Under the threat of legal action and an uprising by angry neighbors and business owners, the Santa Barbara City Council beat a clear retreat from a controversial plan to put bike lanes along Micheltorena Street. The council voted unanimously this Tuesday to send the proposal way back to the drawing boards — first to the Transportation and Circulation Committee and then to the Planning Commission for further review. After that, they decreed the plan should come back to the council for two public hearings.
The bike lane project was proposed to create a clearly designated east-west pathway for bicycle commuters that’s been called for in city planning documents dating back 43 years. But to create the bike lanes, 85-100 parking spaces would have to be eliminated. Outrage over that loss generated intense blowback from Micheltorena Street residents — already struggling to secure on-street parking — and business owners, who complain the plan would kill them financially. Councilmember Gregg Hart led the charge on behalf of the bike lane three weeks ago; he was the first to call for this week’s strategic retreat. Hart noted that new information surfaced at the last minute, which called into question Micheltorena Street’s presumed advantages — that it was cheaper and faster to implement — over a Sola Street alternative. Sola is wider, has much less traffic, and would require the elimination of far fewer parking spaces. Even so, the council voted 5-2 in support of the Micheltorena Street option.
But before the council could seal the deal, City Attorney Ariel Calonne called a dramatic last-minute time-out. Calonne said he was concerned the council action might not be able to withstand a lawsuit threatened by members of the Micheltorena Neighborhood Association, an ad hoc group formed to fight the bike lane proposal. The group hired an attorney who insisted that the proposed lanes required far more extensive environmental review. Buttressing such arguments was the revelation that the Micheltorena bike lanes would require far more than a green line of paint — and, in fact, the intersections might have to be widened. Based on the loose timeline adopted by the council, the lanes won’t be back for a vote until May at the soonest but probably considerably later than that