Equal Opportunity Mobility

This article appeared in the Santa Barbara News Press

Driving a car, the most economically and ecologically expensive means of daily transportation, should be a choice, not a necessity. Walking, transit and bicycling benefit our whole society in many ways: they help keep the air clean, the noise down, and the streets uncongested. Our transportation infrastructure must be modernized to encourage these choices.

A comprehensive bikeway network would be a big step forward for civilization in Santa Barbara. It should be possible for a 70 year-old, a 10 year old, or someone with children to ride a bicycle without fear of serious injury. This was the case before the South Coast was overwhelmed by cars.

There are many beautiful and peaceful bikeway segments in Santa Barbara; more than 50% of a comprehensive bikeway network is already in place. However, as the News Press recently noted, only a handful of these bikeways are more than a mile long. Numerous missing links render these routes unusable for most trips.

The most critical missing links are safe passageways across the freeway.

Highway 101 forms a veritable Berlin wall through our community. It appears in our minds as a geological feature. Thousands of children on streets like Indio Muerto by Milpas or La Vauta Road in Montecito are just a few hundred yards from the beach as the crow flies, but they will probably grow up without ever having gone there except in a car.

The freeway has enhanced the mobility of drivers, at the expense of everybody else. Without a car, crossing the freeway is inconvenient, life threatening, or impossible.

Most freeway interchanges on the South Coast (La Cumbre, 154, Milpas, Storke, Fairview, etc.) are slated for shockingly expensive expansion that will make them even more hostile for bikes and pedestrians (and neighbors' property values) . LA-style crossings with double free right turns lanes, longer signal waits, and higher speeds await those that would like to ride their kids or push their baby buggies to the beach a few years from now. Experience has shown that these types of projects are self-perpetuating; they make other transportation modes unattractive and perpetuate sprawling development, so the new expanded road is soon clogged and in need of widening again.

In between every car crossing of 101, we must build a bike/pedestrian crossing. There are 22 car crossings between Ellwood and Montecito, 4 pedestrian crossings, and one bike crossing. Building bike/pedestrian crossings at Cacique Street, San Jose Creek (near Kellog Road), San Pedro Creek (Carlo to Jack Perez Road) Ellwood Station Road, and Calle De Los Amigos/ Hope Avenue would help redress a major inequity in transportation access.

All these crossings together would cost about the same as just one auto interchange expansion! In other words, if, by creating this essential backbone for a bikeway network, traffic volumes were reduced so the most marginal auto interchange project were no longer needed, the bike pedestrian crossings would have paid for themselves.

Separate freeway crossings are not really bike/pedestrian projects, but rather essential mitigation for car projects. Even with them, cycling and walking would not be as convenient and pleasant as it would be if the freeway was not there.

In Europe, the demographics of those that cycle closely mirrors that of the society as a whole: old, young, male and female. In Santa Barbara, bicycle commuters are disproportionately young and male...that portion of society which is most prepared for war. This is no coincidence. An errand on the other side of the freeway is not unlike a mission behind enemy lines.

While tens of millions of dollars are spent to save motorists a few minutes on the road, very little money is spent to safeguard the lives of bicyclists, or spare them long detours. No more money should be spent on streamlining the auto infrastructure as long as it is dangerous or impossible to get around by other means. This inequity must be redressed first. At the very least, no road project should be funded which makes it more unpleasant to walk or bike.

The people of Santa Barbara have scored a significant victory for quality of life by derailing the 101 widening. This time is right to address the transportation needs of cyclists and pedestrians with the same zeal used to build up the auto infrastructure. Let's start with safe, separate bike/pedestrian crossings over the freeway.