Op-Ed: Bikeways Nurture Cities

By Katie Davis, Chair, Sierra Club Santa Barbara-Ventura Chapter

Bike paths reduce pollution and are essential to fighting climate change. A path from Goleta to Santa Barbara can also save lives.

I spent time in France this summer marveling at how cities can be transformed by bike paths. In Paris, separated bike paths are everywhere, including the busiest sections along the Seine, and the city is cleaner and less polluted as a result. Bordeaux has been transformed with the addition of trams and bike paths, and streets closed to cars. Apparently, they’ll give you a free bike if you live there.

There are examples in California as well. In the city of Davis, which extended separated bike paths from its UC campus to the rest of the city, fully 20% of commutes are made by bike. Providing safe, separated bike paths is particularly beneficial for poorer residents, students, young people, pedestrians, the handicapped, and anyone who would like to drive less.

A separated bike path in Paris (courtesy photo) 

It is also an important climate action. Studies find that swapping the car for walking, cycling and e-biking even just one day a week makes a significant impact on personal carbon emissions in cities. Cyclists have 84% lower CO2 emissions from all daily travel than non-cyclists.

With our temperate weather, relatively flat cities and with infrastructure money now available to fund transportation, our region could become far more bike friendly. Our cities and the county have “Active Transportation Plans” that map out how to improve infrastructure for bikes and pedestrians, and these are starting to be implemented. It’s great to see more separated bike paths such as the recently completed and beautiful Las Positas bike path in Santa Barbara.

Goleta is now working on the San Jose Creek bike path, which would connect the popular separated paths from UCSB and Goleta Beach to the rest of the city of Goleta, including a new 101 underpass. There has been some movement on the plan to re-stripe Old Town Goleta to make it safer for bikes as well.

On the other end of that path, Santa Barbara County has a unique grant opportunity to complete a missing gap in the popular Coastal Access Route by connecting the Obern Trail from Goleta to the city of Santa Barbara’s newest bike paths on Modoc and Las Positas. The Modoc Path is important because Modoc has a relatively high accident rate, including biker deaths and severe injuries.

A close-up of dots showing pedestrian and bike deaths and severe injuries in the Modoc area from Santa Barbara County’s Active Transportation Plan.


Unfortunately, there is a time limit on the $5 million grant and the plan faces obstacles because of some initial community opposition to the loss of up to 63 trees. They have a point. Urban open space and mature trees are valuable and the initial number of trees impacted in the Modoc Preserve sounded alarming. However, the County can build a shady, multi-use path that minimizes the loss of mature trees. The latest iteration of the plan reduces removal to 49 trees, with another alignment option only removing 22 trees at most. Most of the trees removed would be eucalyptus, a non-native and highly flammable tree. As a mitigation, the County would plant oak trees, which are quick-growing, and both native and fire resistant. This is a better long-term choice given climate change and hotter, windier conditions.

It should also be noted that non-native tree removal is part of conservation management because in addition to fire risk, non-native trees like eucalyptus can use so much groundwater that they dry out wetlands, kill and crowd out other trees and plants, and require constant maintenance. Aging trees also pose dangers of falling. The county consulted with conservation experts to plan path options that will benefit both users and the environment.  

Roads often take priority, so it’s a good idea to let city and county planners and decision-makers know that you want to see them improve our bike infrastructure. You can start by signing SB Bike’s petition supporting the Modoc path.

Op-Ed’s are written by community members and organizations, not representatives of edhat. The views and opinions expressed in Op-Ed articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of edhat.
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  1. Bicycle paths are not “essential to fighting climate change” and it is this sort of hyperbole that is making the fight more difficult than it need be. And, locally, most of the expansion of bicycle paths has been for recreational purposes, not business or school use. (In fact the city of Goleta just announced the use of Measure A funds that were to be used for safe school bicycle access to a cross town connector that has almost nothing to do with schools.) The Las Positas dedicated pathway is being ignored by bicyclists in favor of the “unsafe” marked lane on the roadway itself because the roadway lane is faster it seems (so much for the need for protected right of ways!). And bicycle lanes are now being dominated by e-bikes which are not an economic nor environmental solution to the transportation issue anyway. Bicycle lanes are nice, however, as a recreational and civilized adjunct of our community. Just tone the rhetoric down and others will be with you. At the same time the bicycle people need to recognize that the rest of the community doesn’t go for the elimination of greenery and aesthetically pleasant paths that people have worked long to create and protect. Work with others and find a compromise.

    • RHS, plenty of people downtown commute using bikes and the bike lanes. I used to ride from Modoc to Fairview Avenue to work. I did that on a bike for 15 years. I think more people commute via bike than you may realize. I’ve been using my bike to commute since the early 1990s.
      A HUGE problem with the bike paths (and this addresses another gripe you’ve made) is that pedestrians constantly step into it and feel the need to walk or push a stroller in it. That is for the sidewalks….where bikes should not be. Bikes belong in the bike lanes or paths for bikes, not the sidewalks. Pedestrians need to stay out of the bike lanes, and i don’t care what the excuse or story is, just keep out of it. When they step into a bike lane, that forces bikes out of the lanes and into areas where people are supposed to be walking. It creates a huge mess. I have chosen to ride on the sidewalks on LP for the sheer fact that drivers SPEED up and down that road and riding a bike on LP is anything but safe. I lost an old friend on that road this year. Your complaint about ebikes….is silly. It’s a bike and belongs in the bike path and bike lane. I have both styles of bikes and my ebike is pedal assist. Dominated. Right. RHS, do you bike around town often? Are you on the bike paths a lot? Because i use it as my main mode of transport in town. I only drive when i leave the city. I bike from the harbor to La Cumbre often. Frankly, after reading your post several times, I see one thing that’s clear. You aren’t a person that bikes daily or even weekly. You’re crying foul because people that ride bikes got a connector lane around Modoc. Think hard about that. So your greenery (mostly brush and weeds and non indiginous trees), was replaced with a safe lane for bikes and you’re mad about that. Got it.

    • “most of the expansion of bicycle paths has been for recreational purposes, not business or school use”
      There were people on the Obern trail surveying people about this very thing. Were you one of them? (No, I didn’t think so.) The Obern trail is used by many USCB students; it might be used by more if it connected to the new Modoc class 1 lane.
      “essential” is only hyperbole if one interprets it in the most pedantic way. Per the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principle_of_charity, try reading it as “plays an important role”.
      There are a lot of other misstatements in your comment.

    • “Pedestrians need to stay out of the bike lanes”
      We have a number of multiuse paths, like the new Modoc path and the beach path. Even on dedicated bike paths I learned long ago that pedestrians will use them, and talking about what numerous individuals “need to” or “should” do is just fantasizing so you have to adjust your behavior to match reality. Which is one reason why, when I am riding fast, I usually prefer the class II lanes (e.g., on Cabrillo or Modoc) … but for many more casual riders or people more skittish about riding on the road, multi use works fine.

  2. What an excellent overview of how some good planning can improve lives. I have a competitive side to me, and it sure flares up when I read stats like the % of bicycle commuters in Davis, CA and Portland, OR — both of those beautiful cities have more people enjoying car-free commutes than we do and our town has more favorable weather and terrain for cycling. I’d like to see 50% of us smiling on the bike paths. Now that we have some eBikes in the family fleet, I don’t even notice gas prices when I’m in town — the car sits in the garage. If anyone needs help with car-free commuting, I’m easy to find and ready to help.

  3. Just like anything this is the right way, because it’s my way. I wish you owned the land and that way you could build what ever you want. Cut fine bulldoze, pour your concrete , pave your asphalt, build your walls. But it is a Nature Preserve and it is protected. I do not trust the tree count or the politicians making any of these counts or agreements. I care about the native & un native wildlife and trees and palms. I do not want 1 foot oak trees to be planted. I do want want these people to construct shade after they remove palms and trees. Maybe they will buy stuffed hawks, owls and plastic monarchs and hang them in your constructed shade.
    It is land set aside for a Nature Preserve.
    Absolutely no. I don’t care what reason, how justified you may believe it should be. No! No!!

    • CHAINSAW DON: Please take my upvote. Before Santa Barbara County invests any more time and money in the proposal to “enhance” the Modoc Rd. bikepath, four things need to take place: (1) An Environmental Impact Report (EIR) must be done. How is the proposed removal of mature growth trees in or near a preserve not deserving of an EIR? How is it that the proposal to pave over part of The Preserve has not triggered an EIR? (2) Using the deadline on a $5.3 million grant as justification for rushing ahead with virtually zero input from the public needs to stop. As it is now, the public is being railroaded into thinking the proposed project is “either/or.” It’s NOT. (3) All viable alternatives to tree removal and paving over any part of The Modoc Preserve must be explored. For example: Why can’t the bike path parallel the railroad corridor, as has been done in so many other locations throughout the US and other countries? (4) Lastly, and not least in importance: If, as I have seen touted in several news articles of late, the proposed upgrade from bike path to a safer multi-use path is the end goal, where is the parking? Where are mothers with strollers, parents with young children (walking or with bicycles), pedestrians of all ages, wheelchair users, etc. supposed to park? Are they going to park in the neighborhood and cross Modoc Rd. into The Preserve to utilize this new path? Over and above all that I have written here ———– Am I the only one who thinks electric bikes have been a massive game changer in all of this? How safe will a multi-use path be with E-bikes hurtling along at 25 – 30 mph? Think I’m exaggerating? Get out on the Goleta Bike Path and see for yourself.

  4. Thank you, Katie, for that excellent article. I agree with you entirely about the importance of providing more bike paths — especially safe class 1 bike paths — for the health of ourselves and the planet. I also like the idea of replacing the lost (non-native) eucalyptus trees with native oaks … except for the chronic, protracted oak moth infestations to which they are prone. Anyone who has lived near infested oak trees can testify to the unpleasant — rather disgusting — rain of tiny black caterpillars beneath the trees. Although these periodic infestations rarely kill the trees, they can virtually denude them for months at a time, obviating the trees’ shade value. I wonder if other shade trees might be considered to replace the lost eucalypti … perhaps elms or jacarandas?

  5. I’m a bike rider and a tree/nature lover, but not a fan of the Canary Island palms — they seem so out of place to me. I look forward to the extension of the bike path and hope that the replacement trees are native. In the average year, I put twice as many miles around town on my bikes than my motor vehicle.

    • You know who does like Phoenix canariensis/Canary Island Date palm? Acorn woodpeckers and Barn owls. Acorn woodpeckers utilize the cut back petioles of the palm fronds as granaries. That’s where Acorn woodpeckers love to store acorns. Barn owls nest in Canary Island Date palms, and sometimes raise as many as two broods per year. Sparrows like CID palms, Hooded orioles like CID palms, White-breasted nuthatches like CID palms. Birds all over Santa Barbara County love and know how to engage with CID palms and other non-native trees.

  6. Thank you Katie, good article ! I’ve signed the petition. Connecting these “multi-use paths” is a long term benefit to the whole community. I especially love the addition of the “Island Oaks” (along with the Coast Live Oaks) that have been planted on Las Positas, Modoc & also along the entrance road into Eling’s Park. 🙂

  7. So glad this was reprinted from the current issue of Condor Call the local Sierra Club’s newsletter. It really needs wide circulation.
    Perhaps one solution to allowing e-bikes is to have a line on the bikepath for e-bikes only, separating them from pedestrians and other bikes, wheelchairs etc. Basically mimicking a normal road with a bike path element. It will take up more room perhaps, depending on the location of the bikepath. But if biking is to become a serious alternative to cars, bikepaths must be designed to accomodate, say, someone who shops and carries the load on an ebike.
    By the way, the Condor Call has lots more news and interesting local stories in addition to Katie’s article. You can find it here:

    • Let me get this straight on Modoc which has the Class 2 bike pathway, and now is proposing ruining a Nature Preserve and harming the Santa Barbara Land Trust which over sees several land trust, ruin their credibility. And now you are proposing another separate lane for E Bikes?
      How about a separate pathway for wheel chairs, then electric wheel chairs, strollers, tric cycles, fast bikes, slow bikes.
      You could if you owned the land. This is a nature preserve.

  8. I agree with the OP and signed the petition. I ride my analog bike to work from the Riviera to Los Carneros 1-2 times a week when weather allows. The proposal to connect the Obern Trail with the city appears to be a balanced solution to me. Since I ride a mtn bike (slow as molasses on pavement) I do ride the trails through the preserve for extra exercise. So have a decent idea of how the neighborhood uses the area and how things will look when the project is done. Not everything in the world is zero sum.

  9. I’m all for the new bike path, but hopefully some of the native trees can be saved. Personally, I do not care if the non-natives and invasive plants are completely removed (roots and all so they do not ever/ever return). Any birds, animals, or insects that rely on the non-natives will find new and happier homes. Of course the woodpecker is going to “like” the soft spongy palm trees over the oaks they would normally hammer their heads against to make holes to pop in their acorns or make homes. In the long run, and for the short term as well, the trees are best be gone. There’s also a safety factor with the eucalyptus trees, which drop branches without notice and create huge piles of extremely flammable leaves that do not disintegrate as other leaves do. So, yeah, let’s make sure we all have safe and sane bicycle paths for all to enjoy and use without fear of fire and other obvious dangers.

  10. 12:47 You were exaggerating a lot. If you can’t make your argument honestly then it’s not a good argument. The fact is that you contradict yourself: “I have to adjust my speed so as not to be a danger to others or myself ” — exactly, which is why talk of bicycles going 30 mph on multiuse paths is nonsense. But see, the thing is that many young e-bike riders are *not* adjusting their speeds … they lack the emotional and experiential maturity to appreciate the dangers of their behavior, so those people who write about e-bikes and unsafe speeds have a valid point that isn’t countered by saying that “regular bikes can and do go pretty fast as well”, especially when you absurdly exaggerate it. So yes, we need to change people’s behavior, and education is part of that.

  11. You think students on the Obern is a “nuance”?
    IIRC, the survey people asked riders whether they were riding for solely for recreation or fitness; presumably most people traveling to/from UCSB answered no.
    Anyway, the only reason that I mentioned it is because RHS made a completely unsubstantiated and baseless assertion: “most of the expansion of bicycle paths has been for recreational purposes, not business or school use”
    I briefly read your “pre-emptive” comments with half an eye open … “From their interviews, the UCSB students determined that 250 of those trips were work commuters —- but you need to divide by 2.” — Um, no; if they say “trips” then they presumably already did some sort of calculation. Note that they only did in-person counts over a 2-hour period so they would not have caught both directions of most trips, and they knew which direction people were headed–possibly they only counted one direction.

  12. Ok, I opened the other eye and saw that they measured 573 traversals in 24 hours and estimated that 45% of the riders were commuting, which does come out to be about 125 individuals … mea culpa.
    But what’s the relevance? The whole point of the improvements to bicycle infrastructure is to move more people out of cars and onto bicycles. Such efforts have been quite successful elsewhere.

  13. P.S. There isn’t a single bicycle going 30 mph on any of our bike paths so it’s disingenuous to mention it in comparing them to e-bikes, which routinely go 15-20 mph. (Type 3 e-bikes can go 28 mph; they aren’t legally allowed on bike paths but are showing up there nonetheless.) The elite riders who can reach such speeds stick the roads; they certainly don’t ride multi use paths at top speed.
    FWIW, the average speed of a Tour de France rider–up hills, down hills, and on flats–is about 25 mph (Lance Armstrong’s average was 25.9 mph.) Top time trial speeds are about 36.5 mph … this is for the world’s fastest riders in special aerodynamic helmets on special aerodynamic bikes.

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