The Lanes and the Trains

Commuter rail could be the antidote to Southern Santa Barbara County’s congestion ills as the imbalance persists between housing availability and jobs. In the decade since the “lane and a train” consensus package was included in the 101 in Motion Report, which aimed to tackle congestion on the geographically constrained 101 corridor between Santa Barbara and Ventura, resources have been disproportionately funneled into the highway expansion instead of commuter rail.

This is problematic because adding lanes to the 101 is a temporary solution that will eventually lead to bigger traffic woes. Experience has shown repeatedly that adding highway capacity “induces” more driving, and new lanes are quickly filled. Congestion returns, often worse. Traffic models show that widening 101 in Montecito will create new congestion hotspots in the City of Santa Barbara and out to Goleta, and a decade after completion, congestion will be considerably more widespread, and more intense. The impacts go beyond Highway 101. Congestion will spill over to the surface streets around job centers during the peak hour, creating traffic safety issues for all roadway users including pedestrians and cyclists. This doesn’t even account for the social and economic costs of traffic.

That being said, sustainable transportation advocates eagerly await the April rollout of the retimed Pacific Surfliner service. We’d like to thank Marjie Kern (executive director of Santa Barbara County Association of Governments) and LOSSAN (the agency that runs the Pacific Surfliner) for finally making this first step a reality. Efforts to make commuting by train a good deal and providing first- and last-mile solutions with community partners are also appreciated.

We hope that momentum to provide additional rail service will not be lost. New trains are needed to provide more trips, and we need a second set of tracks. Rail is an invaluable asset for the Santa Barbara region, allowing sustainable mobility without many of the impacts of freeway widening. Rail played a pivotal role in post-mudslide community resiliency when the highway was impassible. Commuters will have the ability to work on the train, relax, and enjoy the scenic ride to and from work without the stress of the highway. Rail has much to offer, and now that increased service is becoming a reality, we invite everyone to get out and ride the train!

Eva Inbar is president of Coalition for Sustainable Transportation