One of the most frequent — and frustrating — complaints about problems on State Street concern speeding bicyclists and the safety threat they pose to people walking in the downtown Pedestrian Promenade.
Some fear it’s just a matter of time before these riders lose control of their hurtling bikes and hit one or more unsuspecting people out for a leisurely stroll along the city’s main artery.
While the city has tried several approaches to address the problem, on its own and in concert with others, at least one city council member says more needs to be done — sooner than later.
“Whether it is perception of safety, or actual safety, people do not feel comfortable walking down the promenade in its current configuration with bikes,” Councilmember Kristen Sneddon told the News-Press.
“There are a lot of ideas about what to try, and I just think it’s time to start trying them,” she said. “This will help people feel comfortable now and will inform the Master Plan of what can work.”
She tried to raise the issue at a recent council meeting during a discussion on the State Street Master Plan, but was told she couldn’t because it wasn’t on the agenda; that current problems on lower State Street must be governed by interim city guidelines/requirements for the promenade.
She’s in an ideal position to do that, because not only is she a council member but she’s the chair of the council ad hoc subcommittee charged with making interim recommendations to address current downtown conditions, from parklets to security to lighting — to bicyclist/pedestrian safety.
Asked if she intends to bring it up at a future subcommittee meeting, she answered with an emphatic yes.
“I think not enough has been done to date and it is time to start implementing some of these trials as soon as possible,” she said.
Perhaps the most well-known — certainly the most visible — effort by the city to address the bicycle/pedestrian safety issue was the green bike lane painted down the middle of State Street, which was designed to separate people on wheels from people on legs.
“The purpose of the green markings was to channel cyclists to the center of the street and pedestrians to the sides of the street so user movements were more predictable,” Councilmember Sneddon said.
It didn’t work out as planned.
“In October 2022, the green bike markings on the State Street Promenade were removed,” she said. “While the green markings were effective positioning cyclists near the center of the street, the green markings were less effective positioning pedestrians to the sides of the street.
“Because of this, the city removed the green markings, and continues to explore interim options for cyclists and pedestrians to coexist in the promenade.”
The city is not alone in its efforts, focusing with others to increase bicyclists’ awareness of how to behave when riding in public — and enforcing good behavior when necessary.
“The city has been working with our regional and state partners, MoveSBC (formerly SBBIKE+COAST), the Police Department, and stakeholders downtown and throughout the city to discuss concerns about e-bike and regular bike riders, both young and old, riding unsafely or disrespectfully, and have been implementing strategies to try and curb these behaviors along the State Street Promenade and throughout the city,” Councilmember Sneddon said.
“Over the summer, the city released a Stay Safe on State video with the message targeted to all road users to be respectful, stop at red lights, keep a safe distance, be alert and watch speed,” she said.
At the same time, she noted, the Santa Barbara Police Department has a continued presence on State Street to curb these behaviors.
The Santa Barbara County Association of Governments has gotten involved as well.
Its Traffic Solutions Division put on its first ever E-bike Awareness Day on Jan. 19, and the city collaborated with Traffic Solutions to produce a 5-minute e-bike safety video. On Traffic Solutions’ website, residents are encouraged to take the E-Bike Safety Pledge and learn more about e-bike safety tips.
MoveSBC, meanwhile, will hold a community-wide e-bike safety event on Sunday, Feb. 12
“MoveSBC continues to offer bike and pedestrian safety instruction K-12 within Santa Barbara County, including the Santa Barbara Unified School and Hope School Districts, and are including in their curriculum e-bike safety tips, too,” Councilmember Sneddon said.
In addition, the California Highway Patrol is working on e-bike safety messaging and curriculum for the entire state, she said.
Whether these efforts are paying off, or it’s something else, the number of reported bicycle- and pedestrian-related accidents appears to be dropping — even as the number of people riding regular bikes and e-bikes is rising.
“Over the past few years, State Street has had more people of various ages and abilities riding e-bikes and regular bikes,” Councilmember Sneddon said. “There has been more bike-riding citywide, too. As the link between Downtown, Waterfront, Eastside and Westside neighborhoods, State Street functions as the spine of the city’s bicycle network, which was identified in the 2016 Bicycle Master Plan.”
Yet despite this increase in ridership, “since the opening of State Street Promenade to pedestrians and bicyclists in May 2020, we have seen a decrease in pedestrian- and bicycle-related collisions,” she said. “Pre-pandemic, State Street averaged around 12 vehicle-only collisions per year and during the pandemic the number of vehicle-only collisions decreased to two.”
This despite the dramatic increase in the number of people riding e-bikes.
“Since the city launched the public bikeshare program with BCycle in 2021, there have been 33,293 riders with over 801,000 miles traveled on BCycle E-Bikes, with 226 e-bikes and 452 docks/racks in circulation (as of December 31, 2022),” she said.
Yet in the 801,000 miles traveled, “there have (only) been four documented collisions (one rider fell off the bike when it was stationary on the State Street Promenade).”
This seems remarkable given the lack of restrictions for riding Class 1 or Class 2 e-bikes under California law, aside from helmet requirements for those 18 and under. These e-bikes can be ridden on multi-use paths and city streets, and users are not required to have a driver’s license to operate them. A Class 3, which can go up to 28 mph, does require that the user is 16 or older and all riders need to wear a helmet.
“While the numbers are encouraging there is always room for improvement,” Councilmember Sneddon said. “I brought it up at Council because I feel we need to be moving more quickly.”