Lawsuit against Micheltorena Bike Lanes Costs City New Bikeways and Grant Funds
After a 6 hour meeting, a historical turnout and a 5-2 vote, we all thought that the Bike Master Plan was adopted. The Summer paving schedule and the State Active Transportation Program grant cycle are both ready for the first projects of the plan. Over the last two weeks, however, we have learned the frustrating reality that what we all thought was a vote was somehow not, and the threat of a lawsuit from property owners on Micheltorena is set to push back the plan adoption 3 months, and solidly past the window for year-one improvements.
So no, we don’t have a Bike Master Plan adopted, yet. If you’re following the news, you’ve heard much about Micheltorena bicycle lanes - 85 parking spaces, theoretical alternatives - and probably little about the other 35 projects that make up the City’s new bike plan.
This article isn’t to debate the merits of bike lanes on Micheltorena or the feasibility of alternatives. That conversation will be had in upcoming weeks in a series of Transportation Circulation Committee, Planning Commission, and City Council meetings.
Instead, Let’s look at the big picture to understand why using a lawsuit to halt an entire transportation plan has real consequences for the city’s budget and residents. Threatening litigation and halting the Micheltorena project (in tandem, the entire Bike Master Plan) isn't isn’t just bad news for a couple hundred bike commuters that travel daily from the Westside to other parts of the City. Far off on the other side of town, The eastside bicycle boulevard and safe route to downtown will be significantly delayed.
By hitting the pause button, the Bike Master Plan sits in planning purgatory- not adopted and therefore in-actionable by city staff. Right out of the gate, the city renders the very timeline and goals set in the Bike Master Plan unreachable- especially a series of infrastructure projects set to occur over the next 3 years. This is primarily due to: 1) the narrow window to set new street striping for this summer’s slurry seal and pavement maintenance work, and 2) the narrow window to apply for state funding.
It’s worth noting that the City could restripe the entire street to fit a bicycle lane at a later point after the BMP’s summer adoption . It would come at great expense to the city and taxpayers of Santa Barbara. It’s an economical decision to add a bike lane when an entire street is already being repaved and restriped. The crews, environmental clearance and necessary road closures for De La Vina are already scheduled and funded by the city’s streets maintenance fund. To go back six months later and re-stripe the street a second time is cost-prohibitive and renders the likeliness of this occurring to zero. Simply put, restriping an entire street to fit a bicycle lane doesn’t make financial sense when you have the option to install it during regular maintenance.
Switching gears, the other way to bring the most ambitious, costly and safety-driven projects of the Bike Master Plan into existence is through outside grant funding. Specifically, the Active Transportation Program, in which cities all over California compete to fund key bikeways. Historically, Santa Barbara City staff have been very successful at winning grants through this program, bringing in tens of millions of outside funding to improve biking and walking in Santa Barbara. This year city staff were already preparing grant applications that would fund the construction of the Alisos Bike Blvd., Cota St. bike lane and path project, the Chino Bike Blvd. and Micheltorena lanes. While it now seems necessary to hold off on Micheltorena lanes, it’s an unfortunate reality that miles away, Eastside residents will miss out on their projects. The Alisos Bike Blvd. demonstration was well-regarded. Most of those project participants have no idea that one lawsuit will have larger implications for the quality of life in their neighborhood and safe routes to schools for their children.
Grant applications for Alisos and Cota St. would be due mid-June of this year. According to the city’s newly released Bike Master Plan timeline, adoption of the bike master plan by City Council seems ambitious. It might be July or August. While months go by and the city navigates how to move the bike master plan forward in the face of pending litigation, 35 non-related projects move further from the horizon. Residents all over the city will wait longer to see their neighborhood bikeways improved, and longer to see routes to schools and workplaces receive bike lanes. By missing inflexible city maintenance and state funding opportunities, the city’s whole bike network and the people who use it everyday will miss out. In the face of an increasingly constrained capital budget, building the Bike Master Plan project and reaping the safety improvements that come with a connected and safe bike network becomes a cost-prohibitive goal.