Midnight Madness

Bicycle Master Plan Discussion Crosses the Line

The transition of Tuesday the 23rd into Wednesday the 24th found your City Council still deliberating the Bicycle Master Plan (BMP) consultant’s recommendations. Normally, we don’t chat that far into the night, but the impassioned speakers representing both sides of the argument kept the ball volleying across the net for about six hours. Even though the BMP update covers the entire city, the proposed removal of four blocks of parking on Micheltorena immediately west of the 101, involving both sides of the street and more than 85 parking spaces, ignited the red-hot controversy that manages still to glow on.

The BMP advocates argued that a cogent plan needs to involve straight lines that employ a continuation of the Micheltorena-101 bridge’s bike lanes as part of the east-west “spine” connecting the Westside to the downtown. An alternative was suggested that Sola Street, one block to the south, was a better option, on a quieter, wider street with no parking removal required. This is where the plot thickens …

The Sola option was reported to be a more expensive one, in that two street lights would be required to complete the plan. Micheltorena reportedly involved only striping, until it was revealed that three intersections would need physical modifications to create the width needed. The cost of these modifications was not included in the presentation, leading some to question the “chicken and egg” nature of the proceeding. In any case, the use of Micheltorena would definitely involve the loss of at least 85 parking spaces, a point that was all too clear to the stakeholders living and running businesses on those four blocks.

Micheltorena is a busy thoroughfare for cars, trucks and bicycles alike. It runs through a vibrant neighborhood that includes shops, restaurants, residences, and many professional health-care offices. This is also a neighborhood that, arguably, is “under-parked,” with increased planned residential densities on the near horizon. While BMP advocates claimed increased business patronage in areas served by bike lanes, most of the types of operations would not be applicable. The Santa Barbara Endoscopy Center is one of the medical facilities affected. Call me old-fashioned, but my bet is that most patients won’t be commuting on bike to their next colonoscopy.

I voted no on the proposal. Our last parking structure’s cost per space was $46,000, making the replacement cost for 85 spaces close to $4 million, even if there were a proposed alternative to be provided. I previously voted yes on the creation of the BMP update, as safe, reasonable pathways should be available for those who choose bicycles for their transportation or recreation. I have supported other bike and restriping projects in the past that have enhanced bike corridors. I cannot, however, imagine how stripping this mixed-use vibrant neighborhood of their parking serves our constituents, particularly when a seemingly reasonable alternative exists.

The Micheltorena neighborhood represents the very type of area that planners try to create, i.e., mixed use, high density, and on an arterial. But this isn’t civic planning theory or some zoning overlay; these are real people in real structures and businesses who have been there for decades but whose lives we intend to change with our policies. One of the intentions behind the implementation of district elections was greater neighborhood representation and involvement. The message from City Council was, in my opinion, dismissive, to put it politely. We need to do better.

Randy Rowse is a Santa Barbara city councilmember.

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