By Alex Pujo
Longtime residents often wonder why our region, once lauded as the cradle of the environmental movement and a leader in planning circles, now lags behind when it comes to getting anything done.
Call it ‘the accomplishment gap’: During the 30 years that we spent debating a ‘people mover’ on State Street, a trolley from Carpinteria to Isla Vista and a commuter train from Oxnard to Goleta -and we ended up instead with a wider freeway- Los Angeles, a city of freeways, built hundreds of miles of commuter rail, light rail lines of every color, subways under dense corridors and metro bus stretching out to the valleys.
And how about housing –the other side of the transportation equation? Along with rebuilding a transit network, Los Angeles more than tripled its downtown population and is no longer deserted after 5 pm. And Santa Barbara? Well… we debated endlessly about adding small rentals with less parking closer to town, but built precious little -and we are still talking about that.
While basic fixes move at a glacial pace, the conversation at City Hall gets bogged down by parking, fear of change and “we need another study”. There is nothing wrong with big projects, like the proposal to fix the lower State Street underpass but, why do the small fixes take so long, or never get done?
This article is written in the midst of a big municipal election and by press time Santa Barbara may have elected as Mayor the one candidate who has consistently denied climate change and advocated against active transportation and smart growth policies. The reason for this political morass is not that sustainability and the environment are no longer important to a majority of voters, but rather because there is not a clear, shared vision for a sustainable future –something tangible that goes beyond protecting what we already have.
The irony is that much of what Santa Barbara desperately needs can be accomplished rather easily. To begin with, we need lots of paint. To paint green bikeways is nowhere as complex as building the class I networks of the 1970s but, to hear the bureaucrats, this is asking for the sky. There is also no excuse for the treacherous gaps on Upper State over 101, access to City College, Hollister at Old Town and other glaring system deficiencies. And no excuse either for delaying the prompt implementation of ‘buffered’ lanes.
Another ‘low hanging fruit’ is the implementation of traffic calming area-wide with improved intersections, road diets and re-striping. These are not big or expensive projects, but they require a clear vision and sharp focus.
The same is true with housing, as small scale solutions are perfectly fine for communities like ours. Sacramento has recently enacted a series of laws aimed at removing local barriers to the construction of accessory dwelling units (ADUs). Since SB 1069 went into effect on January 1st of this year, the City of Santa Barbara received 230 applications; most of them are still sitting there, in spite of the state’s directive to approve them within 120 days. And a good number of these ADU applications are for legalizing units already built or converted without permits, many of them decades ago.
There is never a shortage of calls for caution, to measure twice and ‘what ifs?’, but the status quo is not the answer for everyone who lives and works in Paradise -not for those forced to commute, to hide in substandard housing or to risk life and limb on foot, or on two wheels.
A larger vision is something that takes into consideration architectural design, human scale, historic preservation, public views and community character, but never at the expense of environmental justice.
By Kim Stanley
What happens when a group of moms are unhappy about a route they and their elementary school children use to get to and from school everyday? A much-improved and safer path gets built! Granted, this is also a success story about being in the right place at the right time.
A group of Cleveland moms were talking about how unsafe the back walking-path to Cleveland School had become: There was crumbling cement and big sinkholes caused by erosion. As disrepair sets in, things like used needles and used condoms start showing up- you know the trend.
Fortunately COAST’s Ana Rico was on scene. She invited the moms, led by Marisol, to one of our Eastside community meetings. They presented their case vividly. We knew we could support them, but the initiative had to be theirs. First, we needed to find out who owned the path: Was it the City of Santa Barbara or the School District? We asked Peter Brown at the City, and the answer was: the School District. We realized that the School District had just passed Measure J, and every Santa Barbara School got to submit a wish list of needed repairs.
We knew we needed to make our case immediately as an eroded footpath might easily be overlooked in favor of other, flashier projects. So Ana and a group of moms spoke during public comment at the next school board meeting. It was a case of being in the right place at the right time. Two weeks later, we heard that our project had been included in the repair list and even made a priority. It was built over the summer. With a little landscaping TLC, it will be a safe and inviting path for the Cleveland School community.
Way to go Cleveland moms!
By Eva Inbar
There is much discussion currently about the state of State Street, the beloved heart of Santa Barbara. Businesses are struggling, and too many storefronts are vacant. Iconic stores, like Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue, are closing. What to do?
On November 15th, the City of Santa Barbara held a workshop on how to “revitalize” the State Street underpass at Highway 101. Most tourists stay in hotels near the beach, but the city’s business district is located on the other side of Highway 101. How do we make the freeway less of a barrier than it naturally is? It’s an interesting question that drew a large crowd of almost 100 people, but it does not deal with State Street itself.
The American Institute of Architects (AIA) held a workshop on Saturday, October 21st, to explore options to revitalize State Street. The workshop, or “charrette,” displayed an impressive amount of talent and creativity. Santa Barbara can be proud of its architects! One idea the architects proposed was adding housing to the State Street corridor. The ground level would still be stores, restaurants and other businesses, but the floors above could be apartments. Some people could live above their shops, as they did in the old days. There could also be live-work spaces for small entrepreneurs. The architects were also intrigued with Santa Barbara’s unique paseo system that allows walkers to get inside a block and would like to develop it more. Some of the groups even mentioned creating a car free zone on State Street.
State Street was a major topic in Santa Barbara’s recent city council elections. You can read an op-ed piece by one of the candidates here: “A modest Proposal to Revive State Street” by making it a place for people.
Let’s check out this idea: How about making a stretch of State Street a place for walking, biking and meeting people in a car free plaza? The larger paseo would connect with the existing smaller ones that are so popular. People of all ages and abilities could move about freely. Stores could spread out and restaurants would have more opportunity to set up tables outside. There would be musicians and artists’ booths, dance troupes and exercise classes for people to participate in. Car free zones are successful the world over in all the places we love to visit. They are also successful in this country, with Boulder’s Pearl Street, Denver’s Sixteenth Street Mall and Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade being prime examples. Even New York City is experimenting with Shared Streets. You can read an article from the New York Times here.
People love the experience and businesses are thriving. A study done in New York City documents the economic benefits of sustainable streets. The study includes Willoughby Plaza in Brooklyn, a newly created pedestrian paseo. People living on State Street would have the advantage of living on a street with no cars – no noise, no fumes, no traffic danger. They could just step out their front door and stroll with other people. They would be a built-in customer base for State Street businesses. Young people these days are more interested in experiences than in accumulating stuff. They like to live in an urban environment. State Street as a car free plaza could be an exciting urban experience for residents and tourists alike. New housing downtown combined with a car free plaza could be a winning combination. We believe a State Street Promenade is an idea whose time has come.
We are planning a forum in January to brainstorm what it could be like. Please visit our website for the date and location.
By Eva Inbar
This summer, I visited Portland, Oregon. Portland is one of the most popular places to live in this country, and now I understand why. It is of course a place of great natural beauty being situated on the Willamette River that is crossed by many bridges. But much of Portland’s recent success is a result of a conscious planning effort to limit auto traffic in the center city and make it a place for people. This has attracted many young urban professionals who have made Portland the vibrant place it is today.
Portland has made a serious investment in its light rail, streetcar, and bus system to provide mobility. Driving downtown is discouraged through a variety of strategies. Parking is scarce and expensive. Streets are narrow, many are one-way and turns are restricted. All of this combines to make the driving experience so slow and annoying that only a fool would try to drive downtown. Most streets have a dedicated lane for buses and streetcars. An extensive system of light rail lines connects Portland with its suburbs. Public transportation is well used throughout the day and downright crowded during rush hour. Groups of people can be seen on the sidewalks all over the city waiting for their tram.
There is a bike share service with brightly colored orange bikes, but my husband and I opted to rent bikes for the day at Portland State University’s bike hub. The rental came with a free bike map that revealed a network of bike routes connecting central Portland with the outlying areas. In the mornings and evenings, you can observe a steady stream of bike commuters on these routes. Every kind of exciting new bike infrastructure can be found in Portland: cycle tracks, fat green bike lanes, bike boxes even for left turns! Clearly, Portland is doing everything it can to encourage bicycling.
The walking experience downtown is excellent due to a network of curb extensions and a critical mass of other pedestrians around. Clearly, Portland has been doing this for a long time because these curb extensions are not new. And Portland has the most courteous drivers I have seen anywhere!
Perhaps the grandest statement of Portland’s philosophy (and its recipe for success) is its newest bridge, the Tilikum Crossing, dubbed a “Bridge of the People.” This beautiful modern bridge offers spacious accommodations for bicyclists and pedestrians as well as buses and light rail—but not cars.
All these efforts taken together and sustained over many years have made the difference. They have made Portland a city where street life is flourishing and where young people love to live. It is economically and culturally thriving. No empty store fronts there. Its restaurants are packed and the beer scene has to be experienced to be believed. I haven’t had so much good beer in a long time!
By Dennis Thompson
In April of this year, a group of eight cycling friends rode 444 miles from Nashville, Tennessee, to Natchez, Mississippi, on the Natchez Trace. As we learned along the way, the Trace (a French word for trail) has been used by animals and humans for thousands of years as a north-south route through this part of the country. It had its high point from 1790 to 1820, when settlers from Ohio walked back home after delivering their goods to the Gulf area via boat on the Mississippi River. When steamboats came into use, they no longer walked, and the trail fell into disrepair.
Today, the Trace is a National Parkway, part of our national parks system. It is a 500 foot wide beautifully landscaped swath of land which passes through southern Tennessee, a corner of Alabama, and a big diagonal through Mississippi. There are historical and scenic stops along the way, including Native American ceremonial mounds, 200-year old cabins, antebellum mansions, Merriweather Lewis’s death place, swamps and ponds.
For us, this was a cyclists’ paradise! The gently rolling two-lane road has a speed limit of 50 miles per hour; commercial vehicles are not allowed, and bicycles have the right of way! There are no stop signs or cross-traffic; cars pass over and under, or merge with curved ramps. We rode 40-50 miles a day (we took turns driving our rented van) and stayed in motels and historic B & B’s in little rural towns, as well as Jackson, Natchez, and Tupelo (Elvis’s birthplace). We ate a little too much Southern food, but it was a most memorable trip for all of us!
By Eva Inbar, COAST Board President
Every child in Santa Barbara has a bike and knows how to ride once they hit a certain age, right? Well, wrong.
Educators in Washington, D.C., noticed a great disparity, even in access to bicycles, between suburban children and inner city children who often did not own bikes and did not know how to ride one. So the Washington School District decided to provide bikes and bike education to all schools, especially those in the inner city. Will it cure all the disparities? No; but it is something simple we can do that can bring a measure of happiness and freedom to a kid that faces many hurdles. You can read more about the program here.
In Santa Barbara, there are similar disparities, and they extend to having something as basic as a bike. Julie Churchman, P.E. teacher at Adams School, was the first to bring the idea of bike education in P.E. to Santa Barbara. A local private foundation named Audacious stepped up to fund the effort at seven pilot schools countywide—three public and four private—providing a fleet of bicycles to each participating school. One of them was McKinley School.
COAST and SBBIKE agreed to manage the program and train the P.E. teachers in the curriculum. They have been working on it for about a year. Children, usually second graders, are taught by their P.E. teacher for a period of four weeks. By the end of that time, virtually all will know how to ride a bike. Last fall we expanded the program to grades K, 4 and 6, and more schools have come on board. “We've long wanted to institutionalize pedestrian and bike safety in the schools. Funding from Measure A and the Audacious Foundation and our partnership with SBBIKE brings us closer than ever to that goal,” said Kim Stanley, COAST’s Safe Routes to School program coordinator.
It has been hard work, but incredibly rewarding. Often, we support and assist the teachers, taking on those kids that need extra help. Among the sixth graders at McKinley School recently, there were six kids who didn’t know how to ride a bike. One of them, Josue, just won a bike, helmet and lock at the recent Westside Health Fair. Now he needed to master riding it. The following account is by Jody Nelson, one of COAST’s bike instructors:
During the lunch session, there were three learners, Josue, Lizbeth and Ruby. Josue started out really fearful and afraid he would fall, saying “Don’t let go of me.” He said his father never taught him how to ride a bike. He was determined to eventually ride and show his dad that he could. For a fleeting few seconds he felt his own independence on the bike. He was so excited that he exclaimed “I am so happy I feel I’m going to cry!” I started to tear up and said “Now I’m crying.” A few minutes later he exclaimed “I feel like I want to give someone a hug,” and he gave me a big long hug. He was so thrilled to start learning! All three said they would be there again tomorrow. They are all so sweet, grateful and determined to get this! This is why we do what we do.
Josue has since been bringing his new bike to school and practicing every day.
The County of Santa Barbara Public Works and Planning and Development Departments came to give us a presentation about their proposed changes to Hollister Avenue/State Street from Hollister and San Antonio Rd to State St. and Hwy. 154. Planning and Development will be handling the streetscape improvements & Public Works will be handling the road widening. In this video from our June COAST General Meeting, County of Santa Barbara staff give an overview of the project scope and history, an explanation of why the widening is being proposed and impacts to level of service, and answer questions from attendees. All questions/comments for the project should be directed to Thomas Park, Planner (firstname.lastname@example.org).
By Kim Stanley, COAST Safe Routes to School Coordinator
At Carpinteria Open Streets three youth on bikes caught my eye. They were comfortable in the saddle, helmets properly fitted and appeared to be close friends.
I wondered if COAST’s educational programs at the Carpinteria elementary schools had any influence on these kids’ biking knowledge so I asked them a few questions. Soren Fourquean remembers when he participated in the 4th grade bike rodeo- he remembers the stop signs and riding right, but points out that his grandmother was the one who taught him all about bike safety. Diego Nieves remembers the “Bici Familia- Family Bike Night” (a COAST/SB Bike Partnership) at Aliso School where he got a free tune-up for his bike and rode the bike courses, but also states his key influences were his grandparents. Ivan Vargas does not remember any formal bike training. He learned on his own and cannot specifically remember being taught about the rules of the road, he “just knows them!”
When asked if they could choose to get to school in any way possible, what mode would they choose, they all three said: BIKE. They all alluded to biking being fun, feeling the wind in your face, healthy, that biking was good for the earth and that it was fun to bike with friends. We talk about these reasons a lot in the Safe Routes to School program, but these boys didn’t just know it intellectually, they were living it. I think that’s why they caught my eye.
As much as I wanted the evidence to point to the Safe Routes to School program, it turns out there were many factors involved, including their experience with Safe Routes to School and Bici Familia, but also- adult family members, quiet, safe streets, places that are easy to get to, friends close by and the wind on their faces. It makes sense!
As we move forward encouraging our youth to use active transportation we cannot rely on any one method to shift transportation choices. The solution is “complete streets” and education combined.
To find out about upcoming Safe Routes to School events visit http://coast-santabarbara.org/safe-routes-to-school/calendar/
By Alex Pujo, COAST Advisory Board Member
The City of Goleta’s proposal to widen Storke Road south of Phelps to complete a full-blown arterial from El Colegio to Hollister caught local residents and sustainable transportation activists flat footed. Are cities still addressing the transportation needs generated by new developments by widening streets? Really? Doesn’t current State law now require the study of vehicle miles travelled (VMTs) instead of the old-fashioned level-of-service analysis in the consideration of proposed projects and mitigations?
Many of us thought that these “capacity improvements” that defined the 1960-80’s concept of transportation planning had gone the way of bell bottoms and shoulder pads. The trend has been in the direction of “road diets” (eliminating traffic lanes in favor of bike lanes and wider sidewalks) as done on upper De La Vina and Chapala streets, the top of Milpas, lower Cliff Drive, Shoreline and elsewhere.
It is troublesome when a road widening project is seen as a solution for an area where bicycle use is the number one mobility choice for a large segment of the population. Particularly egregious is the proposed removal of a bike path currently used by children and their parents on their way to Isla Vista Elementary School. Its replacement with bike lanes painted on the roadway is not an acceptable solution, especially when the road itself will become more dangerous and fast in a four-lane configuration.
“If you build it, they will drive” –a simple way to describe the effects of encouraging automobile use, and discouraging walking/biking. How safe is a bike lane painted on a fast, four-lane road compared to a separated bike path? Would you let your children use it, or would you feel compelled to drive them to school –thus adding to the problem?
Safety, especially the safety of children, should take precedent over automobile convenience. A degree of congestion –the ‘lead car’ slowing down the rest- is an acceptable alternative to the denial of a whole generation of future cyclists. Storke Road is an area where bicycle access has historically been prevalent. We believe that a complete re-evaluation of this project is in order. Please share your thoughts with your Goleta officials.
Project webpage: http://www.cityofgoleta.org/projects-programs/road-improvements/storke-road-widening
By Deborah Schwartz, City of Santa Barbara Planning Commissioner
The new “sharing economy” is defined as “collaborative consumption as a phenomenon is a class of economic arrangements in which participants mutualize access to products or services, rather than having individual ownership.”1 Those are a lot words to describe what is part of a socio-economic paradigm shift. It is made possible due to virtualization and cloud services in the tech sector, and it is irreversibly changing our way of life.
I sat down with transportation experts, Rob Dayton and Peter Brown from City of Santa Barbara Transportation Planning, to discuss this paradigm shift and the new Carshare Vehicle Permit Program. The Program was enacted by the City Council after significant research to determine community interest, contracting with Zipcar after vetting their track record and flexible capacity to ramp up and down the number of Zipcars deployed around the city, based on usage. Zipcar, based in Boston, has 1 million “members” (enrolled users), and 12,000 vehicles worldwide! There are approximately 80-100 members using athe Zipcar, typically within a 10-15 minute walk from a site. The transportation paradigm shift also reveals that on average for each carshare user who owns one car, that car is often “shed”; an owner has two cars, one car is “shed”. The term being used for this phenomenon is vehicle shedding or displacement.
Zipcar makes/models are Subaru Impreza, Honda Fit, and Honda CR-V. Curbs will be painted and signs posted to designate the “home base” for each vehicle. To start Zipcar vehicles will be located at City parking lots 6 (Granada garage) and 10 (lot at Ortega and Anacapa), Amtrak Depot lot, Cottage Hospital garage, and the corners of Sola and De la Vina, Figueroa and Chapala, De la Guerra and De la Vina, Micheltorena and San Andres, and Milpas and Gutierrez. Zipcar will monitor and evaluate usage to, in partnership with the City, identify optimal locations.
Zipcar offers business and residential memberships, so the hope is that local businesses will offer this carsharing option to employees. More information is coming through City water bill inserts, online City News In Brief, etc.
Go to www.zipcar.com to learn more or to join Zipcar.