SLO City’s latest illogical planning proposal

August 24, 2019

OPINION by RICHARD SCHMIDT

Every so often, it’s fun to pop over to slocity.org, our fair city’s official spokes-site, to check out “What’s New In SLO,” our San Luis Obispo’s official news headline service.

This week, “Roundabouts are the City’s preferred form of intersection control.” Note how they capitalize “City” as if it’s somebody’s name.

Gone will be simple intersections, stop signs, traffic signals. In the future, we’re to drive in circles where streets meet.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it! Or not, since like roundabouts smoking’s probably harmful to your health.

In preference to orderly four-way stops we’re to have bump-and-dent lanes in the round. Everyplace they’ll fit. And since our fair city thinks they fit in tiny intersections on Chorro Street south of downtown, I guess they’ll fit anyplace.

Here’s why the city prefers roundabouts: “They help traffic flow more efficiently, with fewer delays and greenhouse gas emissions compared to a traffic signal or all-way stop.”

Which is interesting since three of the city’s four existing roundabouts are those on Chorro Street, placed not to facilitate better movement but to delay and obstruct otherwise free-flowing movement by sticking roundabouts in intersections with little traffic. The slow-then-step-on-the-gas driving these choke-points produce creates more greenhouse gas than steady-speed driving. So SLO City, do you even try to edit your “news” for consistency? Or do you think nobody notices your contradictions and illogic?

Featured at “What’s New” are three videos about the city’s preferred form of intersection control: How to drive in a roundabout, how to ride a bicycle in a roundabout, and how to walk around a roundabout.

The message is clear: this is tricky stuff — so tricky we need video instruction. And in fact it turns out to be very tricky for drivers, bikers and walkers compared to a good old fashioned traffic signal with red and green and walk lights.

For drivers, for example, it goes like this: “Slow down and watch for pedestrians and bicyclists crossing as you approach the roundabout. Yield to traffic already in the roundabout coming from your left. Once you see a gap in traffic, turn right into the circle and proceed counter-clockwise along the circle until you reach the exit that matches your destination. Use your turn signal and watch for pedestrians and bicyclists crossing again before you exit. Also, make sure to look out for bicyclists who may be sharing the travel lanes to navigate the roundabout as well.”

Got that? Sounds very “efficient,” especially for the nervous system. “Yield” means stop till there’s “a gap in traffic,” which we all know from that cool roundy just off the freeway in Morro Bay that it never happens when there’s lots of traffic.

Then there are those pesky bikers and walkers, always in the way, crossing again, darn ‘em, who are assured elsewhere in “What’s New” that “Roundabouts can reduce the amount of time pedestrians and cyclists wait to cross an intersection and the speed of traffic at crossing points.”

The city claims a roundabout is safer for pedestrians, yet as a walker, I’m mystified how crossing in front of stopped traffic at a stop light is more dangerous than trekking through the continuously moving traffic of a roundabout.

Our city apparently thinks the “safety” factor for pedestrians stems from their having to walk some distance beyond the intersection to a crosswalk across the exit/entrance lanes to the roundabout, which seems really safe, eh? Not to mention quick and convenient.

Bikers have two choices, says our city: Go through the roundabout with motor vehicles, or chicken out and get on the sidewalk and endanger pedestrians. Since the first choice seems contradictory to our city’s premise the way to improve bike safety is ramming bikeways through neighborhoods, the neighbors be damned, to separate bikes from vehicles, and the second choice presumes pedestrian safety improves when bikers over the age of 12 ride on sidewalks, one must marvel at the city’s bike and pedestrian safety arguments.

The instructional videos are quite lovely. They show roundabouts with almost no vehicles, so it’s a breeze to drive through one, bike through or around one, and to use the roundabout pedestrian route required of foot people to negotiate a roundabout.

As for implementation, there’s already a lovely sample roundabout on Prado Road in the middle of the new housing subdivision out there. Prado currently ends at a farm gate, so this roundabout has the sort of traffic volume shown in the videos. But soon it will become the major multi-lane truck route across town, linking Madonna and 101 to industrial South Broad, with a spinoff – via another roundabout – to Santa Fe and Tank Farm and the airport industrial area.

The noise of thousands of 18-wheelers slowing for and then gearing out of these roundabouts will add much to the quality of life of these new residential areas – as will the increased diesel fumes from all that gearing down and gearing up. But, hey, roundabouts are the preferred intersection configuration, so stop complaining. They’re the future. Complaining is not.

Next up – a roundabout to be installed on California Boulevard at Taft Street for which the city has budgeted more than $300,000 this year to replace a perfectly good three-way intersection. California Boulevard is a major vehicular route to and from Cal Poly and the entire north end of town, so this will be the city’s first demonstration of its preferred intersection configuration with actual traffic.

Probably 95 percent of that traffic is through-traffic on California Boulevard, so thousands of drivers daily, who are going straight ahead, will be slowing who previously were going at a steady speed, then accelerating out of the roundabout and polluting more than before as they step on the gas.

California Boulevard is also a major pedestrian route, so those pedestrians will have to step out of their way, going up Taft Street a ways, to cross Taft Street — in front of moving cars instead of stopped cars.

And this, we are promised, is but the first of many high-volume intersections to be retrofit with roundabouts. For millions of dollars. All to make us safer and make travel in SLO City more convenient.

Sure sounds like progress, eh?


Loading...

26
Leave a Reply

Please Login to comment
SLOpoker

You haven’t lived until you drive the mother of all roundabouts….at the Arc de Triompe in Paris.

https://images.app.goo.gl/AmUvZt5G83XNmjo98


MysticOne

Roundabouts are great… the one on HIWAY 246 even killed a firefighter on a call and has injured many more judging by the condition of the center and how many cars have launched over it.


1965buick

Weeeeee!


derasmus

Richard, you are entitled to your opinion, ( and much of the time I agree with you), but not your own set of facts. Empirical data shows that when PROPERLY applied, roundabouts improve LOS (level of service), air quality, and most importantly, they reduce broad side collisions, i.e. “T-bones”. Notice I said, “when properly applied…” Appropriate analysis should be done before installation.


Don’t believe me? check for yourself with CHP regarding the intersections at SR154/SR246 near Santa Ynez, or Purisima Road/SR246 in Lompoc, or Morro Bay at Quintana Road.


This is an empirically based point of view, in other words FACTS. However, if you just don’t like them you are certainly entitled to your OPINION.


panflash

Hey derasmus, if you’re so concerned about FACTS, you might want to know that the Morro Bay roundabout at Quintana was NOT properly designed. It is too small- as the multiple black tire marks on the inside edge of the circle perfectly demonstrate. That tight traffic circle is too small for the large delivery trucks that service the Albertson’s shopping center and the other stores along Quintana, as well as by the City’s own fire pumpers that need to speed through from time to time. And the huge gasoline tankers that deliver to the three gas stations there.


If you want some free entertainment sometime, just go over to one of those gas stations in that roundabout area and watch the big trucks, monster-sized Valley-tourist RVs and even some regular passenger vehicles hop over the inside edge, some nearly tipping over from the jarring height disparity.


“Properly designed.” Yeah, right. But thanks for offering your OPINION anyhow.


derasmus

You are correct in part on the MB facility, not built to current standards, 2019. Design standards have evolved in recent years. Additionally, sometimes design exceptions for radius and other elements must be made because of right of way needs, etc. However, if you check the collision data for the MB roundabout as I have, you will find that the frequency of collisions is slightly lower than the previous three years prior to installation but more importantly, the severity of collisions is much less.


As for the firefighter accident on 246, from my source in law enforcement, it was caused by driver behavior not the design of the round a bout.


Roundabouts are not a panacea for all traffic issues, and I never stated that nor would any credible traffic engineer. On the other hand, they are effective when applied correctly. Not my opinion, just the facts.


By the way the facility in France ( Arch de Triump) does not meet the modern definition of a roundabout from a design standpoint. It is in fact a very old design.


sjdunbar

Hey Mr. FACTS, the mountable curb there is intended for those vehicles to run over. Overdesigning it so they don’t hit that curb means regular vehicles speed much too fast through the roundabout.


I rode on a double decker bus in Davis for 3 years around a roundabout smaller than that which always used the inside rail. They aren’t “nearly tipping over.”


jebussaves

Roundabout, what a great song.


jimmy_me

That roundabout in Morro Bay sure works nice. Maybe I’m missing something…


panflash

Yes, you apparently are missing the multiple black tire marks on the inside edge of the circle, which verify that the circumference of the roundabout is too small to effectively and safely accommodate the variety of large vehicles that need to travel through it (see comments above).


In a nod to the comments of derasmus above, the Morro Bay circle does do a good job of facilitating the flow of smaller passenger vehicles. But designers are remiss when they ignore the nature of all the vehicles that need to flow through a specific area.


sjdunbar

Black tire marks, the epitome of safety data.


cosmos7

How quickly we forget the traffic circle failure that was Meinecke and Benton. Installed as an experiment, universally hated by resident, and quickly removed because the fire department couldn’t get their engines through.


Kevin Rice

Richard’s pieces are always gems. Totally debunks the fuzzy-headed City (capitalized, right?) leadership and its dumbass mayor. City propaganda laid bare in the light of reason.


mercut1469

Such crap. Roundabouts are indeed the most efficient way to provide for adequate flow of traffic. Arizona has gone to these throughout the state and Europe has had them for decades, even on the tightest streets. I’ve driven on the MB roundabout many times and I always found it a lot faster and easier to use than having to sit at a light. I wonder if the author is suggesting that Americans are too stupid to figure out how to maneuver a roundabout.


Gordo

There used to be roundabouts in a lot of the cities up and down the San Joaquin Valley. The were installed in the 50’s as the “modern” answer to traffic congestion. By the 1980’s they were being replaced with controlled intersections. It seems the auto insurance industry had commissioned a study that showed that traffic accident risks increased substantially.

What is old is new again and a generation of young traffic engineers have discovered this “modern” design and are selling it as the panacea for traffic congestion, just like their grandpas did 70 years ago.

I know they have traffic circles in Europe and I also know, from experience, that driving on them in Italy is like driving on a bumper car ride. Allstate, StateFarm and Farmers Insurance would shit a brick if Americans had as many fender benders as the Italians. I love Italy, despite the traffic though. Great country and people!


mercut1469

Totally agree about Italy. But it really is a third world country in many ways. I spent two weeks in France last summer following the Tour de France bicycle race and must have gone through several hundred roundabouts in different parts of the country, including cities similar to SLO. Absolutely no fuss, no muss. And in Arizona, they are everywhere. Just saying that it seems as though Mr. Schmidt is a typical American baby boomer who reacts negatively to anything that is outside his 1950’s or 1960’s upbringing when Americans had a tremendous arrogance—and ignorance—about the world.


CC_Marauder

Misunderstanding how to use a RA can’t be any worse than all the dumases that find a four way stop mind boggling. Can it?


I have zero problems with either and neither does my teen daughter that only has a permit but has also been trained properly (yes, I’m patting my own back). Doesn’t hurt that she’s a bright kid either.