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Reopening Victoria Street in Santa Barbara to two way traffic gets a bumpy reaction

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Efforts to find new ways to serve the public, modify transportation options and revitalize Santa Barbara's downtown economy are not always topics that have one fresh answer.

Issues have now risen with a plan to return Victoria Street in downtown Santa Barbara  to two way traffic from Chapala to State Street. It is currently one way going from west to east as part of a redesign during the pandemic emergency authorization.

That allowed for more outside dining areas, and a softer impact on the street for pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles.

Bouchon restaurant manager Eric Hanson said, "it's pretty mellow with the one way traffic.   It was even better initially when we had the street closed both ways. "

The area has been popular and economically helpful to the restaurant during the pandemic. "The dining outside, people really really enjoy it. In fact,  I probably have more requests for this outside area than we can really handle, " said Hanson.

The upgraded change was recently discussed by the State Street Advisory Committee.  It was part of a larger and lengthy talk about the promenade's future.

The footprint for the promenade is not just State Street from Haley Street to Sola Street.  It also involves the area from Chapala St to Anacapa Street.

In a call to the committee during a public comment period, the Bouchon owner Mitchell Sjerven said recently, "It is premature. In fact the city's own State street master plan states innovative design, flexibility and adaptability.   Simply returning to car traffic on Victoria represents none of the above."

He says the city has discussed giving preference to pedestrians over cars.

The owner of Opal restaurant on State Street in the 1300 block near Sola, Richard Yates says he does not support changes to parklets or the outside service designs at this time.  That block has a larger access to emergency vehicles that some others, and Yates does not have an issue with that aspect of the proposals.  He has enjoyed the outside dining addition to help him sustain his business during the COVID crisis.

Along with Victoria Street, there is a location in the Funk Zone that would need changes. "Our transportation, fire and emergency personnel are seeking to reopen those streets to emergency access and full circulation and that would be effective March 8," said Santa Barbara Economic Development Manager Jason Harris.

For Bouchon, traffic going two ways would be too loud, and ruin the ambience.  They also worry about safety issues.

If the change takes place and traffic goes two ways, they would then take the outside dining away.  

Hanson said, "we are more of an  elevated dining style so we would give up on doing something out  here and have to try something else unfortunately." He said cutting back the dining area, the way it is built now, is not an option.

Nearby at the Public Market outside dining area, some customers said they enjoyed the configuration, thought it was safe and see it working in other areas too.

Lauren Joyce said, "there's a lot of reasons why we need to be able to get through streets but there's also a lot of reasons why businesses need the support to be outside."

And to the south, "we also go to Ventura a lot," said Ritesh Patel. "And they have opened up Main street in Ventura  and it has been boon for businesses there."

Nearby the Scarlet Begonia parklet was recently taken out. "With a parklet that was removed down the way here there is more of a straight shot down Victoria now," Hanson said, for emergency vehicles.

Right now the area is a normally mellow shared space with restaurant customers, pedestrians, bicyclists and cars.

Watch tonight on Newschannel 3 11 12.

More details will be added here later today.

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John Palminteri

John Palminteri is senior reporter for KEYT News Channel 3. To learn more about John, click here.

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