Santa Barbara community members showed up in force on Thursday, October 29 to express their concerns about a new “watered down” version of the Bicycle Master Plan at a special joint meeting of the City’s Transportation and Circulation Committee and the Planning Commission.
The main issue with the updated plan: removal of critical bike lanes. An earlier draft included plans to build several dedicated bike lanes that would close major gaps in the City’s currently fragmented bicycle network. The new version completely removed several of these proposed bike lanes, or turned them into less effective solutions, like “sharrows” – arrows painted on the street to indicate that bikes and cars will share the road, both riding in the same lane. Community members previously voiced concern over the safety and practicality of sharrows, as they offer no protection for bike riders, and would potentially slow traffic. In short, the newest draft did not address the need to give bicyclists safe paths to travel through town.
Staff from the City’s Transportation Division made these changes because Santa Barbara City Council directed them to minimize on-street parking removal at an earlier public meeting. This directive was made despite the fact that the original list of projects already had a minimal impact – it called for removal of less than 1% of all available on-street parking in the downtown area.
In a positive direction, the new version of the plan includes specific “mode share” goals (referring to the modes of transportation people use), which CEC advocated for during earlier Bicycle Master Plan hearings. The goals in the new plan call for an increase in the number of trips made by bicycle each year, a crucial step in reducing traffic congestion as Santa Barbara’s population continues to grow.
Strong policy goals for safety are also included in the new version of the plan. Specifically, the plan calls for a 25% reduction in bike collision rates by 2020 and the elimination of bicyclist fatalities by 2030. These safety goals align with the Vision Zero Santa Barbara plan, which City Council voted to move forward in May at the urging of COAST and Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition.
While the mode share and safety goals are a step in the right direction, they will be difficult to achieve without more dedicated bike lanes to close major gaps in the current network.
The community’s concerns were heard and acted on. Representatives from both the Planning Commission and the Transportation and Circulation Committee directed City staff to consider reincorporation of important bike lanes that had been altered or removed from the current draft. Due to the revisions that need to be made, the public hearing originally scheduled to take place on November 12 will be delayed. Stay tuned to CEC’s Facebook for an announcement of the new date.
Whenever the next Bike Master Plan public hearing happens, it will be critical to have a strong show of community support to ensure we create a safe and sustainable transportation future for Santa Barbara. We’ll need the City Council to hear that the long-term benefits from a strong, well-connected bicycle network will far outweigh any short-term costs of parking removal.