City taxpayers will be asked to foot an estimated $43.6 million-$51.8 million Bicycle Master Plan (BMP) bill for projects spanning over 20 years if the City Council votes at its February 23 meeting to adopt this plan. What the public has not be told until very late in the process is that the removal of 100 public parking spaces along five blocks of Micheltorena is at stake here and part of the costly price tag for business owners and residents.
The BMP is the work product of a Los Angeles consulting firm, Melendrez, Fehr, and Peers, and the sole basis for decisions made up to date. City funds amounting to $200,000 were used to hire outside consultants with City Council’s blessings for a project that failed to yield any statistical significantly meaningful or useful data to guide decisions. Sadly, there were only 1,440 respondents to the web-based survey. This represents only 1.6 percent of the 86,681 who live in Santa Barbara. Where is the missing 98.4 percent in this survey? The BMP has been misrepresented as being built upon solid data and so reflecting the community’s wishes. There is no data.
We have been led to believe by city staff that safety is the primary reason for its plan to remove Micheltorena’s public parking. However, nowhere in BMP’s interactive map survey is Micheltorena ever identified as a safety hazard for cyclists. Data shows that only eight bicycle accidents over a 10-year period, or less that one accident a year, have occurred. Yet again, data does not support any decision to remove Micheltorena parking.
It is false to state that removing parking will significantly impact bicycle safety numbers in Santa Barbara. What can be said with certainty is that small businesses will suffer.
While safety is always a priority, it should be kept in mind that there are 105 bicycle accidents throughout Santa Barbara each year. Consultants themselves say the majority of accidents occur in the greater Downtown and Eastside areas. Further, buried in the BMP report, cyclists are found to be at fault at twice the rate than vehicle-caused accidents.
Increasing bicycle usage as a mode of transportation can and has occurred over the years without the physical infrastructure changes that are being proposed. The top reasons surveyed for riding bicycles is “exercise” and “convenience” reasons. Work transportation is not even listed as a reason for riding a bike in the survey. Accident reduction and increasing the use of bicycles as a mode of transportation can be achieved without sweeping and costly changes proposed by the BMP. According to the BMP, 68 percent of those surveyed say Santa Barbara is already a ”moderately” to “very safe” place to ride a bike.
The City of Santa Barbara already ranks fourth nationally in a 2014 Measuring Sprawl study by Smart Growth America, scoring high for land mix use — the diversity of jobs, homes, and services within its neighborhoods. Santa Barbara scored high for its connectivity and compactness with BMP. Ironically, the removal of parking may have the unintended consequence of greater disconnection and increased traffic if businesses and tenants are forced to relocate for affordability and parking. As a city, Santa Barbara already has Silver recognition by the League of American Bicyclists as a Bicycle Friendly Community.
The five-block Micheltorena corridor reflects a slice of Santa Barbara life with a church, a school, numerous professional services (medical, legal, dental, psychological, financial, real estate, yoga), and a popular deli, and is dense with residents both home owners and tenants. At present, competition for limited parking occurs on a daily basis. Removal of any parking has far-reaching consequences for its businesses, property owners, employees, residents, and its neighbors.
The removal of Micheltorena parking by the BMP forces City Council to choose between the able-bodied 6 percent of its Santa Barbara cycling community and the disabled who use and have used medical, professional services on Micheltorena. Parking removal in effect discriminates against the elderly, visually impaired, and those permanently or temporarily disabled who use services. Many simply cannot walk one, two, or three blocks. Longstanding relationships will be disrupted.
Notification about the most controversial part of the plan was deeply flawed. The Micheltorena leg of the BMP document makes no mention of parking removal, a glaring omission. The community has had only 57 days to take action leading up to the City Council meeting. Many simply do not know or do not yet realize the long-term impact of such a decision.
The BMP is an ideal, not a necessity. City Council should not entertain any plan that would remove on-street parking without addressing its growing parking problem city wide.
Contact your City Council members urging them to cast their vote based on data not high emotions.
Terrie Furukawa, PhD, is a psychologist who’s had a practice on West Micheltorena Street for more than 30 years.