SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - With its pedestrian promenade already looking like a soon-to-be permanent addition, Santa Barbara's State Street will see another stage of transformation next year.
The city's Public Works Department is planning a major redesign of the Highway 101 underpass, which would cut car traffic from two lanes in each direction to just one, creating a wider and more clearly marked bike lane with a bigger buffer on each side of the street.
The $5.9 million project received $4.7 million from state funds, and Santa Barbara city council is expected to approve the remaining funds and the rest of the 2022 budget next week. Construction is slated to begin next year.
The underpass was completed 30 years ago in 1991, removing the 101 Freeway's final stoplight in Santa Barbara. But city leaders say the under-crossing now needs safety and aesthetic upgrades.
“This is the main critical connection between the downtown and Waterfront,” said Santa Barbara supervising transportation planner Jessica Grant. “So we really want to improve this area and make it inviting.”
Grant says cars often hit pedestrians crossing the State and Gutierrez Street intersection, while bikes are especially vulnerable going through the underpass. City data show more than 12,000 cars and pedestrians--and roughly 1,700 cyclists--travel through the underpass during a typical weekend.
The project would also expand pedestrian sidewalks to nearly twice their current size and add lighting and colorful columns under the bridge.
“And as you go underneath the underpass it’s very dark, even in broad daylight,” Grant said. “It's very uncomfortable.”
The plan is in final design stages, just as more bikes hit the streets this summer.
The city's electric bike-sharing pilot program that rolled out in late January is expanding. Operator BCycle is offering pedal-assist bikes through the downtown corridor, placed in docks mostly along State Street.
After gaining new approval, new docks were placed on the Waterfront on Friday. Currently, there are about 200 docks and 100 pedal assist bikes around the city, with those numbers set to increase to 500 and 250 in the coming months.
“Our most highly-used stations are actually on Haley and Gutierrez, on State,” Santa Barbara BCycle general manager Jesse Rosenberg said. “So now to have docks and bikes available on the waterfront is gonna really increase ridership.”
Ridership has already been climbing in recent months, with thousands of single rides and more than 1,000 monthly or annual memberships purchased.
The pedal-assist bikes are easier to ride than traditional bicycles and help reduce car traffic, something Rosenberg says is a goal for the company. The city's plans for more cyclist safety and accessibility are also a welcome sight.
“With all the sustainability plans coming from the city, it’s gonna really flow in together and align beautifully, so we’re really excited,” she said.