Three years ago, La Jolla’s southern suburb of Bird Rock completed a series of five roundabouts designed to calm traffic and even more, to increase the survival rate for crossing La Jolla Boulevard.
The latter has definitely been achieved. Businesses on the east and west sides of the street are no longer separated by an asphalt obstacle course of kamikaze motorists. Like never before, Bird Rock has cohesed into a happy little village with attractive new landscaping and blinky crosswalks so eager to serve that they frequently blink even when no one is crossing. You have to love the crosswalks’ enthusiasm although they could probably use a little voltaic Valium.
The traffic calming aspect has been a little more problematical. In fairness, Americans are not all that familiar with roundabouts as evidenced by the pickup trucks that routinely drove over the center of them until the landscaping was planted.
The biggest problem with the traffic calming aspect, however, is a basic failure of understanding of the word “yield,” one of those adorably antiquarian traffic concepts that disappeared from usage around the same time as “signaling.”
What the Yield signs are supposed to indicate, of course, is that vehicles already in the roundabout have the right of way and you have to (all together now) YIELD. It’s counterintuitive for some of us to believe that a car turning left in front of us has the right of way. And for others, over their cold dead body are they conceding the right of way no matter what the dn sign says.
The Bird Rock roundabouts are actually roundaboutlets, embryonic versions of the big scary British variety, so you have about .2 nanoseconds to figure out if the vehicle already in the roundabout is coming around it or proceeding straight ahead.
There are some who would conclude that one should SLOW DOWN just in case one is going to have to YIELD. It would, of course, help if the vehicle in the roundabout would signal its intention of going left, but that is somewhere in the same statistical likelihood as SLOW DOWN.
The whole excitement level ratchets up even a few more notches with the advent of summer visitors who have no experience of roundaboutlets and/or who come from places where they don’t yield either.
Now I can understand why Bird Rock would not want to despoil the newfound esthetics of the community with excessive signage. But the Yield thing remains a problem. If it were up to me, I would implement a crash (you should excuse the expression) course, Roundabouts 101, a series of Burma Shave-inspired educational signs starting at Nautilus Street. For example:
ROUNDABOUTS AHEAD, 1 MILE!
A ROUNDABOUT IS A TRAFFIC CIRCLE. YOU HAVE TO GO AROUND IT.
Playa Del Norte:
NO, WE’RE SERIOUS.
Playa Del Sur:
YOU MUST YIELD TO OTHER CARS ALREADY IN THE ROUNDABOUT WHEN YOU GET THERE.
‘YIELD’ MEANS THE OTHER PERSON GETS TO GO FIRST.
BECAUSE THEY GOT THERE BEFORE YOU DID.