Make State Street Super


Evelina Erickson

An impending crash on State Street featuring innocent pedestrians and haphazard bikers.

You are walking down State Street with your friends, swoosh, e-bike kids recklessly whizz by, almost knocking you over. You try to find a place to relax after this dramatic event, but no, all the shops are vacant and filled with people doing who knows what. Is it a dream? No. It is a bleak reality. 

That was a bit exaggerated. However,  it has been three whole years since State Street was closed to vehicles. It is time for a revamp!

On May 22, 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Santa Barbara County made the decision to close eight blocks of State Street – from Sola street to Gutierrez Street (Lower State) – to car traffic. This decision was essential to keep businesses alive with the ever-changing restaurant and coronavirus regulations by letting restaurants have more space on the street for outdoor dining areas. Many restaurants expanded out into the streets via parklets, which over time were decorated to match the theme of the restaurant. Heaters, fancy lights, wind-shields, and artwork, all included. Large planters were added to block cars from entering, along with stop signs, and two bicycle lanes were painted in the middle of the street for the cyclists of the city. Recently the street has been repaved (with asphalt) for what I believe is the second time since it has closed. 

With the closure of Lower State, restaurants have been thriving with the ability to spill out onto the street, while retail stores have not had as much success because of the logistics. Trucks are complaining about the block-off to vehicles regarding delivering products to stores. Others also complain about bicycles whizzing by as pedestrians are leisurely walking down State. When you talk to a lot of people they will even admit that downtown is dead. Furthermore, all the vacancies in Paseo Nuevo make downtown bleak. It is a stark scene. 

So, replacing the boring, old asphalt and revamping downtown with a nice cobblestone pattern, will benefit pedestrians, delivery trucks, and Santa Barbara overall! 

Here is what would be ideal: While putting in the stones, bollard poles (that can be let down for delivery trucks) should be put in as well. So then, similar to how streets in Europe function, in the early hours of the morning (like 2 am), trucks can make their drop offs effectively and efficiently. Then, with the cobblestones, bikes will be less likely to ram into pedestrians because they will not appreciate riding on the stones. Better yet, as the stones are being put in, a formal divider between the cyclists and walkers can be constructed to eliminate danger. This will encourage more walking. More people will be more likely to roam downtown and shop. Especially tourists! 

“They should replace State Street [that is currently closed to car traffic] with cobblestone because it adds to the aesthetic and makes it feel more like an old Spanish town, ” said junior John Serrano. 

This touches on the way that cobblestoning State Street will create an environment that fits the traditional, historic style of Santa Barbara. The stones do not even have to be cobblestones. To go with the sidewalks that are already there, instead of cobblestones, an intricate brick pattern can replace the asphalt. Tourism will increase as more people are attracted to the lovely, bricked downtown blocks with exciting stores and popular restaurants. 

Eight blocks of Lower State have been closed for three years and it is time for a revamp. (Evelina Erickson)

Jack-hammering the asphalt and installing cobblestones or bricks on State Street is just the beginning of the great potential downtown Santa Barbara has. From there, parkelts can be sold to businesses as private property, regulating the people that hang out downtown (meaning less homeless individuals and controlling the vagrancy downtown). Housing can go into the empty lots like the old Nordstroms or Macy’s which will stimulate a more active life of walking with its proximity and decrease the amount of automobiles on the road, increasing the use of public transportation. 

As stated on the Create State website, “The State Street Master Plan […] will identify a long-term design for State Street and downtown that transforms the right-of-way into a lively urban place, reflecting our community’s vision and values, and is safe and vibrant.” 

Already, residents of Santa Barbara are being polled on what should happen with State Street. Back in January, Noozhawk reported on one of the community surveys that, “79% of 4,000 people who responded to a survey said ‘no to cars’ on State Street” and that “residents want more trees and greenery along State Street.” Options for State Streets plans were listed such as returning to how it was before with two lane driving, open it to one way driving with half of the street being diagonal parking, open it to cars again with expanding the sidewalks, or make the non-vehicle section of the street shorter (only two-three blocks closed). 

With all this said, I still firmly believe State Street should be cobblestoned (or bricked!) because it will improve and revive downtown Santa Barbara.