COAST (the Coalition for Sustainable Transportation) and the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition (SBBIKE) have advocated for more than a decade for the creation of a safe, people-focused and car-free stretch of State Street — an inviting and exciting downtown plaza that welcomes all people — pedestrians, cyclists, skaters, the mobility-challenged, young and old, local and tourist — to bring our community together. When the pandemic hit and the city created a promenade for economic recovery, we applauded; suddenly our dream could be coming true! We know there is more to be done to make the dream a long-term reality.
We love what has developed, but are disheartened that the “Wild West” of the Promenade has fostered an abundance of negative discourse and even a few dangerous actions towards cyclists on State Street. We understand some pedestrians feel unsafe with bike riders and skateboarders sharing their space. Likewise, cyclists feel unsafe when pedestrians walk out in front of them. There has been a palpable air of disdain (and disrespect) from members of both groups, some questioning if bicycling should remain on the Promenade. We all need to put ourselves in each other’s shoes, listen, learn, and have empathy. We’re ALL on State Together!
Why do bikes belong on State? There are more people biking downtown now than ever before — families, friends, residents, and tourists alike. Riding on State Street creates a more active and vibrant downtown culture. Bikes equal more business; nearly 50 percent of downtown retail and restaurant patronage arrives by bike and business owners see the myriad benefits bikes bring. People choosing to ride bicycles help our environment; more downtown visits by bike mean less greenhouse gas emissions. Bikes also help hundreds of locals commute to work every day. Finally, State Street is the “spine” of the S.B. bicycle network as defined by our city’s 2016 Bicycle Master Plan. There is no other safe and direct way to get to and from Stearns Wharf. Indeed, it is imperative the State Street corridor remains open to all people — on foot and on wheels. We all just need the space to be there together, yet apart.
With outdoor dining encroaching far into the street, some feel as though their State Street was taken away; that it’s not for them anymore. No one should feel inadvertently excluded. We ask city officials to implement modified rules for sharing public space during COVID-19 and to make “people traffic flow” improvements (perhaps a center two-way bike lane) along the Promenade as soon as possible so the entire community can feel safe, welcome, and included. It is our public space — let’s keep it that way!
Melissa Cunningham is executive director of the Coalition for Sustainable Transportation, and Heather Deutsch is executive director of the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition.