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City Parking Disconnect

The new Target store is only the latest example of Santa Barbara’s parking problems. That project was approved with insufficient parking with the credulous expectation that the store’s popularity will decline post–grand opening. Jiggering the State/La Cumbre intersection light timings will not solve the problem of cars blocking the street, waiting to enter the lot. The intersection has always been busy; what could go wrong?

Just down State Street is a drive-through restaurant approved without understanding mobile diners would create a similar line of vehicles spilling out onto State Street predictably at mealtimes, congesting traffic for other drivers and emergency vehicles. The restaurant chain undoubtedly knew its drive-through’s popularity (it’s their business to know, after all) would overwhelm the site’s capacity and cause substantial overflow out of their parking lot into the thoroughfare. They proceeded anyway, and city staff’s permit standard was the sleepy burger joint previously in that space. Oh, look! The new 72-unit Estancia housing development is right across the street; what could go wrong?

Those are commercial examples of under-parking. Across town on Milpas Street, a 76-unit modern apartment complex was recently approved after appeal, although it, too, is under-parked. The city solution was to allow those developers to create a quasi-private parking lot out of the short remnant of East Ortega Street that has customarily been the student pedestrian access to Santa Barbara Junior High School. Residential parking lot, students texting and walking; what could go wrong?

As attractive as the theory may be that making parking inconvenient might force people out of their cars, it cannot be successful without addressing why people prefer private vehicles to public transportation. Developers will always prioritize revenue aspects of their projects over parking. The city should stop allowing that.

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