Written by Connie Yoon

Along the streets of the less than two square miles that make up Isla Vista, you will find walkers, bikers, and hundreds of cars pressed bumper to bumper. In this community where college students coexist with families and other adult residents, transportation equity is a pressing issue. Furthermore, reducing the number of single-occupant vehicles is a crucial aspect of helping Isla Vista become carbon neutral by 2030. In an effort to reduce transportation inequities and emissions, key players in the community worked together to secure grant funding from the State Transportation Equity Program (STEP). 

The Community Engagement Plan funded by the STEP grant addresses the imbalance of clean, efficient, and safe modes of transportation for community members that are not college students. While bus service and bicycles are common modes of relatively reliable transportation for residents, these are mostly geared towards students. Other community members, such as low-income residents and families, K-12 youth, seniors, and residents with disabilities have limited access to transportation options that get them where they need to go. The plan aims to bring together all of the members of the community and engage them in an effort to develop and improve transportation services in a way that will fit everyone’s needs. 

Though the plan addresses multiple important issues of transportation equity, increasing sustainable transportation options will also bring Isla Vista closer to its goal of carbon neutrality by 2030. As convenient as cars are for the large student population, the sheer number of vehicles in such a small space leaves little room to appreciate the beauty of the area. This has a negative impact on not only the area, but also the environment. Most of these cars are parked so tightly that it is difficult for students to even move them, raising the question of how to alleviate this impact. Is it necessary to have all of these vehicles that move infrequently yet occupy so much space? With improved transportation infrastructure in place for students to rely on, all of the residents of Isla Vista stand to benefit. 

Mo Lovegreen, UC Santa Barbara’s Director of Campus Sustainability, shared that the STEP Grant is being led by a partnership with the Isla Vista Community Services District and other agencies such as the Santa Barbara MTD. These partners are working to create a community engagement process that will bring organizations, jurisdictions, and community members together in order to get input on a resolution for transportation in Isla Vista. Their goal is to ensure that everyone is able to easily move to and from their destinations, reducing the number of single-occupant vehicles. 

Partners are currently gathering information through community workshops. The most important aspect of their approach is that they want to work with the community to develop recommendations. According to Mo Lovegreen, the energy that all of the partners bring to this initiative is inspiring and motivating. People show up to the monthly meetings, bringing ideas to the table, offering input, and are actively engaging in the process. When all of these key players band together with their ideas, the most innovative transformations can come to life. Tackling these critical questions of sustainability and equity calls for teamwork, for a community to come together and take the initiative to create change—and teamwork is certainly evident here. 

Commuter transportation is the largest issue that needs to be addressed to achieve carbon neutrality not only in Isla Vista, but across the country. The STEP Grant will allow our little community to work through some of the pieces of this issue, coming up with a plan of action that can hopefully set an example for other communities to lower their emissions as well.