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Our View: Inventing, improving our city
Our View

Our View: Inventing, improving our city

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We’ve written quite a lot lately about Santa Maria’s Downtown Streetscape Concept Plan being a key element in the revitalization of the city’s core.

In fact, there is far more in the works to spread the rebirthing process out into residential neighborhoods. It’s called the Active Transportation Plan, which focuses on improving opportunities for local residents to travel in ways other than cars and trucks.

The overall goal, which may take some time to achieve, is to make Santa Maria friendlier for bicyclists, walkers, joggers and folks whose principal means of transportation is a wheelchair.

The state, through Caltrans, has ponied up nearly $300,000 toward formulation of such a plan, while the city’s share of the cost is just less than $50,000. A series of workshops will be held throughout March to gather input from Santa Marians. We’ll publish more details about those sessions in the weeks ahead.

A frequent contributor to our editorial pages, Santa Barbara County Action Network Executive Director Ken Hough moved to our city a few years ago and one of the first things he did was set in motion a plan to walk every street in the city, getting to know his new home.

Ken tends toward using alternative means of transportation, walking being a main form of that, and his strolls around the community revealed some glaring problems, one being the long distances between stop lights on busy major streets, which creates the probability that pedestrians would cross in places where there were no stop lights.

The most dangerous aspect of that is the possibility of a crossing pedestrian being struck, which happens far too often. In just the past three years, there have been 228 collisions that injured pedestrians and cyclists in the city, five of which proved fatal for the pedestrian. Much of the problem occurs when pedestrians cross a major street, but not at the stop light.

Another issue, as a local resident points out, is that on big streets with fast-moving traffic, vehicles turning right often come in conflict with pedestrians stepping off the curb.

A lot of this is pure human error, negligence or having one’s attention focused on a cell phone, rather than driving or walking/riding. Pedestrians have the right-of-way in any crosswalk, light or no light, but the laws of common sense and physics dictate that a 150-pound human is no match for a 3,500-pound vehicle, and we recommend against such a confluence.

The city’s plans make it evident that at some point in the not-so-distant future, Santa Maria will have a comprehensive network of interconnected pedestrian and bike paths, not just in the city’s core, but in outlying areas as well.

One concern we’ve heard expressed is that narrowing downtown streets could lead to traffic gridlock. But we’ve learned over the years that when gridlock happens a few times, motorists tend to get the message and drive around the problem, and what traffic there is at the core will be much slower, giving pedestrians and cyclists a better chance of survival.

It’s a sure thing that in matter of a few years, maybe sooner, this will no longer be your grandfather’s our even your father’s Santa Maria, with the rebirth of the downtown core, enhanced safety measures for non-vehicular traffic in residential areas, coupled with the rush of commerce that is taking place on the city’s periphery.

This is urban planning at its best. You can help by attending one or more of those workshops in March, and have your say.


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