Congratulations and thanks to Randy Rowse for inviting positive engagement of community members as he begins serving as Santa Barbara’s new mayor. It’s a time to look forward and be forward thinking about the future health of all segments of the city’s population, including its majority-minority districts.
The year 2022 brings the highly anticipated beginning of constructing the crosstown bike “paseo” segments which will connect the Westside and Eastside over the 101 via the Micheltorena Bridge. As Nick Welsh noted, there is some “Wheel Good News” for the Bike Boulevard route running east from the 101. It utilizes low-traffic Sola Street, a route chosen to maximize safety and minimize loss of on street parking, instead of the original Micheltorena route. Much community feedback from District 6 residents and businesses, along with nonprofits like the Community Environmental Council, helped transform what then-councilmember Rowse declared an example of problematic “top down” planning into a win-win opportunity to increase bicycle use, decrease vehicle traffic, and reduce negative environmental impacts and infrastructure changes.
Unfortunately 2022 could also bring some “Wheel Bad News” for the neighborhood residents and businesses in District 3, on “the other side of the tracks” west of the 101, beyond the Micheltorena Bridge and the railway. This in fact is the original Westside, and one of only two majority-minority districts in the city, which district elections were designed to empower. It is the most densely populated area in the city and is home to many essential workers and their extended families. It has a thriving local small business district around the intersection of Micheltorena and San Andres. Micheltorena with its bridge also serves the whole city by providing a commuter corridor that links the Mesa/Westside neighborhoods with the Downtown/Eastside neighborhoods.
So what is the “Wheel Bad News” west of the 101? The current, approved, shovel-ready, “top down” plan for the bikeway west of the Micheltorena bridge sends cyclists right through the Westside’s Micheltorena/San Andres Crossroads, a city-documented “Collision Hot Spot” zone! This bikeway segment has gotten second-class treatment, nothing like the serious public scrutiny for adverse consequences and brainstorming for better alternative routes that benefitted the bike boulevard east of the 101.
The high safety standards and neighborhood infrastructure/character preservation values so championed and celebrated for District 6 have not been applied in crowded, working-class, majority-minority District 3. This should be a concern for anyone invested in social equity, financial prudence, and the expansion of bicycle use!
What different path can the city choose? First it is urgent to postpone construction of this ill-conceived segment before the opportunity is lost! The good news is that an excellent alternative route is right around the corner (figuratively and literally) at the western foot of the bridge where Dutton brings a short connection to Arrellaga Street, the low-traffic equivalent of Sola Street! Among the advantages of using Arrellaga is greater safety for all road users, minimized disruption to existing infrastructure, and a shorter more direct gap closure between the San Pascual and Gillespie bikeways connecting the Westside’s Harding Elementary to La Cumbre Middle School and the Community Academy completing the Paseos’ “Safe Route to School” system!
This is the council’s and community’s last best chance to do right by the residents, businesses and all road users west of the 101. Move the bikeway off Micheltorena and onto Arrellaga for a better future for all!
Potential Micheltorena Corridor Housing Nightmare
Many residents fear the “Traffic Corridor” status given to Micheltorena will clear the way for “Stack ’em and Pack ’em” multi-story mixed-use mini-units constructed along the “Corridor” — west from San Andres to Clearview — replacing the businesses and housing occupied by local employers and many employees on the Westside whose extended families currently live in what is left of somewhat affordable housing in Santa Barbara. Where will our essential hospitality workers, health workers, and service providers like plumbers and their extended families be able to afford to live locally, when tiny single units with no off- or on-street parking are built turning the Westside west of the 101 into “Isla Vista East”?
Concerned residents hope this serious question will be taken up by the reconvening City Council and mayor to consider as part of a long-term planning review.