Take that, Spanish Colonial traditions. There’s a little bit of whimsical architecture coming to downtown Santa Barbara.

The city’s Historic Landmarks Commission recently voted 5-2 in favor of a redesign of the State Street undercrossing, between Gutierrez and Yanonali streets.

“I think this is a spectacular, spectacular design, and when it gets installed it will be something that is recognized throughout the country,” Commissioner Ed Lenvik said. “I look forward to it.”

The project is designed to improve safety and “rebalance” space for vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists. From the city’s perspective, it provides a “critical active transportation connection” between the city’s downtown and waterfront areas.

It’s expected to cost about $5.9 million. About $1.2 million of that would come from city funds, while the rest would come from a state Active Transportation Program grant.

The undercrossing was originally built in 1991, and the current design is “collision prone,” according to Jessica Grant, interim Public Works downtown manager. 

The changes are part of the city’s Vision Zero strategy that aims to eliminate all crashes and fatalities.

A Jeff Shelton rendering of the planned State Street undercrossing.
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A Jeff Shelton rendering of the planned State Street undercrossing. (Courtesy rendering)

The current configuration features two lanes in each direction under the bridge. The new road would reduce vehicle lanes to one lane in each direction and add a painted median for emergency access. Bike lanes would increase from 5 feet to 7 feet in width with a 2- to 3-foot buffer. The sidewalks on each side also would be widened from about 8 feet to 14 to 15 feet.

The city’s Historic Landmarks Commission has reviewed the project in pieces for the past 18 months and granted approval on March 2.

Bengal Engineering designed the sidewalk and path details with architect Jeff Shelton‘s assistance in designing the aesthetics of the columns, railing and lighting. The design would feature many decorative elements, including a railing with flowers in it, colored Tuscan-style pillars that vary in size and bulbs that resemble blooming flowers. The overhead light in the street would cast a yellow shade to bring the undercrossing more lighting.

Anthony Grumbine, chair of the Historic Landmarks Commission, said the design was on the edge of the El Pueblo Viejo Design guidelines.

“I think we should be pushing it harder,” Grumbine said. “I don’t see that as quite happening. There might be a little bit too much whimsy. We want whimsy, but this might be pushing the envelope a little too much.”

Shelton is a world-recognized architect who is known for his distinct architectural style. He designed the small but tall Ablitt House and the El Jardin and El Andaluz apartments and condos. His style is usually met with wide affection or opposition, but rarely with boredom.

Commissioner Robert Ooley also voted against the design.

“In my opinion, this project — as wonderful as it is, and whimsical as it is — does not fit within the El Pueblo Viejo,” Ooley said.

Commissioner Dennis Doordan, however, said the design works for the community.

“This is a home run,” Doordan said. “It is also a demonstration of the good urban design we can get when the city works with competent professionals.”

Councilwoman Meagan Harmon said she appreciates the design.

“The State Street underpass has been in desperate need of improvement for a long time, and what we are getting with this plan is an upgrade well worth waiting for,” Harmon said. “The charming, engaging Jeff Shelton design, in his iconic style, is exactly what’s needed to revitalize the gateway to our downtown, and I believe the support it has received at HLC and from the broader community represents an auspicious beginning to our reimagining of State Street as a whole.”

Construction is set to begin by Labor Day, Grant said.

— Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.