Bridging the Gap

Somewhere along the Coastal Route on Modoc Road, right about where the road's embankment steeply falls off the side into Arroyo Burro Creek, there's a little section of road that could have been so easily forgotten...

You see back 45 years ago the County of SB โ€“ through the leadership of local legends George and Vie Obern โ€“ built a bike and equestrian trail along Atascadero Creek on what road right of way that had been slated to be a 'turnpike' up into UCSB. Early environmentalists, mostly at UCSB, put the kibosh on what would have been a roadway blunder.

George Obern, then a Vice-Chancellor, fiesta 'El Presidente,' cyclist and Hope Ranch equestrian, reached out to his buddies at the California Republican Party and managed to secure state funding for an eight mile bike path from Goleta Beach to Hope Ranch. The path now bears the name Obern, in George and Vie's memory.

Right behind Vieja Valley Elementary School, the path has terminated into Modoc Road. There are painted bike lanes on Modoc, but the 55 mph traffic makes the route intimidating and dangerous, fending off many would be cyclists. The experience on one half of the route between SB to UCSB, vs the other half, has been a consistent contrast between comfort and stress.

Enter the City of Santa Barbara and the Las Positas Multi-use pathway project. A pipe-dream, long considered since the heyday of George and Vie, somehow this project scope extended outward cornering Las Positas and up Modoc to city limits, connecting back all the way to Cliff Drive and Hendry's beach.

By a miracle, and some clever counting by the City staff, this beast of a project got funding, and is on the fast track. Hooray!

But where were those city limits again? Turns out there is about a mile stretch of Modoc, along the California Coastal Trail that spans from the Obern's terminus near Vieja Valley school to the City of SB boundary at Calle de los Amigos. It also turns out this one mile stretch is a very tricky stretch to build a path on!

The Obern'sThe Obern Trail in 1975

With much, much less than a full ATP grant cycle to spin up operations, the County of Santa Barbara stepped up to bridge the gap- one that wouldn't even be apparent for two years to come. Starting with very little, the County unincorporated secured its very first Active Transportation Grant for this project, $5,000,000!

In the infrastructure world, projects like the coastal trail are difficult to deliver and take collaboration with multiple jurisdictions- wholly separate organizations โ€“ in order to seem seamless to the public. Our stretch of coastal trail, with an additional new four miles of bicycle path instead of painted lines to separate high speed traffic, will now be seamless, a year or two after Las Positas completes, with the Obern Trail.

Kids love the Obern TrailKids love the trail

In the midst of the rainstorms that have pummeled our roadways, let us appreciate the unsung heroes of County Public Works Transportation for this project, which most people will never even think was theirs in the first place.

Ironically, the true indication of a job well done!

Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition
P.O. Box 92047, Santa Barbara, CA 93190
506 E. Haley Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93103
(805)845-8955