Roundabout reasoning revisited


By Dave Schwab

Staff Writer

Two years after completion of Bird Rock’s roundabout traffic circles the reaction is mixed to what they’ve done to the La Jolla neighborhood.

“They’ve delivered on everything that was promised and more,” said Joe LaCava, a former president of the Bird Rock Community Council who now heads the La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA), the community’s advisory group to the city on land-use. “They’ve certainly slowed the traffic down and made parking more efficient.”

But LaCava’s views aren’t shared by everyone. It’s not clear whether the roundabouts played a role in a recent accident in which three teenagers were struck by a car whose driver apparently failed to navigate the roundabout. (Results of toxicology tests have not been released yet.)

“I think the roundabouts have created a lot of problems with landscaping; we’ve lost some parking space because of them — that’s still an issue,” said Jerry Klein, owner of A Better Deal tuxedo shop at 369 Bird Rock Ave. around the corner from one of five community roundabouts. “I’m not crazy about them. I still believe it’s a waste of money that could have been used elsewhere.”

Though the enhanced safety of roundabouts is difficult to quantify with hard data which police say is not available, LaCava noted their traffic-calming effect has had a real

psychological impact. “There’s been a dramatic increase in the number of people now walking across the boulevard, a measure of success that nobody can really argue with,” he said. “It’s also easier for people making left-turns onto the boulevard from side streets that in the old days were too dangerous.”

How successful have the Bird Rock roundabouts been?

A lot is in the eye of the beholder — or the driver — or the pedestrian. LaCava says about 20,000 cars a day —14 million vehicles in two years plus or minus — pass through the roundabouts.

And by most measures, the success is big, said Chuck Patton, former Bird Rock Community Council (BRCC) president and owner of Bird Rock Coffee Roasters at 5627 La Jolla Blvd. “To make it a more pleasant commercial district — it’s succeeded,” he said. “People enjoy walking down here. It’s made for just a more pleasant atmosphere and it looks 1,000 percent better. It’s made the merchant district more walkable.”

Roundabouts intended as a traffic-calming device via use of landscaped street dividers and diagonal parking were ushered in during Scott Peters’ two terms as First District city councilman after extensive community involvement in design workshops and public meetings.

The City Council approved the roundabout project in 2003. Construction began in 2004 on the first of five landscaped roundabouts. Work on the final roundabouts and other traffic-calming measures began in September of 2007.

The roundabouts were formally dedicated by Peters on July 17, 2008, at the Taste of Bird Rock. Bird Rock is the only community in San Diego with five, single-lane roundabouts in a series.

However, some local residents, particularly those more elderly or unacquainted with them, have complained of being uncertain how to use roundabouts properly and of not knowing which vehicles have the right-of-way inside of them.

Pedestrians are also reminded that they should always cross at designated crosswalks.

According to a study of a sampling of roundabouts in the United States, when compared with the junctions they replaced, roundabouts are safer than both traffic circles and traditional junctions having 40 percent fewer vehicle collisions, 80 percent fewer injuries and 90 percent fewer serious injuries and fatalities. Roundabouts also reduce points of conflict between pedestrians and motor vehicles and are therefore considered to be safer for them.

LJCPA and former BRCC president LaCava has long touted the roundabouts as being eco- and pedestrian-friendly. Best of all, LaCava contends, roundabouts “create a sense of place in the merchant district.”

“For many years drivers were just cruising through on auto pilot,” he said. “Now they have to slow down, and they’re actually seeing that there is something going on here.”

Rounding the roundabouts

A public outreach campaign aimed at educating motorists about how to drive safely through Bird Rock’s five roundabout traffic circles recommends these four steps:

  • Slow down on the approach to the roundabout
  • Yield first to other motorists inside the roundabout and pedestrians in the crosswalk
  • Look left and wait for a gap in traffic before entering
  • Keep right and don’t stop inside the roundabout, then signal before exiting