City aims to solve State Street biking issues
As tensions grow between pedestrians and bicyclists on State Street, Santa Barbara city officials are working to create harmony between the two and find a safe, logical space for both on the promenade.
As the spine of the bike lane network of the bicycle master plan, State Street provides a connection to many main streets and a destination full of shops, restaurants and activity.
When the city closed off the street to cars in March, the overwhelming support of that decision was twofold — residents of Santa Barbara are now pushing for the closure to be permanent.
According to Rob Dayton, the transportation planning and parking manager for the city,
“The city is leaning into permanent closure.”
However, on a street packed with parklets, outdoor operations and countless pedestrians, what does permanent closure mean for bicyclists?
While some pedestrians on State Street have filed complaints about reckless biking practices, city officials said a bike ban is not likely.
“We believe that bikes represent about half the activity over the course of the day,” Mr. Dayton told the News-Press. “There’s a constant flow of bikes that’s really steady. Pedestrians come and go, but if you want to keep the street active, bikes are probably going to play an important role.”
In fact, the city is considering implementing a pilot program of a new electric bike share program, offered to the city for free by Trek Bikes.
The program is three years long and bike docks will only be available on State Street and the waterfront initially. If the response is positive, the docks will expand into the city.
This is one of the efforts to revitalize downtown Santa Barbara, which has always been a bike-friendly city.
“What I’ve been telling people is that if you’re uncomfortable walking in the street because you’re fearful of encountering bikes, then move to the sidewalks. Bikes aren’t allowed on the sidewalks,” Mr. Dayton said.
City Council member Oscar Gutierrez has been paying attention to the concerns of pedestrians. He told the News-Press that State Street is still legally considered a street, which means bikers, skateboarders and rollerbladers are supposed to be on the road, and all pedestrians should technically be on the sidewalks.
“There’s a few issues that we need to address,” Mr. Gutierrez said. “One is the privatization of a public space and two is the blocking of people’s right to have a safe space to transport themselves.”
He added that the city has discussed a designated bike path going down the middle of State Street, and referenced UCSB as a campus that successfully has pedestrians and bikers use the same routes with separate paths.
“There’s tens of thousands of people that navigate that every day that don’t get hit by bikes,” Mr. Gutierrez said. “It’s not that complicated.”
Mayor Cathy Murillo told the News-Press she supports the bike share program and finding a way to keep biking as a safe and easy option on the downtown street.
“Since we closed State Street to car traffic, our residents have taken ownership of their village center, and I think people would really like to have the opportunity to rent a bike and get on it,” she said. “A lot of our young people really enjoyed the freedom of being on the main drag on their bike, so there’s just a little adjustment of how they can continue to use that space but go a little slower and be careful of the pedestrians.”
The mayor added this is all a “grand experiment” and the final decision to keep the street closed permanently will be made in December.
Melissa Cunningham, the executive director of the Coalition for Sustainable Transportation, said COAST has been advocating for years to get cars off of State Street, and she’s optimistic of finding a way to make it easy and convenient for bikers and pedestrians.
“There’s been a lot of negative commentary in the social media world, so we’re trying to emphasize that we can take other measures like painting a track down the middle or more signage to help keep bikes in one area,” she told the News-Press. “Over 50% of the people on State Street come by bike. If you took the bikes away, you’d have a much quieter place.”
City Council member Meagan Harmon echoed the possibility for all to use and enjoy the promenade.
“It is very important to me that the State Street corridor reflects our whole community and, in my opinion, cyclists are an integral part of such an inclusive vision,” she said. “I’m confident that we can develop a plan that celebrates our whole community, whether one prefers to walk or to ride on State Street.”