Recycle, Upcycle, Bicycle

By Gwyn Lurie   |   September 17, 2020

As people flee crowded cities to more peaceful and less congested towns like ours, places like Santa Barbara become less peaceful and more congested themselves. The fact is, as urbanization and population reach unprecedented levels, and road congestion has become a daily tax of tedium. And it doesn’t just grind at our psyches. Heavy traffic affects air quality, accessibility, sustainability, and our all-around quality of life.

Fortunately, there’s at least one plan on the table to help alleviate congestion and just generally make Santa Barbara more livable: bike share. For the uninitiated, bikeshare is a system where pedestrians can pick up, ride, and drop off bikes at numerous points across the city at automated stations.

As we go to press, the City of Santa Barbara’s Historic Landmarks Commission (HLC) is voting on whether bike share will clear its final hurdle. Or, there is the other possibility that the wheels of bike share will be caught up in the larger wheels – and spokes – of Santa Barbara’s dreaded bureaucracy.

The bike share project was introduced to the SB City Council in December of 2019 and has since been approved by Council and the Santa Barbara Architectural Board of Review. The last pending step was simply to have the color and design of the docks approved by the HLC. Though that vote will have happened by the time you read this, the question remains how the HLC got involved at all in a more global conversation as to whether the bike docks should be placed on State Street at all – something typically outside of the HLC’s normal purview.

“The only thing in front of us is whether we agree with the color black or not,” said Landmarks Commissioner Robert Ooley at an early September meeting on the bike share plan. “Everything else will be decided by those who are elected to make those decisions.” But regardless of HLC’s intended purview being limited to the color and design of the docks, Vice Chair Steve Hausz has questioned the very idea of bike share on State Street.

It seems to me that it is this sort of overreach and red tape that quashes forward thinking in a city where many have come to feel that the cost of doing business may outweigh its value.

The good news is bike share was already conceptually approved by the Mayor and the City Council last year when BCycle, a public bicycle sharing company owned by Trek Bicycle, won the RFP (Request for Proposal) for the bike share contract with the City of Santa Barbara.

I hopeby the time you read this the HLC will have given bike share its final approval and Santa Barbara will join the ranks of cities around the world that understand that one way to help business, help the environment, ease congestion, promote fitness, and relieve the need for additional parking is to allow local bike culture to thrive.

The benefits of bike sharing are many,including reduction of vehicle emissions, reduced congestion and fuel consumption, and cost savings for individuals. Biking is naturally socially distant. And public bike sharing allows those who may not otherwise use or own bicycles to enjoy the benefits of cycling.

Personally, I see bike share as a remedy to the parking spaces lost to necessary restaurant pop-up parklets. It’s also just plain hard to have a bad day from the perch of one’s bicycle as opposed to, say, from inside the sensory deprivation chamber we know as the 7-passenger SUV. Plus, bike sharing makes a strong visual statement that bicycles belong on city streets – they’re part of the charm of Paris, Amsterdam, New York… and I hope Santa Barbara.

As the birthplace of the modern environmental movement, Santa Barbara will, by supporting a pro-environment, affordable, and healthy mode of transportation that complements the city’s public transportation services, only enhance its green credibility. And unlike other green forms of local transportation, like scooters, with bike sharing and its requisite docking stations, bikes will be kept orderly and not left willy-nilly to litter our sidewalks.

My personal hope is that bike stations be allowed not only on and around State Street, but also around Montecito at locations like the Miramar, Coast Village Road, and the Upper Village.

I often hear old-time Montecitans wistfully recall a gentler time when people rode horses around town and even “docked” them to a hitching post at Montecito Union School. Why not give our kids a shot at their own kind of gentler time, where bikes are a completely normal and available way to get around? Even if you’re not a cycler, we all stand to benefit from clearer roads, cleaner air, and an all-around friendlier feeling around our beautiful village.


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