DEL MAR — Despite opposition from the majority of speakers at its Feb. 22 meeting, the Traffic and Parking Advisory Committee voted 6-1 to recommend that the City Council approve a roundabout at the intersection of Jimmy Durante Boulevard and San Dieguito Drive.
The traffic calming device is being proposed to help fulfill a stated objective of the Del Mar Community Plan adopted in 1976 to slow traffic and ensure pedestrian and bicyclist safety, city officials said.
“The goal is not about eliminating gridlock on the worst days,” Public Works Director Eric Minicilli said.
The only way to do that is to widen the road and bridge and make it a highway, he added.
But eight of the 12 residents who addressed the committee said they believe a roundabout would make traffic worse, especially during peak attendance days at the nearby Del Mar Fairgrounds, home to the San Diego County Fair, annual horse race meet and more than 350 other annual events.
Arnold Wiesel, who lives nearby and has consistently opposed the project since it was proposed about two years ago, said the traffic circle “will take what is already a frustrating experience and turn it into absolute gridlock.”
“We have a serious, serious traffic issue here,” he said.
The roundabout was originally part of a citywide sidewalk improvement project.
In response to questions and concerns expressed during a public review period it was pulled from that project and underwent a separate environmental impact report that was released late last year.
The draft EIR analyzes the roundabout, a traffic signal and a no-project alternative.
According to the findings the roundabout was deemed the “environmentally superior alternative.”
Resident Barbara Myers said the cost of the approximately $1 million project seems “exorbitant” and it is “inappropriate for that corner.”
“I’ve heard roundabouts work elsewhere but they don’t have a million tourists driving through there confused and looking for a parking space,” Myers said, adding that she also has concerns about emergency vehicle access.
Alan Wittgrove said in his research he learned bicyclist safety decreases in small roundabouts such as the 100-foot diameter one that is proposed.
Richard Anglin recommended finding two solutions for the times of the year when the intersection is busy and when it is not. He also suggested increasing the presence of law enforcement to slow drivers on the roadway, where the speed limit is 40 mph.
But not everyone opposes the project.
Councilman Al Corti, speaking as a resident because he lives nearby, said in his determination the roundabout is the best solution and “doing nothing is clearly not the right decision.”
Wade Walker noted the success of traffic circles in other cities.
“It just takes trying it and I think you should,” he said.
Bill Michalsky said it took him “a long time to come around to it” but he believes it will be effective in slowing traffic once people learn to maneuver it.
“It may be a few days when it’s just ugly,” he said. “I say go for it.”
He said the lagoon committee supports a roundabout because compared to a traffic signal there will be fewer or no light and noise impacts to wildlife there.
Minicilli said there have been few vehicle and pedestrian accidents at the intersection but when he and his staff evaluated the area they concluded there is not really a safe way to cross the road there even though many people do so.
He said it bothered him that improvements being made to the area, such as the extension of River Path Del Mar, will bring more pedestrians to that location.
In response to other questions raised at the meeting, city staff said flagmen could be used to direct traffic in the roundabout during peak seasons. They also said the project was approved with some conditions by the previous fire marshal.
Additionally, the EIR included an estimated 40 vehicle trips per hour would be generated by Watermark Del Mar, a multifamily residential complex proposed for the southeast corner of the intersection.
In its first vote the Traffic and Parking Advisory Committee found the EIR is adequate and should be certified by City Council.
With Tracy Martinez opposed, members also approved the roundabout with some recommendations on its characteristics, such as its elevation above the grade level of the road, visible signage to alert drivers they are approaching a traffic circle and other signage in the center.
Because TPAC is advisory, the City Council members will have the final say. They are scheduled to make a decision at the March 7 meeting.