The Truth About the Historic Mission Creek Bridge

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By Alastair Winn

[Written in response to Paula Conn's Op-Ed on the Safety of the Historic Mission Creek Bridge published on December 22, 2018]

In the first paragraph Ms. Conn asserts that a “Dr. Karl Hutterer,” wrote a letter to EDHAT about the need to address unsafe pedestrian, bicycle, and car traffic at the Mission Canyon bridge "in a misleading or ignorant, fear-inducing way."  This characterization alone speaks to Ms. Conn’s lack of sincerity.  Anyone who knows Karl, a distinguished scientist who was elected a fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a leading environmental scientist, and specialist on global warming, and a good neighbor, knows he is well informed, very committed and a person of the highest integrity.  

Unlike Ms. Conn, members of the Mission Heritage Trail Association (MHTA) have not made the Mission Canyon corridor between Foothill Road and St. Barbara's Parish a political campaign wherein spin is more important than the underlying realities.  As pointed out by longtime resident and well-known historic preservationist, Kellam De Forrest, who is also a long-serving MHTA member, efforts to improve pedestrian traffic in that area began in 1947 after the 1930 widening of the bridge proved inadequate.  Yes readers, the original 19th century Mission Canyon bridge has been gone since 1930!  Until MHTA came along, no work group maintained the long-term momentum to effect improvements.  If one carefully reads Ms. Conn's letter considering reality, it is Ms. Conn, not Dr. Hutterer, who writes "in a misleading or ignorant, fear inducing way".

Ms. Conn, moreover, referred to the UCSB Evacuation Study (probably by Cova), completed in about 2002, as evidence that there would be no panic evacuation traffic problem.  That study, however, is not germane.  The Cova model ended at Mission Canyon and Foothill Roads!  It did not address Mission Canyon Road’s use as an evacuation route.  Instead, it predicted a potential catastrophic disaster resulting from residents simultaneously fleeing upper Mission Canyon and Foothill Roads.  Ms. Conn clearly did not carefully read what she quoted to support her premise that the bridge is safe.  To the best of our knowledge, there is no other peer-reviewed credible traffic evaluation study with conclusions about the area between the stop sign at Foothill and Laguna.  Ms. Conn accurately points out that Riviera residents were not considered in the old UCSB study because their evacuation routes were outside of the study model.

Ms. Conn accurately points out that if there is no fire storm danger between Foothill and Laguna, there are three ways out of the Canyon.  Anyone who has used Glendessary or Las Encinas to exit Mission Canyon road north toward San Roque knows it will not handle heavy traffic.  In 2016, the MHTA and the Natural History Museum commissioned and paid for a certified traffic engineer to analyze traffic flow and capacity from Las Encinas to Laguna and provided the results to both the City and County traffic engineers and Planning Department.  The MHTA asserted no conclusions from that study other than those presented by the consulting traffic engineers.  Certainly, the association did not act in a "misleading or ignorant, fear inducing way." MHTA wants County and City Planners to make value-based decisions based on professional quality engineering. 

As the first appointed representative from Mission Canyon Association to study improving walking traffic from the Mission to Foothill in 2009, as a founding member of what is now MHTA, as a 68-year resident of Santa Barbara and 35-year resident of Mission Canyon, and as a scientist and entrepreneur, I completely missed the "business opportunity" Ms. Conn speaks of.   If it is increased traffic to the Museum, it would be a bad investment because their Conditional Use Permit issued in 2015 caps both attendance and the number of events the Museum may hold.  MHTA members, as a team, are highly qualified selfless volunteers trying to plan for a future that will almost certainly include a panic-driven, mass exodus from upper Mission Canyon down the corridor and a fatal accident at the abysmally unsafe area 100 yards north and south of the Mission Canyon bridge.  CalTrans has the clout and authority to act unilaterally in the interest of public safety and certainly will do so someday.  Since 2011, Safe Passage’s (MHTA’s predecessors’) mission has always been to be prepared for that event, and to guide changes responsibly and sensitively rather than have CalTrans supply a cookie-cutter solution.  

Ms. Conn correctly states that CalTrans gave a $89K grant to study the corridor.  The report drew few conclusions but did make recommendations for further planning and review.  Ms. Conn would have that review cut off.  MHTA would have that review process continue until the best possible solutions have been considered and adopted or rejected.  Since 2010, MHTA has raised over $40,000 dollars in private donations and contributed over $100,000 invaluable professional services for studies and public awareness efforts.  Would Ms. Conn have all these good folks just yield to her unilateral, misled, ignorant, reactionary, and paranoid intuition, or let the process move forward to find a better way to safely enjoy the corridor? 
 

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roll n rock Dec 30, 2018 07:30 PM
The Truth About the Historic Mission Creek Bridge

Most of us in Mission Canyon know the drill - Do not use Mission Canyon Rd during emergencies! Use alternate routes and leave that access for emergency vehicles. We were frequently reminded of this until a decision to have a path to the Museum and deny the traditional one for the public on the east side of Mission Canyon Rd.

Lorax Dec 29, 2018 07:38 PM
The Truth About the Historic Mission Creek Bridge

It is very sad that a small group of people are so threatened by the exposure of the recent article "The historic Mission Canyon Bridge is safe" article..... because it is ! We do not need more smoke and mirrors or should anyone feel their credentials are in question just because they hold a different opinion. Both local and tourist pedestrians and bicyclists love the bridge and the corridor with it's charm that keeps Santa Barbara special . Speeders, slow down please, remember its a share the road corridor. If you want to speed head over to Alamar where it's a straight shot, no curves or trees to slow you down.

banana Dec 29, 2018 03:53 PM
The Truth About the Historic Mission Creek Bridge

The point of the Conn op-ed, a response to an op-ed in the City’s daily paper newspaper, was to point out that fire evacuation is being used as an excuse for bridge widening when, in reality, widening is an expensive, tax-funded way to get a west-side only pedestrian bridge. Caltrans alters roads and bridges for flooding, slides, erosion and traffic, not fire. This historic landmark, meticulously designed and built, stone-masonry 1891/1930 bridge, meets city standards. The Bridge connects a scenic residential area and historic parks frequented by tourists. Speeds for this half-mile should be as slow as they are now not faster. Put in crosswalks, stop signs, and plantings. Repair the paths. Stone masonry bridges in California are rare and the strongest an engineer can build.

PitMix Dec 31, 2018 09:45 AM
The Truth About the Historic Mission Creek Bridge

Stone Masonry bridges are very weak during earthquakes because the concrete mortar only works for compressive forces and quakes cause tensile forces. There is no coincidence that this one was built after the 1925 quake. There is no way that it meets current seismic standards.

Lorna Dec 29, 2018 06:23 PM
The Truth About the Historic Mission Creek Bridge

Made it through lots of earthquakes and floods. Arch is a strong design. Bridge is currently rated in good condition, both in superstructure and substructure.

Lorna Dec 29, 2018 06:23 PM
The Truth About the Historic Mission Creek Bridge

Made it through lots of earthquakes and floods. Arch is a strong design. Bridge is currently rated in good condition, both in superstructure and substructure.

Lorna Dec 29, 2018 06:24 PM
The Truth About the Historic Mission Creek Bridge

Made it through lots of earthquakes and floods. Arch is a strong design. Bridge is currently rated in good condition, both in superstructure and substructure.

a-1569019710 Dec 29, 2018 06:24 PM
The Truth About the Historic Mission Creek Bridge

Made it through lots of earthquakes and floods. Arch is a strong design. Bridge is currently rated in good condition, both in superstructure and substructure.

Lorna Dec 29, 2018 06:24 PM
The Truth About the Historic Mission Creek Bridge

Made it through lots of earthquakes and floods. Arch is a strong design. Bridge is currently rated in good condition, both in superstructure and substructure.

Z Dec 29, 2018 05:05 PM
The Truth About the Historic Mission Creek Bridge

"meticulously designed and built" . . . "Stone masonry bridges . . . the strongest an engineer can build." Wrong and wrong and it's hardly an attractive bridge,

Luvaduck Dec 29, 2018 12:57 PM
The Truth About the Historic Mission Creek Bridge

This points to the folly of allowing further housing development north of Foothill. When the SB area was much less populated and frequent devastating fires weren't such an omnipresent issue, perhaps magnificent views made it a tolerable risk, but things have changed dramatically. To keep permitting building in areas with limited egress in emergencies is madness. This is only one of several areas that wold be death traps.

ACF Dec 29, 2018 11:01 AM
The Truth About the Historic Mission Creek Bridge

Many people are missing the point: there is NOTHING wrong with the current bridge or road in Mission Canyon! The bridge is wide enough for a car and a bicycle on each side. The curve slows down the traffic on Mission Canyon, which as a neighbor I can assert is always going 40 mph+. All we really need is a stop sign at Las Encinas to curb the speeders and allow walkers to cross without fear.

salsa guy Dec 29, 2018 10:49 AM
The Truth About the Historic Mission Creek Bridge

I drive Mission Canyon once or twice a day. The only traffic I have seen is around 430-600 when folks are using Mission Canyon to get to San Marcos. Leave the canyon alone! You know the saying " if it ain't broke leave it alone". This is a ridiculous project and waste of taxpayer $$$$.

El Barbareno Dec 29, 2018 09:56 AM
The Truth About the Historic Mission Creek Bridge

The bridge does indeed date to 1891, though it has been modified. It was widened on the south side and some, if not all of the stone work showing above the road has been replaced. The argument that all of this work needs to be done for fire evacuation is ridiculous. Changing the bridge won't do a damn thing, it will still be a two-lane road. For all of the residents in upper Mission Canyon there are only six roads that can get them out and five of them empty onto a 3/4 mile stretch of Foothill. Think there might be some gridlock there? Meanwhile, try driving along Glen Albyn. Cars parked on either side of the road make it difficult for two cars - let alone a large fire engine - to pass through.

a-1569019710 Dec 28, 2018 06:38 PM
The Truth About the Historic Mission Creek Bridge

How about a tunnel that bypasses the whole mess, and put a roundabout where MC meets the 192? Would solve plenty of our current traffic issues, and certainly reduce all of the problems caused by the bridge/APS/Mission "confluence." The tunnel could daylight out at a couple of spots, for example at the freeway and/or the Mission and State St. area. Of course it would cost money, but would be worth it in the long run (IMHO).

Mas Gaviota Dec 28, 2018 05:37 PM
The Truth About the Historic Mission Creek Bridge

I drive thru this area two times a day six days a week is all types of weather, to and from work. I have never had an issue with the trafffic or safety. It would be a waste of money to rebuild the bridge. Add some better sidewalks and call it good. For those that have to drive 50 mph on every city street, you should move to another city.

x01660 Dec 28, 2018 04:10 PM
The Truth About the Historic Mission Creek Bridge

Ive had to pass over that bridge 6 days a week, at least twice daily, for the past 6 years to get to my job, give or take holidays, illness, etc. As a pedestrian, in a small car, a truck, and a motorcycle. That area is extremely dangerous. In the past 3 years, the power poles have been taken out 3 times because speeders and people unfamiliar with the road. You can't eat your cake and retain it, and neither can the NIMBYs in SB; if you want a quiet neighborhood with quaint bridges, say goodbye to tourist bucks. Otherwise, just shut it and be happy that we live in an area where we have the luxury or debating whether to save or update a "historic" (since 1930) bridge. We just lived through the debris flow. If that fire had burned 3 miles west, it'd be Rocky Nook 2.0.... This is safety and lives we're talking about. That whole area needs to be reworked. Sorry, and I hate it too, but the reality is that Santa Barbara is growing. We're not the sleepy town we we're even 10 years ago. Let alone 50. Adapt or die. Ok, I'm done now. Back to my mountain... ;)

monkeyboy Dec 28, 2018 03:54 PM
The Truth About the Historic Mission Creek Bridge

I check traffic before leaving work. If the 101 has a red spot, I know this corridor will be bumper to bumper. It's time to realize that a couple olive trees and a bridge that has been inadequate for decades may need to be improved. A roundabout, proper sidewalks and a wider roadway is the least needed. This tourist area is an embarrassment due to the very unsafe conditions.

PitMix Dec 28, 2018 01:17 PM
The Truth About the Historic Mission Creek Bridge

The bridge may be historical, but the road is not. Maybe they can take the entire bridge to another location where people can enjoy its beauty forever. In the meantime, they can also drive, walk and bike along an updated bridge to reach Mission Canyon.

EastBeach Dec 28, 2018 12:23 PM
The Truth About the Historic Mission Creek Bridge

The OP mentions "Cova". I finally figured out it's a reference to geography professor Tom Cova. There's a story about him and his Mission Canyon study here ....... https://www.latimes.com/science/la-me-wildfires31-2008jul31-story.html

Lorna Dec 30, 2018 04:02 PM
The Truth About the Historic Mission Creek Bridge

The bridge dates to 1891. It was altered in 1930. It is eligible for the National Historic Register. It's superstructure and substructure are rated GOOD, as reported by our city staff. It has been through major earthquakes and floods and yet remains in GOOD condition. It does not need to be replaced. I live on Las Canoas Road. We evacuated via Mission Canyon Road during both the Tea and Jesusita Fires and there was no back up of traffic whatsoever. There have been no pedestrians hit by cars there, ever. That is precisely because cars are forced to slow down by the tight curve in the bridge. That's the way we should keep it! If we widen and straighten it, which is what the Museum of Natural History wants (in the guise of their front group, the Mission Heritage Trails Association), cars WILL go faster and then we truly will have a safety issue.

SantaBarbaraObserver Dec 28, 2018 10:44 AM
The Truth About the Historic Mission Creek Bridge

You are using facts and logic. There's no place for such nonsense in today's world. In Santa Barbara feelings and nostalgia trump everything else. Just look at the number of so-called 'historically significant' buildings listed on the city's registrar. Regardless, this is an excellent letter. This area is a mess and needs improvement. Like it or not 192 has become a major N/S route for commuters heading south. Do people remember when Hwy 5 was closed a few years back? All of those streets were gridlocked for their entire stretch from the influx of cars heading south. Just imagine what 3000 cars trying to flee from Cielito, Mission Cyn and the Riveria would be like... As someone who lives in the neighborhood I notice the challenges that cyclists, pedestrians and vehicles have in that little zone between Rocky Nook and the mission. Its a mess everyday. Heck a single car turning left onto APS can back traffic back up to Foothill when its busy. People should realize that not everything old is historically significant.

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