Cliff Drive due for remodel — city looks for inexpensive solution

City+College+student+Pedro+Saraiva+waits+in+the+center+turn+lane+for+a+gap+in+traffic+to+cross+Cliff+Drive+near+the+West+Campus+entrance+on+Monday%2C+Sept.+23%2C+2019%2C+in+Santa+Barbara%2C+Calif.+There+is+no+nearby+crosswalk+offered+to+students+who+walk+to+and+from+the+West+Campus+entrance+causing+dangerous+jaywalking+and+long+wait+times+to+cross+Cliff+Drive.

Nate Stephenson

City College student Pedro Saraiva waits in the center turn lane for a gap in traffic to cross Cliff Drive near the West Campus entrance on Monday, Sept. 23, 2019, in Santa Barbara, Calif. There is no nearby crosswalk offered to students who walk to and from the West Campus entrance causing dangerous jaywalking and long wait times to cross Cliff Drive.

Serena Guentz, News Editor

The Santa Barbara Public Works Department is currently planning a six-year project to improve Cliff Drive and make it safer for drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists.

Right now Cliff Drive is a long, fast-moving road with few traffic signals at intersections.

In 2011, before the state relinquished control of State Route 225 to the city in 2013, the California Department of Transportation reduced Cliff Drive from two lanes each way to one lane each way with one center lane.

Despite this new arrangement, traffic on Cliff Drive is still very fast, making access to City College difficult.

“Cliff Drive in general just still feels like a highway, even with the road diet,” said supervising transportation engineer Derrick Bailey during a presentation about the project he gave at the Sept. 12 Board of Trustees meeting.

The Santa Barbara Public Works Department has identified the Mesa Shopping Center and City College as areas where collisions happen most frequently. 

Cliff Drive has been the location of many accidents over the years, including an accident near the East Campus entrance involving a motorcyclist that resulted in the fatality of a City College student last December.

Another concern this project will address is the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians. 

Apartment complexes and bus stops line both sides of Cliff Drive, and with few crosswalks it can be difficult to cross the road. This project will add about seven or eight crosswalks along Cliff Drive, with many next to bus stops and closer to City College.

The city is considering either roundabouts or traffic signals for intersections it considers particularly challenging, which includes the intersections of Cliff Drive and the West Campus entrance, and Loma Alta Drive and the East Campus entrance.

Many trustees at the Board of Trustees meeting Sept. 12 expressed that they would prefer roundabouts, as it would help with the speed issues that are common on Cliff Drive, as well as help reduce vehicle traffic.

“The roundabout has been a big conversation topic at this board for a while now,” said Trustee Jonathan Abboud. He said he felt that putting in several more traffic signals would not be the best solution.

“It feels clunky in a way and it feels very car-centric when we’re moving towards the less car-centric feature,” Abboud said.

Despite this, the city appears to be leaning more towards traffic signals at this time due to how complicated and expensive roundabouts are to construct.

“Anything can be built with enough money,” Bailey said. “We’re disappointed to find out that the roundabout is challenging to build as it would be. We would love to find a way to work with that, but just in the context of cost, we don’t see how to get there.”

The entire project is estimated to cost over $10 million and a roundabout at the Loma Alta Drive intersection would be estimated to add an extra $6 million.

The city is planning to apply for the Active Transportation Program grant this summer to fund most of the project. The Active Transportation Program primarily focuses on increasing active modes of transportation such as bicycling and walking. Because of this, the grant cannot be used for vehicular improvements or aesthetic enhancements.

Next year, the city will be constructing a separated bike path along Las Positas Road and Modoc Road. A two-way bike path with a raised median separating the bike path from the rest of traffic is also being planned to be built along Cliff Drive, going all the way down to Castillo Street.

The Santa Barbara Public Works Department is currently finishing intersection studies. 

Once results from the Active Transportation Program grant application are returned, the city will be working on designing the project in 2021 through 2024 and construction is expected to begin in 2025 or 2026.