Santa Barbara Motorists Navigate Unusual New Traffic Patterns

Anacapa Street Goes to Single Lane, State Street Promenade Ends at Arlington Block

Behdad Gharagozli works with a city forklift driver to place barricades at Victoria and State to indicate a left turn for the State Street promenade. | Credit: Courtesy

Both the city’s newest and one of its oldest thoroughfares have surprising changes for the unwary. The State Street promenade opened to cars on the Arlington block, and Anacapa Street, on its way to downtown Santa Barbara, went from two lanes to a single lane between Mission and Micheltorena streets.

Earlier this morning, Behdad Gharagozli unrolled a metal tape measure as he directed a forklift driver to set water-filled road barricades across the West Victoria Street intersection. State Street’s promenade now hangs a left at Victoria, which closed to cars to allow the growth of restaurant parklets, anchored by the Public Market at the far end of the block.

Gharagozli explained they wanted bicyclists coming down State from Sola Street to be able to see pedestrians, who’d previously been hidden by the boxed palm trees marking the intersection. Public Works also wanted a clearer path through the barriers in the southbound lane to keep the bikes from encountering the motorists who can now turn right from East Victoria and Arlington Avenue, heading northward on the 1300 block of State Street.

“The volume of traffic is pretty small,” said Rob Dayton, the city’s transportation manager, of adding cars to the mix of restaurant parklets, bikes, and the walking public on the block. “It’s like a little neighborhood street, maybe 1,500 cars a day. Normally, we saw about 12,000 on State Street.”

Like bicycles, pedestrians should stick to the southbound side of State on the Arlington block, as cars are driving on what was once part of the promenade. Outdoor dining continues at the restaurants on the block that have built parklets, and stripes for nose-in parking are painted at the top of the street. Dayton indicated the promenade was still a work in progress, so signs and other revisions were likely to sprout soon.

The 1300 block of State now allows cars to turn right from East Victoria.

The changes on Anacapa Street gave rise to a lot of head-scratching among the driving public, many of whom use the road as a convenient dive toward downtown that avoids State Street’s traffic signals. Dayton said he’d only received one email so far about the switch to a single lane below Mission, but it was titled “WTF.”

What’s striking about the change to Anacapa Street isn’t so much the loss of the lane but how it was done. Two broad shapes of white striping travel the length of the block — think of a block-long outline of a plantain — and hem in vehicles to the center of the newly asphalted roadway, leaving plenty of space for parking along the curbs.

Dayton acknowledged the approach was very unusual and different. “I think it’s going to be very Santa Barbara,” he said. The elongated painted shapes are those of a bicycle lane, but they are not bicycle lanes — chiefly because they’re only five-blocks long and connect to no other bike lanes, Dayton said. They could be used by bicycles, he added, but that is not their purpose.

“These are buffer zones, and they accomplish so many things,” he said. “They put the travel lane in the exact middle of the street, which for seeing pedestrians crossing is excellent.” In Santa Barbara’s embrace of the Vision Zero goal of no traffic fatalities, the single lane adds safety to right turns, parallel parking, and pedestrian crossing, especially near the Bright Start preschool and Notre Dame School above Micheltorena Street.

The neighborhood hopes traffic will slow down, too, and the lane change got a 57 percent vote of approval from among 129 members of the Upper East Association. “We all were concerned with how much traffic there is and how fast it goes,” said Ron Hersberger, who heads the neighborhood group.

The city reduced Anacapa Street to one lane between Mission and Micheltorena streets.

Their true goal is a four-way stop farther up at Los Olivos and Anacapa Street, Hersberg clarified. “In addition to normal traffic, many, many tourists on foot and in automobiles going to and from the Mission use that intersection,” Hersberger explained. He lives on the corner and has heard his share of car honking and tire screeching. He pointed out that as a driver comes down along Los Olivos from the Mission, four-way stops occur at all the intersections except this one.

A full 70 percent of the neighborhood’s survey respondents wanted both a four-way stop and new crosswalks at Los Olivos and Anacapa. “They put two crosswalks across Anacapa that weren’t there before,” Hersberger said. “We’ll have to see if that helps or not.”