We Love Our Mission Creek Bridge
By Rosanne Crawford
The recent edhat article, Santa Barbara has been named in the 30 most charming small cities in the United States by TravelMag, reminds us how fortunate we are to live in such a special place. They describe, "Many cities in California feel pretty intense, sprawling for endless miles of roads and concrete. Santa Barbara is a very different place indeed, never really losing the laidback Hispanic charm that defined its early years as a Spanish settlement. The Old Mission, built in 1786, sits right beside the Museum of Natural History."
We are also fortunate to have a Historic Landmarks Commission (HLC) that values and carefully watches over our historic landmarks and resources so Santa Barbara remains special!
Just last week on June 9th in a five-hour webinar meeting, the HLC evaluated the Public Works Bridge Team's recommendations for changes to the historic area in our Mission Canyon Corridor, a stone's throw from the Old Mission on one side and the Natural History Museum on the other. After all the "what ifs" were weighed against "what is" many of the concerns were based on perception and hypothetical modeling.
The HLC's feedback to the Bridge Study team was to make no changes to the bridge or roadway.
The commission basically echoed the position of the Coalition to Preserve Mission Canyon who want no changes to the Bridge and roadway. There is an open petition on MoveOn.org.
We want no changes to the Historic Mission Creek Bridge or roadway over Mission Creek. The Mission Creek Bridge, built in 1891, is a City of Santa Barbara Historic Landmark and is eligible for the National Historic Registry. We don't agree with any of the changes the Bridge Studies Team is proposing. All would compromise the historic bridge and charm of the Mission Canyon Corridor and are unwarranted. The bridge inspection completed on 3/15/ 21 only showed a work recommendation for scour maintenance which was referenced back in 2015. Its deficiency rating is not a safety issue, the rating is due to its design classification as structurally obsolete, they don’t make them this way any more, the craftsmanship of 130 years ago is too expensive to duplicate.
Most importantly, there is no recommendation to replace this bridge, only to maintain it. We must protect the sensitive natural environment of Mission Creek, the Oak and Sycamore trees and historic walls and features that all contribute to the unique charming character of the Mission Canyon Corridor and Cultural Landscape.
We are pleased that the City finally did the suggested maintenance repairs to the road surface and foot bridge this past summer of 2020 that had been recommended as far back as the 2011 inspections.
This bridge was completely refurbished in 2008 by Santa Barbara Public Works Department was found it to be structurally sound, in good condition. Taxpayer's dollars could be better spent by both the City and County by better maintaining the existing footpaths and pedestrian crossings near Rocky Nook Park. This proposed 11 million dollar incentivized project threatens the historic bridge and surrounding area where Rocky Nook Park has been nominated as a Historic landscape with it's importance to the Chumash and early Spanish eras .
The bridge has withstood the test of time, not even a crack, with the 1925 earthquake of 6.8 magnitude that heavily damaged the historic Mission and demolished most of downtown.
Fire evacuations thru the Mission Canyon Corridor over the years have all gone smoothly with no problems. There are two debris basins above the bridge that County flood control inspects regularly.
The Santa Barbara Police Dept hot spots map shows this is a "Vision Zero” corridor, there are no accident statistics that support the need for a new wider bridge which would result in widening the roadway and increasing traffic speed.
Further, this is a “share the road” Corridor which means “one after the other.” this includes the bridge area where bicyclists have the same traffic rules and are on the same level as motorists. The entire length of the 140 ft bridge is straight with good visibility with 5 ft shoulders on both sides. Traffic at 25 mph moves smoothly between the two parks on either side, the historic Rose Garden and Rocky Nook Park.
How did we get here?
The opposition, a small neighborhood group effort known as “Safe Passage,” years ago had a public workshop to give ideas to the City to discuss possible improvements for the Mission Canyon Corridor. Adding new pedestrian path and bike lanes were some ideas. The unanimous consensus on record, however, was not to alter the Historic Bridge over Mission Creek.
In 2016, the City and County Public Works Department’s joint application to fund new pedestrian and bike lanes was rejected by the State Active Transportation Program (ATP) for funding in this designated “share the road” corridor where bicyclists have the same rights and rules as vehicles.
With no safety justification, the City of Santa Barbara was not willing to fund the project. The Santa Barbara Police and Sheriff’s Department’s records showed no deaths or reoccurring accidents on record through the corridor.
The City Transportation Department discovered, however, they could qualify for 11 million dollars of federal funding under the Federal Highway Administration if they replaced/rehabilitated the Historic Mission Creek Bridge.
The bridge project qualifies for funding only because the bridge is classified as “structurally obsolete”. This simply means that they do not build bridges this way anymore. The whole plan was drastically changed to qualify for this new tax payer’s source of funding.
The City Council on 5/22/18 directed transportation with a new plan and moved ahead with this pork barrel project initially against Transportation’s recommendation to secure bridge funds with full disclosure it was not consistent with the majority of feedback staff had received at public outreach. The bridge studies are only that, this is not a project and there is no obligation to be pushed into making any changes or selecting any of the Bridge Team's study options that jeopardize the historic integrity and charming character of this area.
The Coalition to Preserve Mission Canyon is advocating for some sensible solutions . There are several improvements that the City could do that would be beneficial.
The biggest potential for accidents according to Santa Barbara Police Traffic Circulation Department is a "Hot Spot" at the Alameda Padre Serra "triangle" crossing that is in close proximity. A crosswalk has been recommended in this spot per the Pedestian Master Plan that have yet to be painted by Public Works, recommended back in 2006 as part of safe routes to school with Roosevelt Elementary School in proximity. This is where both locals and visitors often jay walk to cross from the Rose Garden to Rocky Nook Park.
Slightly moving the Oliver Trough Fountain back within HLC standards of acceptance would elevate the "pinch point" at Mountain Drive for pedestrians and bikes.
The existing natural pathway on the East side could be better maintained . We understand that County will be putting in an enhanced crosswalk at the Natural History Museum corner at Puesta del Sol and Rocky Nook and another at Las Encinas. Under grounding utilities along the sides of the road would also be an improvement.