Vacation Reflections: Santa Barbara versus Carpinteria

A tale of two very different cities

Santa Barbara, the Netherlands, State Street. Photos: Streetsblog/Rudick
Santa Barbara, the Netherlands, State Street. Photos: Streetsblog/Rudick

Note: GJEL Accident Attorneys regularly sponsors coverage on Streetsblog San Francisco and Streetsblog California. Unless noted in the story, GJEL Accident Attorneys is not consulted for the content or editorial direction of the sponsored content.

I took at vacation earlier this month.

I have visited several cities by bike and train throughout California. But I was especially looking forward to my first visit to tiny Carpinteria, one of the few Amtrak-accessible beach communities I had never seen before. And I was going to nearby Santa Barbara too, a city I used to love to visit when I lived in Los Angeles.

I arrived in Carpinteria on June 16 via Amtrak from San Diego, where I spent a few days visiting family, and found the place utterly charming with a beautiful beach and some really delicious restaurants. What a pretty, low-key spot!

Welcome to Carpinteria via Amtrak!
Welcome to Carpinteria via Amtrak!
The cut-as-a-button old train station (now part of a community garden) in Carpinteria.
The cute-as-a-button old train station (now part of a community garden) in Carpinteria.
The community garden that is the first thing one sees getting off the train in Carpinteria
The community garden is the first thing one sees getting off the train in Carpinteria
Carpinteria beach.
Carpinteria beach is a stone’s throw from the train station

But I was also struck by the hilarious gaslighting the city does about being bike-friendly. Note what is says on the side of the Visitor Center, seen below:

Here's the visitors center on the main street, Linden Avenue
Here’s the visitors center on the main street, Linden Avenue
Screenshot from 2022-06-27 15-51-57
Yes, that says “Bicycle! Carpinteria is a bicycle-friendly city…”

Really?

I agree it’s easy to traverse on two wheels, just because of its size and relative flatness. However, I also never saw so many signs such as this:

Bicycle friendly, but don't bike on the beach
Bicycle friendly, but don’t bike on the beach path, where I found this sign. And no, I didn’t try to scratch it out.

Harrumph.

Also, whatever you do, don’t bike on the sidewalk in Carpinteria!

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Or skate. Or smile. Anywhere.

The downtown has signs on every single block warning people not to cycle on the sidewalk. In fact, you’re not allowed to cycle almost anywhere it seems.

Except in traffic, of course, on hilariously bad bike lanes half occupied by parklets.

Share the road?
Hi parklet. Can you move over so we can share the road?

There was also zero protected bike infrastructure (there was a pedestrian bridge on 8th street, but–you guessed it–no biking permitted on it).

Sure, there were some stripes–along rows of angled parking through downtown–inviting a motorist to back over a cyclist at any time. It’s totally not the kind of situation that’s appropriate for cyclists of “all ages and abilities.”

Nevertheless, I saw a few families cycling with small children. They ignored the signs and used the wide, largely unoccupied sidewalks. And I noted one or two spandex-clad, hard-core cyclists who rode on the streets. I did a bit of both and got by fine.

Of course, I’m used to seeing gaslighting about bike infrastructure, safety, and bike friendliness. And given Carpinteria’s relative quietness, I mostly just found the signs and civic hostility amusing. Nobody yelled at me or anything or honked me off the road, so it was all fine.

What really struck me was the contrast to Santa Barbara just up the tracks.

The next morning after a night in a roadside motel near 101 (Carpinteria doesn’t seem to have any hotels downtown) I took the train 15 minutes farther north and visited Santa Barbara (see State Street, its main drag, below):

Santa Barbara feels more like its 15,000 miles away than 15 minutes
Santa Barbara feels more like its 15,000 miles away than 15 minutes

Oh my Dutch God. Don’t ever let anyone tell you again that a small city can’t be utterly transformed almost overnight.

The new car-free State Street Promenade, introduced during the start of the COVID pandemic, is now permanent. I’d heard about it, but to be frank I didn’t go there with the intention of checking it out. I was mainly going to Santa Barbara to connect with the Coast Starlight for the trip back to Oakland. But I was literally choked up with joy. The street was full of activity (sorry, most of my pics were from early morning, before it filled up). The businesses were crowded. It looked as if commerce was happening everywhere.

PXL_20220617_175802844

And, except at cross streets, it was totally car-free, like a permanent Sunday Streets. For once I was thankful for Amtrak’s perpetual lateness–my Coast Starlight was over an hour late and I could spend more time just tooling around.

Safe for the disabled too on State Street, Santa Barbara
Safe for the disabled too on State Street, Santa Barbara

I rode back and forth and back and forth and back and forth in this cycling and pedestrian paradise. And all I could think is if they can do this on State Street, and it didn’t lead to Armageddon, they can do it on Valencia in San Francisco or Telegraph in Berkeley. They can do it anywhere. Note they easily segregated pedestrians and cyclists. Once cars are out of the equation, forced out by large concrete planters, that’s easy.

Santa Barbara also encourages cycling on its beach path
Santa Barbara also encourages cycling on its great beach-side path

What a contrast between two cities that are otherwise so similar! Santa Barbara is what a “bike friendly” city actually looks like.

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Note: GJEL Accident Attorneys regularly sponsors coverage on Streetsblog San Francisco and Streetsblog California. Unless noted in the story, GJEL Accident Attorneys is not consulted for the content or editorial direction of the sponsored content. The week before last, a dear family friend and neighbor of my mother’s died of a heart attack in San Diego. One can’t plan […]