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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on February 5th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 49 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 19, Issue 49

Pedal power?

By CHRIS MCGUINNES

“I’ve tried to ride my bicycle occasionally on Broadway and Main Street, and you take your life in your own hands if you try that.”


A PLACE TO RIDE
Santa Maria’s downtown streetscaping plan would include bike lanes, according to city officials.
FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM

Santa Maria City Councilmember Michael Moates was only half joking when he made the comment at a Jan. 15 council meeting. The two roads—which, in reality, are both sections of state highways—intersect in the heart of downtown Santa Maria. With multiple lanes of fast-traveling traffic, including large commercial vehicles, the streets are a far cry from being safe or friendly for cyclists. But that may change, thanks to a new plan passed by the council that very night.

At the Jan. 15 meeting, the council voted 4-0, with Councilmember Mike Cordero absent, to approve a much-anticipated streetscaping concept plan for downtown Santa Maria. Characterized as a first step in revitalizing the city’s downtown core, the plan will include measures to make the area more pedestrian and bicycle friendly. Neda Zayer, a planner with the city, said the subject, among others, came up frequently during multiple events, workshops, and meetings with the community in the run-up to the plan’s development.

“They also wanted to improve walkability and bicycle movement and safety within downtown through the street network,” she said.

In addition to widening sidewalks, creating more street crossings, and adding landscaping, the concept plan also calls for raised bike lanes. Raised bike lanes are vertically separated from traffic, usually at sidewalk level or somewhere between the sidewalk and the street levels. The lanes are also separated from traffic by curbs, parking lanes, or landscaping. According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials, raised bike lanes are ideal for higher speed streets and can be more attractive for cyclists with a wide range of age and skill levels.

“Instead of putting [the bike lanes] adjacent to vehicles, which we see throughout the rest of the city, we explored the idea of putting them adjacent to the pedestrians instead,” Zayer said. “Broadway and Main Street have a lot of traffic volume and high speeds.”

Should those raised bike lanes come to fruition, Moates noted that they would still need to be connected to the city’s larger biking infrastructure to be effective. Roger Olds, a senior civil engineer for the city, indicated that the bike lanes downtown could be connected with new bike paths planned under the city’s Active Transportation Plan. The plan, funded by a $300,000 grant, will create and connect a network of pedestrian and biking paths throughout the city. Olds said the issue would be part of the city’s discussions with the contractor chosen to help design the active transportation plan.

“As part of the direction we’ve given our consultant … is to treat downtown as a sort of hub of the wheel, and to create spokes out to the rest of the community,” Olds said. “We want to connect the community and create those type of connections.”

Olds said that the bike lanes on Main Street and Broadway could connect to planned lanes for Pine, Fesler, and Cook streets.

The plan to explore expanding its biking infrastructure was good news for Jeanne Sparks, a Santa Maria resident and member of Santa Barbara County Action Network.

“There’s not safe places for bicycles in most of the areas around here, but there are some and the city has done a lot,” she said.

Not everyone is as excited about the proposed bike lanes and other traffic calming measures. In order to install them, the city will have to take space from the traffic lanes on both Broadway and Main. Because they are state highways, both streets are frequently used by commercial vehicles—large trucks hauling produce and other goods.

“If we are going to narrow those lanes down, we have some concerns about the safety of our trucks around other motorists and pedestrians,” said Scott Cramer, president of Certified Freight Logistics, a trucking company with a location in Santa Maria.

Cramer said he wasn’t totally against the plan to revamp downtown but hoped the city would take the industry’s concerns into consideration as it moves forward.

Zayer told the council that the city did plan on communicating with the trucking industry as part of the project.

Cyclists excited about the prospect of a more bike-friendly downtown will still have some waiting to do. The council approved a concept plan, which means the all the proposals contained in the plan, including the bike lanes, will have to be reviewed. The next step in the process will be to begin conducting traffic surveys for downtown, Zayer said.

“These are high level concepts that we do want to study further to see how feasible they would be in this area,” she said. μ

Staff Writer Chris McGuinness can be reached at cmcguinness@newtimesslo.com.




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