Photo by Dylan Chapgier.

Photo by Dylan Chapgier.

Always taking steps to sustain a healthy environment both locally and globally, the citizens of Santa Cruz appealed to City Council last week asking them to prioritize alternative modes of transportation in the city.

For the past 18 years People Power, one of the county’s advocacy groups for human-powered transportation, has been fighting for a redesign of King Street that will improve biker safety and promote alternative modes of transportation. 

After bikers and residents spoke on behalf of the project to turn the street into a bike boulevard at City Council’s special April 21 meeting, Micah Posner, head of People Power, said he felt the project is starting to look successful. 

“It’s really a fundamental change and I think that’s why there’s such a big struggle about it, because the question is, ‘Do you prioritize quality of life for residents and cyclists or do you prioritize more and more cars?,’”  Posner said.

King Street not only serves as an alternative route to Mission Street, which has seen two cyclist deaths in the last 18 months, but is also a route for local students to get to and from school at times when traffic is at its worst. 

A bike boulevard is a street designed to give the right-of-way to bicycle traffic, with cars allowed only in limited numbers. In the case of King Street, it will still be car-accessible. However, if cars attempt to drive straight through, they will be redirected onto Mission or Escalona.

At the end of the meeting, Vice Mayor Mike Rotkin made a motion to approve the Public Works department’s Capital Improvement Plan, but asked the department to go back and incorporate plans for King Street for the council to approve on a later date. 

Assistant director of public works Chris Schneiter explained that a plan outlining the cost, staff time and work logistics will be brought back to City Council in early June to be decided upon. 

Opponents of the project are afraid the new bike boulevard would put too much traffic onto Mission Street, where the city hopes to focus future development to accommodate growth on the Westside. 

The complexity of the project will also require a lot of staff time the current city budget is unable to provide. In addition, if King Street were to be made a priority, other public works projects would have to be overlooked as a result, Schneiter said.

Mission Hill High School is located on King Street. However, students from both Santa Cruz High School and Harbor High School were present at the meeting to express issues of safety they encounter when biking down King Street on their way to school.

“There are tons of people who currently drive their kids to Mission Hill because they’re too afraid for them to ride on King Street,” Posner said.

If King Street were designed for biker safety, many parents would allow their kids to ride their bikes to school, putting fewer cars on the street and emphasizing the overall change the world needs to see, Posner said.

“In concept, the bike boulevard is definitely the most popular way to help cyclists on King Street,” Posner said. “A lot of neighbors have been saying they like the concept but they want to see the plan.”

King Street resident Debbie Bulger, who spoke at the meeting, said she feels unsafe living on a street that lacks substantial bike access.

“Every morning at 7:30 when I walk out of my house, I have to look both ways because students are riding their bikes on the sidewalk,” Bulger said. “We need to create a safe passage for residents and children.”

People Power’s previous successes include getting bike lanes installed on Soquel Drive, which took some convincing, but after a few years was passed. 

“King Street is an important street, but it’s also an important allegory and turning point for the city,” Posner said. “It has to do with how [Santa Cruz] will get to being a gold-level city for cyclists and it has to do with what we are really going to do with global warming.”