Speaking up for better, safer bikeways

This "Looking Forward" op-ed piece by Jeanne Sparks was published in the Santa Maria Times on March 12, 2015: http://santamariatimes.com/news/opinion/editorial/commentary/looking-forward/speaking-up-for-better-safer-bikeways/article_d57f5018-5a4f-5895-bc4d-2ac38d589267.html

I love to bike, especially since I got my new, candy-apple-red, electric-power-assisted beach cruiser.

It is comfortable and fast. I am using it as an alternative to my car. I find myself a little intimidated, however, by some narrow streets in town, debris on the sides of roads, and the proximity of the rapidly moving traffic next to me. I also know Santa Maria has a lot of collisions involving cyclists, some of them fatal.

I’d really like to feel safe on the streets. That’s where planning comes in. Cities, Santa Barbara County and the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG) all create documents on how to improve safety and accessibility to the streets and paths for bicyclists and pedestrians. They have many projects planned, and they need to keep them updated.

SBCAG is in the process of doing that. It is seeking public input on its Regional Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan that stitches together local plans to create a regional vision for cycling.

The city of Santa Maria created a Bikeway Master Plan in 2009. It has many proposed projects that could help make bicycling safer, including approximately 55 miles of new bike paths — separated from roads — 61 miles of striped bike lanes and more than 15 miles of

bike routes, where bikes and cars share the lanes.

In Santa Maria, we have these three types of bikeways and some multipurpose trails for use by bicyclists, pedestrians and equestrians. One special trail is on the Santa Maria River levee, from Bull Canyon Road to Blosser Road. Many people would like to see the levee bikeway extended to Guadalupe, where an effort is being made to get a bikeway to the ocean.

What we don’t have here are bicycle boulevards, streets that have light automobile traffic and have been enhanced for bicycle use, and cycle tracks with a barrier along the side of

the road separating bicycles from vehicles. I like those, as well as colored bike lanes that visually remind motorists to share the road with bicyclists. Also, sensors need to be installed at intersections to detect the presence of


The city’s plan recognizes, "The bicycle is a low-cost and effective means of transportation that is quiet, nonpolluting, extremely energy-efficient, versatile, healthy and fun. Bicycles also offer low-cost mobility to the non-driving public. Bicycling as a means of transportation has been growing in popularity as many communities work to create more balanced transportation systems by giving bicyclists a greater share in use of the roadway networks. In addition, recent national surveys find that more people are willing to cycle more frequently if better bicycle facilities are provided."

Members of the public are asked for their input at two workshops — Tuesday, March 17, at 6 p.m. in the Betteravia Government Center, 511 E. Lakeside Parkway in Santa Maria; and Wednesday, March 25, at 6 p.m. at 260 N. San Antonio Road in Santa Barbara. SBCAG staff will present an overview of planning efforts, conduct roundtable discussions, and hold question-and-answer sessions. If you can’t attend, you can email comments to [email protected].

I have a goal to ride on each designated bikeway in Santa Maria and make notes about them. We at Santa Barbara County Action Network are getting together with others who are concerned about pedestrian and bicycle safety, and are urging our elected officials to make our streets safer. If you are interested in joining us, visit our website at www.sbcan.org for more information.