February 2012 home page

Circle the Wagons
Kathy Garcia, City of Del Mar, Planning and Community Development Director


Camino Del Mar, Del Mar. Photo Courtesy City of Del Mar

Roundabout Santa Fe Road, Encinitas.
Photo courtesy City of Del Mar

Many cities are looking to a European solution – the roundabout - to slow traffic, reduce roadways and efficiently carry the large volumes of cars in their city centers. We’ve seen them recently in Encinitas, La Jolla, Leucadia, Seattle and Petaluma. Here in Del Mar, we are considering roundabouts on Camino del Mar as a solution to our traffic issues. Our traffic engineer tells us that the capacity actually increases with roundabouts as compared to stop signs. It’s hard to believe but they assure me that a 2-lane Camino del Mar with roundabouts could carry up to 50% more traffic than the 4-lane with stop signs.

Assessing Impacts

The City of Del Mar conducted a scoping meeting for their Village Specific Plan Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on January 12, 2012. Over thirty people attended the meeting and provided excellent comments which were reinforced with over forty written comment letters. There was a clear message to the EIR consultants – address traffic issues along Camino del Mar (and any street which would have diversion traffic), address the visual impacts of increased height, and address the impacts on the surrounding neighbors, be that visual, noise, traffic or parking.

The EIR is addressing aesthetics, air quality, biological resources, cultural and paleontological resources, geology and soils, greenhouse gas emissions, hazards and hazardous materials, hydrology and water quality, land use, noise, population and housing, public services, recreation, transportation and traffic, utilities, as well as the cumulative impacts and project alternatives. Watch for a draft EIR in the Spring of 2012 for public review and comment.

So, what is a roundabout and how does it work? And are they the same as traffic circles or rotaries? And why should we consider them in Del Mar? At first glance, these traffic islands all appear to be the same, however there are actually distinctions that have quite a different effect on driving.

A roundabout serves to calm traffic and direct turning movements by having automobiles circulate (counterclockwise) around a central island or roundabout. Roundabouts are used on higher volume streets like Camino del Mar to keep traffic flowing and eliminate turning movements that often provide points of conflict. On the other hand, a traffic circle is used on low volume streets and may look like a miniature roundabout, however its primary purpose is to slow speeds in intersections. If you have encountered the rotaries found in east coast cities, modern roundabouts are different. Cars yields as one enters the roundabouts, preventing the weaving you find in rotaries. Roundabouts are smaller, and more efficient when dealing with entering and exiting.

I’ve long feared rotaries since my days driving in Boston – they were dizzying, fast, and poorly signed. So heading to Encinitas and Bird Rock, I had fears of spinning around the circle and being spit out in the wrong direction. To my surprise, the roundabouts were quite easy to negotiate and nothing like my memories of the Boston “centrifuges.” Instead, I found myself driving slowly, but efficiently while looking at the shops. And at that slow speed (20 mph), I was able to see the signs and find my desired location, as well as notice the vacant parking place across the street. The roundabout allowed me to make a safe, easy “U-turn” to reach my coveted parking place. The only stop I made through the entire business district was when a pedestrian crossed; I could easily see the woman and her stroller enter the crosswalk. A garbage truck and an ambulance traversed the street while I was there; both negotiated the roundabout smoothly and continued along their way. The garbage truck did the same “U-turn” movement that I had just done, albeit more gracefully.

Roundabouts could have some benefits for Del Mar. It takes less time to go through the intersection with a roundabout than it does to stop and start at stop signs. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety states that modern roundabouts do reduce vehicle crashes, especially serious crashes. Why? There is less speed and fewer points of potential conflicts. In addition, roundabouts shorten the drive time by keeping traffic moving and eliminating the delays at stop signs and signals, thereby shortening the drive time and reducing congestion. Traffic may be moving more slowly at safer speeds but the amount of travel time is nearly the same. Roundabouts can also reduce greenhouse gas emissions from starting and stopping at signals or stop signs. Roundabouts are actually less expensive than installing traffic signals, especially when it comes to maintenance.

As we look to solutions for our Village congestion, we are considering the advantages and disadvantages of roundabouts for Del Mar. City Council will have a traffic workshop at its February 6 meeting. Come and voice your thoughts.




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