“Roundabouts are not that common. Neither is the Covenant.” —Martin Wilson
I think that everyone who lives and drives through Rancho Santa Fe, also known by locals as “The Ranch,” can agree that there are traffic problems, especially during commuting hours. No matter the time of day, some folks drive as if they own the entire road, even driving right through stop sign intersections. Some stop in the middle of the road and get out of their car to talk with friends, or even run an errand. After-school pick-up is more of a traffic “war-zone” some days than a friendly driveway. There are more than a few issues in Rancho Santa Fe when it comes to traffic, but the three areas we are discussing today are the main intersections along Del Dios Highway/Paseo Delicias: El Camino del Norte, La Valle Plateada/El Montevideo and Via de la Valle. I personally avoid traffic at all costs, especially at La Valle Plateada/El Montevideo, as you can spend almost 20 minutes just waiting in line for people to stop and then go at that four-way stop-sign intersection.
On May 5th, the Rancho Santa Fe Review posted an article, “Most Rancho Santa Fe residents at meeting prefer lights to roundabouts for easing traffic.” This article really caught my eye, and I’ve been following this fascinating debate ever since.
The article in the Review talked about how traffic lights cost $1.5 million dollars as opposed to a $6 million dollar price tag for the roundabouts. They also mentioned that the roundabouts would take 23 parking spaces away from the Village Church, causing even more dangerous traffic situations. For a little background, all homeowners of historic Rancho Santa Fe (also known as “The Covenant”) are members of the Rancho Santa Fe Association. A vote of the Association took place on May 7th, and on May 14th the Review published another article stating that the Association chose lights over roundabouts. Shortly after, some Covenant residents complained that there weren’t enough people at the meeting to make it a legitimate vote. RSF resident Dick Doughty said the town hall meeting should not be characterized as an official Association meeting. He said many in attendance were not Covenant members, but members of the Village Church. Ultimately, only San Diego County has the authority to select roundabouts or traffic lights, so this preliminary vote is just an official suggestion from the Association to the County. However, this meeting and the subsequent recommendation of traffic lights instead of roundabouts has fueled the debate and caused “increasing outrage in the community.”
I’ve lived in small towns and larger communities that have both traffic lights and roundabouts. After experiencing both, I think that roundabouts are a much smarter decision for Rancho Santa Fe, especially considering the intersections in question and how people drive in this community. Unlike “anti-traffic light” writer Glen Griffin, I am pro-roundabout. Roundabouts are much easier to navigate. Sure, they take some getting used to, but after a while, roundabouts seem like the simplest, easiest way to get around in a small area. It makes perfect sense to put a roundabout anywhere in Rancho Santa Fe; that way you’re not sitting waiting for the traffic light to change. The five-way intersection in front of The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe is another perfect place for a roundabout.
There were traffic lights in the most rural neighborhoods where I grew up in a small town in northern Michigan; it was the most annoying thing imaginable. Drivers had to wait at least two to three minutes between each stop light every time they wanted to go to the grocery store or a friend’s house. Of course, this assumes that drivers paid attention to traffic signals, which may be an invalid assumption in Rancho Santa Fe. When I moved to a small town in Indiana I discovered roundabouts in every neighborhood. At first I was so confused. I had no idea how to drive in a roundabout. I had no idea that I was supposed to wait for the traffic coming before me or how or when I could leave the roundabout. After a while though, I got very used to entering and exiting and started to see the huge benefits of smooth traffic flow in areas with roundabouts. Waiting for a traffic light instead would be pretty frustrating, especially in Rancho Santa Fe where there is no traffic in either direction on any road during most days and times. Even during peak commuting times roundabouts, otherwise known as traffic circles, can ease the flow of traffic assuming they are constructed properly with a couple of lanes. Rancho Santa Fe is most certainly not the type of community where I envision people patiently waiting at traffic lights around the clock, especially when they are driving their children to piano, basketball and karate all in the same day.
Don MacNeil from the Village Church said, “Despite our country atmosphere, we have to deal with a big-city problem, and that’s traffic. We can’t make a big-city mistake and install roundabouts…it’s a mistake that never goes away.” Seriously?! I don’t think that we are facing “big city” traffic issues in Rancho Santa Fe. I don’t think anyone is talking about constructing roundabouts like the one circling the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
Martin Wilson, a resident who built his home in Rancho Santa Fe’s “Covenant” 50 years ago said, “Roundabouts will make a difference, and that’s what we ought to be thinking about. Where we live is different. It’s different from the surrounding areas. This is our last opportunity to make a difference, this is our last opportunity to define the Covenant. Roundabouts are not that common. Neither is the Covenant.” Even though I agree with Martin’s suggestions, I don’t think this is the “last opportunity” to make changes in our community. However, I do believe it will be difficult to reverse the decision of traffic lights or roundabouts once either is constructed. Glen Griffin in “Traffic Lights Will Destroy the Future of the Ranch” said, “Should ‘They take too long to build,’ or ‘They cost too much,’ or ‘Construction will inconvenience the church members for months and months’ really be a consideration to build traffic lights instead of roundabouts? Shouldn’t we all put this issue in perspective and decide to leave The Ranch a better place than when we arrived?” I can see both sides, and I think I may be on the losing side, but I, like Mr. Wilson and Mr. Griffin, feel roundabouts are a better option for this smaller community.
At any rate, the Rancho Santa Fe Association board has given the County of San Diego the “green light” for traffic signals over roundabouts in all three problem intersections along Paseo Delicias/Del Dios Highway. On July 3rd, the Rancho Santa Fe Post reported that the Association will be sending out a survey to all property owners in the Rancho Santa Fe community to get a better idea of how people in the Ranch feel about roundabouts vs. traffic lights. It reported that another “community forum” meeting would be held soon to go over details about this project with a County official present to answer any additional questions. Yet another article was published in the Rancho Santa Fe Review just yesterday verifying the information in the Post’s July 3rd version. It explained the survey again, and added that the Association is under “ongoing bullying and personal attacks.” Quotes were included about Association board sensitivity and the article reiterated that another community meeting would “be held before the surveys are sent out.” Ann Boon, president of the Association stated that she “doesn’t mind being second-guessed or attacked” but that she “doesn’t think it does this community any good to go on for months and months on an issue when we have other things to deal with.” Her solution is to let “everyone weigh in on this, once and for all, and the county will just have to bite the bullet and move on.” However, no mention of a date or time for this proposed new meeting was stated in either article.
I asked my fiancé what he thought of this issue and he referred me to this video about “White People Problems” from Saturday Night Live. Quite humorous. I’m going to continue to follow this debate since the ultimate decision will have a big impact on our community. Please let me know your thoughts. What is your experience with roundabouts versus traffic signals? I just want what is best for Rancho Santa Fe.