading zone carve-outs and the introduction of car shares to the neighborhood. He estimated one car share vehicle reduces the need for up to 15 privately owned cars.
Business owners complain the loss of parking will kill them economically. Residents contend parking is already hard to find, and with the loss of 100 spaces they’ll have to walk blocks from whatever spaces they can find to their homes. Dayton said a recent one-day study suggests the maximum walk will be no more than two blocks.
At City Hall, the inclusion of the Micheltorena Street bike lanes has been a hot potato since it was first introduced. After several councilmembers expressed serious reservations during the initial planning phase, Dayton withdrew the bike lanes from the Bicycle Master Plan. This past summer, the Planning Commission and Transportation and Circulation Committee ordered the bike lanes put back at the organized insistence of Santa Barbara’s bicycle advocates.
In front of the council next Tuesday will be four options; even experienced City Hall handicappers are reluctant to call this one. If the council approves the lanes, it’s likely the Micheltorena Neighborhood Association will file a lawsuit on environmental grounds.