The Truth About the Historic Mission Creek Bridge
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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