The audience was full of challenging comments for the State Street Advisory Committee meeting on May 24, 2023. | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

One of the big drawbacks about covering long public meetings as a reporter is that afterward, you have to read your own notes. Given that I’ve been declared Public Enemy Number One by the Palmer Method Handwriting School, making sense of my own scrawl has become a huge challenge. Trying to make sense of what went down at this past Wednesday’s long and heated meeting about the future direction of State Street — hosted by the State Street Advisory Committee at the Faulkner Gallery of the downtown Public Library — is even more so. I can summarize by saying this: A whole lot of eggs got broken in the three-and-a-half-hour rant session, but I don’t know that any omelettes actually got made.

To the extent they were, I wouldn’t want to eat any of them.

The other punch line? Kids on electric bikes are not the scourge of western civilization that one might have thought given the intensity of the testimony to the contrary. Yes, some of these Rad Ratz are, in fact, a problem. But not all of them. And to the extent some pose a legitimate safety challenge, it is by no means clear yet how big of one. The preliminary data indicates that since the Promenade has been installed on State Street, there are significantly fewer collisions in the area and those — as frightening and jarring as they are — are not nearly as life threatening as the collisions that took place in the pre-Promenade era in which cars were often involved.

At the State Street Advisory Committee meet-up on May 24, the room was large, the screen was small, and the audience was restive. | Ingrid Bostrom

Two ancillary observations: to date, there has been no appreciable, observable effort by any of the powers-that-be to rein in the problem of e-bike riders on State Street. The cops haven’t done it because they are understaffed and because there’s some question whether they can enforce laws governing conduct on roads if the road has been cut off to traffic. All I know is that the City of Goleta just did a bike sting operation this past week and issued more than a dozen citations. I would suggest dispatching non-sworn officers attired in some official-looking uniform to the Promenade and have them ride back and forth on their official-looking e-bikes. I suspect their mere presence might qualify as a traffic-calming device. A light touch. If a few citations were to get written in the process, so be it. Maybe a $500 ticket — like the one I got for running a stop sign on my bike in my own neighborhood well before 7 a.m. a few years back — might get the kids’ parents’ attention.

To ban bike riders — e-bikes, skateboarders, electrified scooters, those George Jetson uni-wheel mobiles, or, my absolute favorite, the motorized lawn chairs — from the Promenade, as some people are contemplating, without having tried anything first is akin to declaring surrender before ever declaring war. My obvious and glaring bike-riding bias not withstanding, to ban — or seriously limit — all these various alternate forms of mobility from the future of State Street would be akin to cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face while chopping off the ears as well.

Pictured, 2022’s Fiesta Cruiser ride. | Emma Spencer

Last point: one speaker accused bike riders of discrediting themselves by their conduct — “They only have themselves to blame,” I think my notes would reflect him saying were I to go to the trouble of reading them. My response? I could argue with equal validity that pedestrians have done exactly the same. Do they really have an inalienable right to cross the street without looking both ways while texting on their cell phones? Even turkeys — which reportedly are prone to drown while staring up at the sky during rainstorms — exhibit a greater sense of self-preservation.

The point isn’t for pedestrians and bike riders to wage war with one another while we try to envision as car-free a future as possible for downtown. The point is to figure out how to carve up the 80-foot width of roadway and sidewalk to create a humming, buzzing downtown. Clearly, the Frankenstein Monster of State Street needs a jolt of electricity. The real tragedy about Wednesday’s proceeding was how truly impossible it was to discern how any of the three options on the table would accomplish that.

State Street Advisory Committee meeting, May 24, 2023 | Ingrid Bostrom

The computer-generated photo-simulated graphics flashed up on the big screens were impossible to decipher. It was all but impossible to follow the presentation and keep track of all the competing permutations. There were no written hand-outs. Members of the commission itself — all 17 certified big-brains — had only gotten wind of what the proposals would be just nano-seconds before the meeting. To the extent there was any Big Wow factor that might make a normal mortal salivate about a potentially re-invigorated State Street, it eluded me totally. And I tend to salivate without much provocation. No wonder everyone got as grumpy as they did.

Bottom line: State Street can’t go back to what it used to be. And it can’t stay how it is now. So we all need to figure out what we want it to become and how we hope to get there. Wednesday’s presentation called to mind a famous line from the Firesign Theatre, that formerly famous pothead comedy troupe: “How can you be two places at once when you’re not anywhere at all?”

Hope we figure it out soon.


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