Saturday, my family and I went on a road trip to Santa Barbara for my wife’s birthday. Instead of driving, we did a multimodal trip with trains and bikes, and rode our bikes along a car-free Cabrillo Blvd. in Santa Barbara’s first “Open Streets / Calles Vivas” event. It’s a great low-stress way to visit Santa Barbara, and since there are a number of bike shops in SB that rent bikes, a shoreline bike path, and some (relatively) new and improved bike lanes in town, it’s a great way to visit this charming beach city.
Our multimodal commute started with the Gold Line in Pasadena, where we boarded the light rail train Saturday morning and headed to LA Union Station. Gold Line trains have plenty of space for bikes in the space between the rail cars or in specially designated areas where seats have been removed. The train ride is a little jerky at times, so it’s a good idea to pack a bungee cord or nylon cargo strap if you have more than one bike to keep them from falling over. This also allows you to sit and relax instead of standing next to your bike.
We got to Union Station with plenty of time to pick up the Amtrak train to Santa Barbara, and easily loaded our bikes onto the baggage car, which had space for about 8 bikes on it. Amtrak allows you to take your bike on board, but you must make reservations ahead of time to ensure that the train will have enough space for your bike. On the return trip, Amtrak expected more bikes, so the train was equipped with a larger baggage car with space to accommodate many more bikes. On both legs of the trip Amtrak conductors were extremely helpful. There is no extra charge for taking a standard bike on the Amtrak, though some larger bikes, such as cargo bikes, tandems, and recumbents will have to be disassembled and packed in a cargo box and Amtrak charges a baggage fee for these. However, for most people, taking your bike on board is no problem if you have a reservation.
During the approximately 2-hour ride to Santa Barbara, we enjoyed the scenery, chatted with each other, got snacks from the snack car, and, with free wi-fi, surfed the web. There was plenty of legroom and I enjoy being able to get up and walk around on the train (something you can’t do in your car). The upper deck of the train allows for some magnificent views of the coast along the way, and we saw sights we’d never seen before on the many car trips we’ve taken to SB over the years.
When we got to the Santa Barbara station, we rode our bikes down the new State Street bike lanes to Cabrillo and joined the Open Streets event in progress. Cabrillo is usually choked with traffic, but we were able to enjoy the scenery, stop along the beach wherever we wanted to, and see Cabrillo as we never had before. There was a sense of freedom and relaxation that comes over you when you don’t have to worry about cars. Oh, and despite the thousands of people along the route, it was quiet without the noise of cars. You could actually hear the soft murmur of the surf as you rode along the boulevard. It was a wonderful family experience.
How surprising then, when I read some negative comments a few people posted in an online article about the event in a local Santa Barbara newspaper. These people disapproved of closing Cabrillo to automobile traffic, claiming, among other things, that it hurt local businesses. These comments were not only short-sighted, they were flat-out wrong as far as I could tell. We ate at a restaurant on the Santa Barbara pier that was doing a booming business from people walking and bicycling. Arts and crafts vendors along the route also seemed to be doing a good business as well (I should know, my wife bought some jewelry, too). We saw people from all walks of life and all ages, smiling, laughing, getting exercise in the beautiful weather, and creating a sense of fun and community that you don’t get when everybody’s in cars. As for myself, this was the most fun I’ve ever had in Santa Barbara. Usually I’m stressed after a 2-hour drive from LA, stressed from dealing with traffic in town (caused, needless to say, by too many cars—not too many bikes), and stressed from trying to find a parking space on a weekend. This time, however, it was a much more enjoyable experience. Not having to deal with the car and traffic was liberating.
I guess some people are threatened by anything that suggests there’s another way to get around town besides cars. Every community has people my mother used to call “crabapples” and the internet seems to bring them out of the woodwork. I hope Santa Barbara doesn’t give in to the cynicism of such narrow thinking and continues to support, and even expand, this wonderful Open Streets event.