I.V. Elementary Parents Battle UCSB Intersection Design

Parents and community members questioned the safety of UCSB's design. / Héctor Sánchez Castañeda

Madeleine Lee
Campus Beat Reporter

For parents of Isla Vista Elementary School students, the intersection at Storke and El Colegio Roads, bordered by the University of California, Santa Barbara’s student housing and I.V. Elementary School, is a familiar nightmare. At peak traffic hours, an estimated 500 vehicles, according to Stantec Consulting Services, join the slow crawl through the main thoroughfare that connects a sleepy I.V. to the real world.

Felipe Garcia, an I.V. resident and parent of two, has watched the intersection develop over the last twenty years. He remembers when it was still a one lane road, and welcomed the two lane expansion as commuter traffic increased.

But for UCSB’s latest construction project, Garcia, accompanied by an auditorium full of elementary school parents, was not pleased.

In an effort to accommodate the foot, bike and vehicle traffic of the 312 students expected to fill the San Joaquin Apartments—currently under construction—by fall 2016, UCSB Vice Chancellor of Administrative Services Marc Fisher and Santa Barbara County representatives presented their latest intersection design to I.V. Elementary parents and community members on Thursday evening.

The proposed redesign pivots on the installation of a pork chop shaped island at the northwest corner of the intersection. According to Derek Raff of Stantec, the traffic engineer behind the design, the island serves a dual purpose to protect pedestrians and create a dedicated right turn lane. The right turn lane, according to Raff, will force westbound cars to merge shortly after crossing Camino Corto and improve traffic flow.

UCSB's proposed design / Courtesy of I.V. Parent-Teacher Association
The current intersection does not have a northern crosswalk. / Courtesy of I.V. Parent-Teacher Association
UCSB proposes adding a northern crosswalk and a pork chop island. / Courtesy of I.V. Parent-Teacher Association

Other facets of the redesign include a new crosswalk on the northbound side and hatched lines to mark a path for bikes merging onto El Colegio from the San Joaquin Apartments and Santa Catalina residence hall.

Raff and his team also altered the design following suggestions from a prior town hall meeting. Thursday’s blueprint incorporated a dedicated signalized crossing for the right turn lane — as opposed to a yield sign — and an incongruent pathway on the island itself to encourage pedestrians to pause before continuing.

The construction comes as a result of UCSB’s Long Range Development Plan which seeks to increase total student enrollment to 25,000 by 2025.

Despite alterations, parents of I.V. Elementary students remained displeased with the proposed changes.

“I honestly think that this is an irresponsible change because it’s based on the center of the map,” Garcia said, as he pointed first to the central intersection and then to the northbound edge of Isla Vista Elementary. “For [us] mostly, the center of the map is down here [at the edge]. So this tells me that we’re honestly not even in the picture.”

One by one, parents and staff stood up to list safety concerns. I.V. Elementary’s playground coordinator spoke to the risks brought about by installing the island. The island, he said, would necessitate the presence of at least three crossing guards at peak school hours. With vehicles rounding the turn at speeds of 15-20 miles per hour, many parents expressed discomfort.

As university representatives work to improve traffic to and from campus, I.V. Elementary parents worried that the improvements were made at their expense.

“By encouraging the merge before the right hand turn, you really are impacting in a very negative way the backup in the I.V. school parking lot,” said one I.V. mother of two.

As described by several parents, the already significant parking lot backup caused by the unprotected left turn during peak pick-up and drop-off hours could worsen, adding to the commute times of working parents.

When accused of focusing only on the needs of college students by one audience member, Fisher remained in defense of the design plan.

“All community members, not just our students, are of the utmost importance to us,” Fisher said. “The university believes this intersection to be the safest option for all parties involved.”

In addition to the new intersection design — which is expected to be completed before UCSB students return in mid-September — the university hopes to alleviate traffic and improve safety with a new bike path framing the San Joaquin Apartments, which will house a total of 1,000 students by the first half of 2017. An additional bus line connecting UCSB with the Camino Real Marketplace will also be active by early August.