Monday, May 20, 2019     Volume: 20, Issue: 11
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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on May 15th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 11 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 20, Issue 11

Santa Marians weigh in on city's effort to improve biking, pedestrian, and bus systems

By KASEY BUBNASH

When Ana Jacobo-Anaya was growing up, she wasn’t allowed to ride her bike to school, around town, or even too far from home. Her parents didn’t think the Santa Maria area was safe enough to bike in.

It’s been more than 20 years since then, and now Jacobo-Anaya is telling her own children the same thing.

“To me it’s very scary,” she said, adding that despite recent pushes to make Santa Maria more accessible to pedestrians and bicyclists, little has actually changed.

Although Jacobo-Anaya’s youngest is still too young to walk, her oldest is just learning to ride a bike, but his practice space is limited to small areas around their house in Orcutt. The rest of the Santa Maria Valley just isn’t safe, she said.

Many of Santa Maria’s streets lack bicycle lanes, and those that have them often have heavy, fast-moving traffic that makes biking uncomfortable. Jacobo-Anaya said she doesn’t often see bikers in the area, but those she does spot are typically riding in the same lanes as cars or on sidewalks, or are not using the proper hand signals.

“I think Santa Maria has a population that could really benefit from biking because not everyone can afford a car,” Jacobo-Anaya said. “But it’s not the safest option.”

Mapping bike, pedestrian paths

The city of Santa Maria is working to change that through its Active Transportation Plan, the most recent attempt to identify and prioritize needed improvements to Santa Maria’s disconnected lack of biking and pedestrian networks. The plan—which will include prioritized improvement projects and strategies for getting funding—will cost about $250,000 and is set to be completed by July 2020.

Jacobo-Anaya was one of several residents who attended a workshop related to the plan in the Santa Maria Public Library on May 9, where attendees pointed out specific trouble spots they’ve noticed on Santa Maria’s streets.

The city has been working to gather information and public input on Santa Maria’s existing pedestrian conditions since early March, and it will continue doing so for several months, according to Jim Damkowitch, one of the city’s consultants.

There are several key issues Damkowitch said the city hopes to address through the plan. Connecting the city’s bike and pedestrian lanes to bus stops, shopping and employment centers, parks, and schools is vital to improving accessibility, he said. It’s also important, he noted, to create a safe crossing over Highway 101, make existing bike lanes safer, and add additional paths that will connect the already existing paths for pedestrians.

About 30 percent of people aren’t willing to ride bikes at all, Damkowitch said, but roughly 60 percent will if the route isn’t stressful and feels safe. That’s how he hopes Santa Maria will feel once the Active Transportation Plan is completed and implemented.

“So the whole idea of this infrastructure inventory and analysis is basically to make the city much more connected through a low-stress network,” Damkowitch said at the meeting. 

But right now, there’s a lot to be done. Project consultants have already done a fair amount of research, and the results paint a bleak picture of safety for Santa Maria’s bikers and pedestrians.

Maps on display at the workshop showed that dozens of pedestrians and cyclists were injured or killed by cars in Santa Maria from 2013 to 2017. While the pedestrian incidents were scattered about town, a majority of the most severe cycling accidents occurred along Broadway and Main streets, particularly where those streets meet at the center of town.

Transportation Planner Paige Thorton has been working to analyze the city’s pedestrian and biking paths, and said she’s found that many areas are considered “high stress” for bikers and pedestrians. A number of Santa Maria’s intersections and streets are difficult for cyclists to navigate, and where the city’s few designated paths for bikers and pedestrians do exist, speed limits are high and traffic is heavy.

“I would say the high speeds—those are the killer,” Thorton said, adding that Santa Maria’s wide, multi-lane streets make it easy for vehicles to drive fast, but prove challenging for everyone else.

Maps also show that while the city does have some good spaces for biking and walking, many of them are disconnected and far away from each other. The goal, Thorton said, is to connect those already existing pathways.

Public transit plans

Transportation has long been an issue in Santa Maria, particularly for lower-income individuals and students who may not have cars of their own. With biking and walking out of the equation for many Santa Marians, buses are the next best option.

But Santa Maria’s bus system has issues of its own.

In April, CAUSE (Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy) released a report on issues that Santa Maria’s most “underrepresented” communities would like to see prioritized by the city. In its preliminary work, CAUSE surveyed hundreds of “hard to reach” residents, and many of those surveyed said they’d like to see increased city buses and routes before seeing safer sidewalks and reduced traffic.

Santa Maria Area Transit buses do connect the north and south sides of town, the report states, but many of the city’s lower-income families and youth who rely on public transit live on the west side of town. The bus routes, the report states, are not designed to efficiently connect those residents with critical facilities on the east side, like Marian Regional Medical Center, Pioneer Valley High School, and Allan Hancock College.

CAUSE organizer Abraham Melendrez said he hears a lot of complaints from parents and students who say the buses are inconsistent in arrival and departure times, and that the limited routes make it difficult for students and parents to get to classes and work on time.

While waiting for a bus on the northwest side of town near North Western and West Harding avenues this month, I received a glimpse into Santa Maria’s bus system and saw firsthand how some commute daily.

It was 11:34 a.m. when I started my wait, the first part of my journey to Marian Regional Medical Center via bus. There was only one other person waiting at the stop with me, but without anything else to do, we watched together as groups of residents flowed through the neighborhood—mothers pushing strollers, grandmas walking young children home from school, young adults carrying full bags of groceries—all walking alongside streets that cars whipped down despite its being a residential neighborhood.

I boarded my first bus about 10 minutes later. By noon, I was off and waiting for another at the transit station near the Santa Maria-Bonita School District office, where hordes of other commuters also waited patiently, looking at their phones and reading books. I wished I brought something to read. It took 28 minutes for my second bus to arrive, and I made it to Marian by 12:40 p.m., an hour and 10 minutes after my travels started.

The ride back was entirely different. My transfers were almost completely without wait time, and I made it back to my stop at Western and Harding in half the time of my first trip.

Navigating Santa Maria’s bus routes was simple enough—the routes and stops are all on Google Maps—and in general, my rides were totally uneventful. The buses weren’t overly crowded, they were clean, and there weren’t any weirdos causing mayhem. The riders were mostly women with children, older men, and 20-somethings, all who either silently watched the city pass by or quietly talked among themselves.

Aside from my lack of understanding about ticketing (I knew I’d need cash to get on the bus, but I didn’t know I’d need exactly $1.50, so I brought a $10 bill and quickly learned that bus drivers don’t do change; fortunately, another passenger paid for me to get on), it was easy.

Still, I wouldn’t want to spend more than an hour on the bus every day for a trip that would take 10 minutes in a car and 20 on a bike. And I can see how it would be difficult to plan around the inconsistencies in travel times.

But Santa Maria Public Information Officer Manager Mark van de Kamp said while the city does receive some complaints about the service, they aren’t usually about there being too few routes or lengthy travel times.

In addition to its Active Transportation Plan, van de Kamp said the city is also working on its Short Range Transit Plan, which will address bus users’ changing needs.

Until those plans are completed and implemented, Santa Marians need a way to get around. Van de Kamp said the city is working to make it easier for students to travel using the city’s already existing facilities.

The city recently applied for $35,000 in state funding to provide more than 1,100 local students with monthly bus passes in 2019 and 2020. That funding, van de Kamp said, will be available in June.

Staff Writer Kasey Bubnash can be reached at kbubnash@santamariasun.com.




Weekly Poll
How should the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District improve its A-G completion rates?

Align graduation requirements with university entrance requirements.
Ensure that students and parents are well aware of A-Gs and what they are before high school.
Improve support services and summer school classes for students who fall behind.
Completion rates are fine as is. Not everyone wants to go to a four-year college!

| Poll Results