After 18 months of protracted civic engagement and sometimes bitter dispute, the Santa Barbara City Council voted 6-1 on Tuesday to approve an ambitious new Bicycle Master Plan that wound up looking vastly different than the one initially proposed. “This is about as cooked as it’s going to get,” said Councilmember Gregg Hart in a futile attempt to persuade dissenting Councilmember Randy Rowse to make the vote unanimous. Mayor Helene Schneider joined in, suggesting to Rowse, “I wouldn’t let the perfect get in the way of the good.” Despite such entreaties, Rowse would not budge, objecting to the “road diet” — reduced car lanes to create space for bike lanes — earmarked for stretches of De la Vina Street and Cabrillo Boulevard. These, however, were minor components to a far-ranging plan to create new bicycle-friendly routes throughout the city and link them with existing ones. The hope is that by making bicycle riding safe and inviting, fewer people will drive, thus reducing congestion and the intense demand on the city’s limited number of parking spaces.
The most contentious debate centered on efforts to create an east-west bike corridor through downtown. Initially, the council backed a plan to build green bike lanes on both sides of Micheltorena Street from State to Castillo streets. This could be accomplished only by removing about 85 parking spaces. In response, a coalition of Micheltorena Street business owners and residents threatened to sue, charging inadequate environmental review. City Hall crumbled, and the two sides hammered out an agreement to build an east-west bicycle boulevard along Sola Street instead. The Sola Street plan extends farther east, going all the way to Laguna Street.
Plans for a similar bicycle boulevard along Chino Street elicited vocal opposition from a handful of Westside residents. They festooned the neighborhood with loud signs and flooded media and City Hall with emails, arguing that proper notice hadn’t been given and that the new bike boulevard would hamper emergency evacuations. They waged their final hurrah this Tuesday but for all their effort, didn’t pick up a vote. The original plan made Chino and San Andres a pair of one-way streets, but that was scrapped in favor of a bike boulevard for Chino. In response to neighborhood concern, the plan was modified so no on-street parking will be removed. The Chino Street plan was adopted to get cyclists off San Andres Street — just one block over — known to be hazardous to bike riders. Chino also runs from Mission to Carrillo Street, longer than any other parallel street in the neighborhood.
The plan will create a new bike lane along several blocks of Cota Street on the Eastside at the cost of several on-street parking spaces. De la Vina will be narrowed from two lanes to one between Carrillo and Haley streets to make room for a bike lane. The same will happen between Constance and Padre. Though councilmembers Rowse and Frank Hotchkiss expressed doubts about this, Hotchkiss was willing to go along with it. If it didn’t work out, Mayor Schneider noted the streets could always be re-striped the way they currently are. “It’s paint. If it doesn’t work, it can be fixed,” she said.
The whole plan will cost millions of dollars City Hall does not have. For much of the plan to become real, the city will need to secure a statewide grant it just applied for. The soonest that grant money would become available is 2021.
Editor’s Note: An editing error had an earlier version of this article stating that Chino and Gillespie would be made one-way streets. That proposal was for Chino and San Andres and was withdrawn.