Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the City of Santa Barbara has changed the name of our city’s Historic Landmark, Mission Creek Bridge, to the “Mission Canyon Bridge.” A new name would be required because the bridge wouldn’t look the same if any of the three suggested bridge remodels were implemented to address so-called “challenges” the bridge presents, according to the City and its consultant, the Wallace Group. Their proposed road remodels would forever blight bucolic Mission Canyon while increasing vehicle speeds and thereby decreasing traffic safety.
The Mission Creek Bridge is a city-designated landmark within Landmark Mission Historical Park, and it is on the California Register of Historical Resources. The National Register of Historic Places declared the bridge eligible for its list in February 2020.
So what’s wrong with this beautiful, historic sandstone bridge? Nothing, really.
The city and the Wallace Group say earthquake safety, but the Mission Creek Bridge survived the 1925 earthquake without a crack while much of downtown was destroyed. They say there is a fault line under the northwest side of the bridge, but that fault has not moved since the ice ages. They say declining lifespan and structural ratings for the bridge are problematic, but the most recent, 2019 Caltrans Bridge Inspection Report’s only recommendations were to replace two rusted steel pedestrian supports on the footbridge (subsequently completed), grind and resurface the roadway (subsequently completed), and address a hole in the concrete channel underneath the bridge.
The city and Wallace Group now say there is flood danger, but the Mission Creek Bridge was not damaged in the record-breaking floods of January 1914, nor was it damaged in major flooding events many of us remember in 1969, 1995, and 1998. They say the Mission Creek Bridge is part of a fire evacuation route, but it has worked satisfactorily in the past. However, what the city and Wallace Group won’t say is how people would evacuate if there was a fire during the many months or years it would take to complete their plans.
The city and Wallace Group say improving pedestrian, bicyclist, and vehicular safety is necessary to meet the city’s Vision Zero traffic safety goals. Yet the current bridge and the roads leading to it already meet Vision Zero goals, as there have been no major injury or fatality accidents. In contrast, the proposals to straighten and widen the roads would, as every traffic engineer knows, encourage increased speeding and thereby endanger pedestrians and bicyclists.
We are residents of the community and members of the Coalition to Preserve Mission Canyon. The coalition has an alternative to the city and Wallace Group proposals that leaves the bridge and Rocky Nook Park intact, retains the stately sycamore trees in the creek area that would be cut down, and does not damage a steelhead trout habitat. It can be implemented now and at low cost. The “Preserve Mission Creek Bridge Plan” improves the existing pedestrian path; adds pedestrian-activated flashing signals at essential crosswalks; and places a modest “your speed is” electronic sign southbound on Mission Canyon Road. The bridge can accommodate two five-foot wide bike lanes plus two 10-foot-wide vehicle lanes. The existing pedestrian footbridge on the east, upstream side of the bridge can be improved and made more accessible.
We hope that you will join us in urging the city to save the historic Mission Creek Bridge.
Frank Frost is a former county supervisor, Lorna Moore is a Santa Barbara city resident and environmentalist, and Randy Reetz is a past officer of the Mission Canyon Association.