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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on November 6th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 36 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 20, Issue 36

Santa Ynez Valley weighs merits and costs of a master bike plan

By WILLIAM D'URSO

The idea began with Matt van der Linden, the Solvang public works director.

He’d been thinking about bike lanes, how to get more of them, and how any plan his city might come up with would fit the surrounding area.

“It didn’t really make sense for us to make a bicycle plan that didn’t mesh with the rest of the valley,” van der Linden said.

So he took the idea to the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG). Michael Becker, the director of planning for the association, found that there was enough interest from Buellton and the surrounding unincorporated areas to include the plan on SBCAG’s annual to-do list.

That was in 2018, and it set in motion plans to develop a Santa Ynez Valley Bicycle Master Plan with a variety of projects ranging from the ambitious and expensive—upward of $2 million—to easy ones that are considered little more than road maintenance. Those low-cost projects include signage and road striping, some of which have already been put in the works by Solvang.

Becker said the main goal is to increase mobility by bike.

“When we did our crash analysis, we looked at a five-year period, and I believe there were 21 crashes, which in the grand scheme of things is not that much,” Becker said.

SBCAG’s master bike plan was recently adopted by both Solvang and Buellton, and it now awaits county approval. Chris Sneddon, the county’s deputy director of transportation, has been reviewing the plan, taking note of what the county is willing to sign up for and offering notes to Becker, who’s finalizing the master plan. 

Sneddon said a backlog of agenda items and the natural slowdown of the government agenda that accompanies the holidays will keep the plan from reaching the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors until at least January. Maybe even until the spring. 

While the various involved cities are eager to get the plan in motion, residents of Solvang showed up to an October City Council meeting to issue grievances over the plan. They cited increased traffic from nonresidents and expressed concern that bike lanes might disrupt car movement in the city. 

Officials all along have stressed that this plan represents only the earliest stages of planning. That, they say, is largely because of funding. It’s unclear what the cities and the county will be able to spend on the project. To know that, they said, they have to have a finished bike plan. It will allow them to get the project into the application process for state grants. Without that funding, the more ambitious plans will be harder to pull off. 

Third District Santa Barbara County Supervisor Joan Hartmann, who represents the Santa Ynez Valley, has long supported bike lanes and additional safe access for cyclists for recreation and transportation.

“I am a huge proponent of active transportation and healthy eating and active living,” she said.

Hartmann, who is campaigning for re-election, said she wants increased bike education in Santa Ynez Valley schools, too. She said she would like to get the plan to the Board of Supervisors before the end of the year, and she stressed that the plan, even if it’s passed, has a long way to go before being finalized.

“The plan is aspirational, but it’s very important for securing funding,” she said, adding, “What are the obligations for the county?”

She said with electric bikes having entered the market, more people are riding more often, and the county needs to adjust.

The Santa Ynez Valley Bicycle Master Plan isn’t the only bike plan in the county. Sneddon says there are a number of them, and the one covering the Santa Ynez Valley is just a part of the whole picture. 

The highest priority of the high-price projects—categorized as tier 1 projects—is the Santa Ynez River Trail, which would accommodate traffic from pedestrians, bicycles, and horses. It’s a cross-jurisdictional project running through Buellton, Solvang, and the county of Santa Barbara. That trail is planned to run beside Highway 246, the only route that connects Solvang and Buellton. According to the 60-page Santa Ynez Valley Bicycle Master Plan report released by SBCAG, the exact alignment of the path is still being determined.

But first the county has to pass the plan, and then a planning team needs to be formed to figure out how exactly to separate and position the river trail. Discussion of the river trail plan has also stirred some residents to voice concern about what added traffic would do to the area’s wildlife.

Van der Linden, an original cheerleader for added biking lanes and routes, said Solvang will continue to reach out to constituents and offer forums both at City Council meetings and through social media.

“Some people who don’t cycle that much or at all don’t see the benefit of bike lanes. It’s a fantastic way to reduce traffic. It’s a fantastic way to stay healthy,” he said. “It’s a fantastic way to reduce greenhouse emissions.” 

Reach Staff Writer William D’Urso at wdurso@santamariasun.com




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