On March 20, 2019, a meeting was held at Los Ranchos Elementary School to tell attendees about the solutions to traffic congestion on Highway 227 between the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport and Los Ranchos Road. At least 300 to 350 or more local residents attended. The solution we were given was to install a series of roundabouts on 227. The first one at Los Ranchos Road, then Buckley Road, then Crestmont Drive, and possibly a fourth at Airport Drive.
We were told that this was just a "proposal" needing further study, including improved traffic signal systems of some sort. Over the last two years, five meetings were held without the public involved. Preliminary cost estimates are $7.2 million for the first roundabout only.
Roundabouts supposedly would help traffic flow freely to and from Price Canyon Road past the airport and let traffic from the intersections merge safely. Existing traffic signals would be removed.
Nobody who uses 227 will deny that there is a real traffic problem. However, the problem is only Monday through Friday in the morning for about two hours and in the afternoon for two hours.
The proposal is not a solution. It is a terrible idea. The city of San Luis Obispo, the county, and Caltrans helped cause the problem by growing without concerns for traffic and doing little long-range planning—exacerbated by Highway 101 congestion. Little has been done to improve Highway 227. The only visible "improvements" were at the Buckley intersection a few years ago when wheelchair ramps were installed at the four corners so wheelchairs can cross 227 or Buckley from nonexistent sidewalks to nonexistent sidewalks on the other side of the streets. At least now that intersection has a traffic light.
It appears that the "official" solution to the congestion must be roundabouts.
Roundabouts will create a 168-hour per week traffic slowdown to allegedly relieve a 20-hour per week problem; but in reality, it will not help even during the rush hours. Highway 227 is a 55 mph roadway used by emergency vehicles, commuters, residents, school buses, parents dropping off and picking up students, trailer trucks, recreational vehicles, and countless others hauling loads to the landfill. All cars will have to slow to 20 to 25 mph at all hours of the day and night, with larger vehicles going even slower. Two vehicles—semis or pickups towing trailers—would bring traffic nearly to a stop if both enter a roundabout at the same time. Police, fire, and rescue vehicles would be restricted in speed while confused drivers try to pull over.
Envision this: The road southbound at the airport will go from two lanes to one lane then to two lanes at the roundabout at Buckley; back to one lane, then to two lanes at the Crestmont roundabout; then back to one lane, then to two lanes at the Los Ranchos roundabout; then back to one lane—all within less than a half mile. Northbound 227 traffic will be affected in the same manner.
Traffic now backs up on Buckley for a mile or longer. With roundabouts, all vehicles will have difficulty merging safely to turn north or south, on or off 227, and to turn west on Buckley and Los Ranchos Road from north bound 227. Today, drivers turning north and south on 227 from Buckley and Los Ranchos Road have the safety of traffic signals. Drivers heading north on 227 are protected by traffic lights that momentarily stop southbound traffic when they turn left.
We are told "merging" won't be a problem. As the roundabout approaches, the road will widen to two lanes causing gaps in the traffic. Oncoming vehicles will just naturally slow down and nicely allow those entering or turning at the roundabout to proceed. However, we were also told that impatient drivers will pass vehicles when the road widens to two lanes causing natural gaps in traffic. Really?
With roundabouts, the problem will only get worse because of the under-construction storage unit on Buckley near 227, and it will worsen when the proposed 720-home development on Buckley is completed. Also, there was no mention of people walking or in wheelchairs crossing 227 or the feeder roads without the safety of a traffic light.
Widening 227 from the airport entrance road to Los Ranchos Road or beyond in both directions and synchronizing the traffic lights is a better and safer answer. A cost study of all alternate proposals is needed.
Roundabouts will not solve anything and will create far greater congestion and an increase in traffic accidents. Previously, Caltrans engineers stated that roundabouts cause more accidents initially than traffic-signal-controlled intersections, but the accidents are less severe with fewer injuries, and people eventually learn to use them safely, so they are a good solution.
Roundabouts are a centuries old solution that worked with horse and buggy traffic. People will say they work fine in Europe, but traffic in Europe consists of smaller vehicles and more motorcycles, all of which take up a lot less space.
At 8 p.m. on a Monday night, I traveled from the airport to Price Canyon Road at 55 miles per hour. There was a total of four southbound cars and fewer northbound. With the roundabouts, everyone would have to slow to 20 to 25 mph three or four times in a short space for no reason other than the roundabouts.
Most thought the real concern was for the commuters moving through at rush hour with little or no thought given to the impact on residents.
When I asked one of the presenters if a show of hands would be called for, I was told no. However, one member in the audience took it upon himself to ask the audience for a show of hands if they had heard about this before, and if they were in favor of the proposal. Only one person raised their hand to both questions.
I believe this is a terrible idea that has no popular support from the residents who will be affected. Adjusting the traffic lights and widening Highway 227, and improving Highway 101 would improve traffic for commuters and residents using Highway 227 and would still be safer. Let's not make traffic worse for 168 hours a week due to a doubtful solution to a 20-hour or less per week problem. Δ
Joseph R. Rouleau is not into roundabouts. He writes from San Luis Obispo. Send comments through the editor at email@example.com or write a response for publication and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.