Seeing Green over Santa Barbara Bike Lanes

Cyclists Get Green Light on State Street Promenade, but Sola Street Bikeway Faces Uphill Climb

A green bike lane now being painted down the middle of the State Street Promenade alerts cyclists to hew to the middle of the road. | Credit: Nick Welsh

In Santa Barbara, the proverbial yellow brick road is now being painted a loud and bright green — at least down the middle of the State Street Promenade — to alert cyclists to hew to the middle of the street and to steer safely clear from pedestrians and dog walkers.

The green striping is part of an ongoing effort to bring a modicum of order to the improvisational free-for-all that evolved when the Santa Barbara City Council declared a stretch of State Street off-limits to cars and other gas-powered vehicles. This emergency action was taken in response to the economic devastation that hit downtown in the wake of the COVID pandemic; businesses were allowed to sell their wares on both sidewalks and streets. Parklets, a word never heard before, started sprouting like mushrooms after the rain.

The wide green stripes will not be painted down the entire stretch of street but in stutter-step visual sequences starting in each intersection and then ceasing, only to start again at the next intersection.

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The State Street Promenade remains very much a work in progress, and City Hall will be endeavoring to impose more order and regulation over the next several months. City planners have already adopted 28 templates, for example, for what the parklets should look like. More are sure to come.

At a time when some councilmembers are questioning whether bicycles are compatible with the new pedestrian-focused promenade, the garish green serves as a bipedal statement, akin to Dustin Hoffman’s immortal “I’m walkin’ here!” line from the movie Midnight Cowboy. That same garish hue, however, was more than most members of the city’s Historic Landmarks Commission (HLC) could take when evaluating the city’s proposal to run a fat wad of green paint down the middle of Sola Street as part of the hard-fought battle to create a new safe cycling route connecting the city’s Eastside and Westside.

An artist’s rendering of the Sola Street Paseo | Courtesy Photo

That, it should be acknowledged, was only one of the many problems the HLC had with what’s now described as the proposed Sola Street Paseo, which will require some motorists to dog-leg off of Sola Street at certain intersections. Some HLC members objected to any change to the city’s historic grid. Others objected more to what they described as the “goofy” aesthetics of the proposed plan. But all were offended by what they decried as a take-it-or-leave-it attitude by the city planning staff, which they objected left no room for modification or design tweak-age.

The HLC denial of Sola Street bikeway — an integral component of the city’s new bicycle master plan approved by the council four years ago — will now be appealed to the City Council later this month.

City transportation planners insist their proposal is the plan the council approved and that the HLC is seeking to make changes beyond its purview and jurisdiction.

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