Tuesday evening’s two and half-hour council session on the city’s Bike Master Plan (BMP) was characterized by a welcome sentiment from the bench (and perhaps an unlikely source). Councilman Frank Hotchkiss, who in the past has expressed skepticism related to bicycle facilities, said at least one of his concerns has not come to fruition. A confrontational element he’s witnessed in the past, pitting bicycle riders against non-bicycle riders, has not been a part of ongoing discussions of the plan that will guide the city’s bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure developments for the next decade and beyond. “It doesn’t feel like us versus them,” he said.
Perhaps because of that past Hotchkiss is referring to, this is precisely the message the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition (SBBIKE) has been striving to convey. The issue isn’t confrontational. Not only do constituents overwhelmingly support improved cycling facilities, as evidenced by results of the city’s public engagement process to determine what the community wants, well-designed bicycling infrastructure is good for the city as a whole. Safe, connected bikeways bring improvements to all, regardless of how they get around. Those benefits were elaborated by over a dozen supporters—including representatives from COAST, City Watch, the Transportation and Circulation Committee (TCC), and the Community Environmental Council (CEC); business owners; and other residents—who spoke during public comment periods.
Successfully having established a harmonious foundation where all parties can work together is a great step. But the BMP was on the council’s agenda Tuesday night to answer an important question—is the plan on the right track? As city employees and the two groups the city hired to guide the development of the BMP (LA-based urban planners, Melendrez, and transportation consultants, Fehr & Peers) move toward finalizing the plan, what adjustments should they make? Now is the time to make any changes, as a final plan is slated for this November (though council heard a number of suggestions to extend that deadline).
The answers clearly depend on one’s point of view. Here, after a brief look at the plan as presented Tuesday evening, are a few of the concerns and suggestions planners heard.
Basic Outline of BMP in progress
I. The network – Two components will make up the network of cycling infrastructure in Santa Barbara as proposed by the consultants. First, the “spine,” a core connected route that is safe and highly visible (think green paint), will get cyclists from one side of town to the next. Second, groupings of connectors will lead to different areas in town; these are grouped as coastal connections, Uptown connectors, Eastside routes, and Westside routes. What these routes will look like—green lanes, sharrows, one-way couplets, bike boulevards, or protected lanes—has not been nailed down. (It’s noteworthy, though, that not many of the latter are in consideration—a concern SBBIKE’s new advocacy coordinator, Eve Sanford, brought to the table.)
The options being considered in each area are far too many to list, but you can view them yourself on the maps at the city's BMP website.
II. Policy? – The proposed network projects, as SBBIKE Executive Director Ed France put it, “are the blood and guts” of the BMP. Noticeably absent from the presentation thus far is an overarching vision and goals—language that says why the plan is being implemented and what it hopes to achieve. A number of Tuesday’s public commenters urged council to include such policy-oriented language. That portion of the plan is imperative, not only as a guide and way to clearly measure achievements now, but because language that makes clear the goals will serve as a road-map over the next fifteen years through administrative and elected changes.
For example, CEC’s Cameron Gray urged a vision that would define specific goals to decrease the number of miles traveled by automobiles. Gray pointed to other cities, such as San Luis Obispo, which set 20 percent as its mode share goal and, thus, committed 20 percent of its transportation general fund to bicycling infrastructure.
III. Other components – The consultant group did mention additional components of the BMP are in the works. That list includes enforcement, education, intersection improvements, bike parking, and a bike share program. None of these were discussed in detail.
Concerns from the Bench
Tradeoffs, parking, and Micheltorena – Remember the list of types of infrastructure that could be used to connect the network (each very different)? Often, which will be used will depend on how Council guides the consultants in terms of tradeoffs. Fehr & Peers Matt Benjamin made it clear Council will need to decide to what extent, if any, tradeoffs will be acceptable as planners narrow down the nitty-gritty details. Not surprisingly, a loss of parking is a tradeoff some councilmembers don’t seem likely to consider.
France spoke to the concern directly, explaining that biking can actually create more parking. He even suggested making a goal to free up parking spaces a part of the BMP's goals. “Let’s set a specific number—500, 1,000,” he suggested. “I would love if the people who are interested in riding bikes more are able to free up parking for those who aren’t.” Councilwoman Cathy Murillo later championed his point. “I can tell you,” she said, “that when people choose to ride a bike, they don’t bring a car downtown.”
Adding in a green lane to make Micheltorena Street a downtown connector to the Westside, which would require the removal of four blocks of parking, is one option that may not see the light of day because of parking concerns. A couple of the councilmembers spoke against it, and Mayor Helene Schneider said she’d need to see mitigation plans before considering it. Councilman Dale Francisco suggested the Anapamu footbridge (a pedestrian path) as the alternative (and wants to use the Ortega and Junipero footbridges in the same way). Not mentioned in Tuesday’s meeting was an alternative option to make Sola the connector.
Outreach – Councilmen Francisco and Hotchkiss were, apparently, less than pleased with the public outreach engagement their consultants made. This concern was based, it seems, on the results of the outreach. Survey findings showed that more than 90 percent of survey takers, 50 percent of whom identified cars as their primary mode of transportation and 30 percent who say they primarily bike, want improved bicycling infrastructure. Francisco and Hotchkiss don’t believe this is representative of the community. They directed consultants to conduct more outreach. What that would like wasn’t discussed.
A few community speakers weren’t happy that they’d only recently learned of the discussion. (This group did support bicycling infrastructure improvements, as long as they have a say in where.) One told councilmembers, “When all of you run for elected office, I know about it. I have two doorways, and I get it [mailers] at both entrances.”
Safety loss in numbers? – Hotchkiss voiced a concern he’s raised throughout the process. He believes that more bicycle riders on the streets will inevitably result in more accidents. The solution, he believes, is “encouraging/discouraging”—routing cyclists to and away from certain streets.
No one mentioned data showing the opposite of his concern is true. A Google search of “safety in numbers” will quickly net reports on a well-documented non-linear relationship between the number of bikers and walkers and the number of incidents. These reports show that, across the board in terms of community size and type, collision rates decline as the number of people riding bicycles and walking increases.
Concerns from the Floor
Vision – Local business owner Jeff Rawlings elaborated on a much-touted message—bicycling is good for business. “We’re most of the way to creating a startup mecca in our town,” he said, pointing to features of Santa Barbara, like schools and weather, that attract a new, young workforce and the businesses that employ that workforce. “One thing we’ve not yet mastered,” he continued, “is transportation flexibility.”
Rawlings went on to voice a concern that has been growing among supporters of a robust BMP. “I would love to see a truly visionary plan,” he told council. “This is not it.” Rather, he says, the plan is “conservative but imminently achievable.”
This raises two questions. Is conservative but imminently achievable good enough? If not, how do we move toward a more visionary plan and what would that plan look like?
Councilman Randy Rowse said he’d like the ability to create ad hoc solutions for particular areas as they arise, rather than adopting an overarching philosophy. Would that ability pave the way for visionary solutions as funding and need arise?
Community desires ignored? – As noted earlier, SBBIKE’s advocacy coordinator expressed disappointment in one particular aspect of the BMP as it currently stands. Sanford noted that, while survey results show respondents overwhelmingly asked for buffered and protected bikeways wherever feasible, very few of these types of bikeways are even under consideration in the current plan. “We all bike and drive in a world where people make mistakes,” she said. “A few feet can make a huge difference.” She urged Council to direct planners to consider more bikeways that physically separate bikes and cars.
Planners have pointed to the city’s narrow streets and built-up grid system as the primary factor for the absence of that type of infrastructure.
By far the least popular route type among survey takers was sharrows. SBBIKE board member Robert Caiza pointed out a meeting earlier this month that shared lanes confuse both people on bikes and in cars, and those already existing are underused. Yet some sharrows are part of the plan. Though sharrows weren’t heavily discussed on Tuesday, Mayor Schneider noted that she supports green lanes but doesn’t understand sharrows.
Westside speaks out
A group of Westside residents, nine to be precise, spoke strongly against a route the city was considering that would convert Chino and San Andres Streets into a one-way couplet, similar to Bath and Castillo. The speakers fear the change would increase auto speed on a road where many residents walk their children to and from school and strongly urged another option. A few pointed to Gillespie as a good alternative.
What do you think? Is the BMP on the right track? Planners will be working toward finalizing the plan over the next few months. What would you like to see them focus on—both in terms of the “blood and guts” of the proposed routes and infrastructure types and the overarching goals and vision?
This is your plan. It will guide your future. As an organization representing over 1,000 members, SBBIKE wants to ensure it advocates for what you want. Check out the map for route details. Weigh in here.