Del Mar approves roundabout proposal

Despite some concerns from nearby neighbors, Del Mar is getting its first roundabout.

In two 4-0 votes on March 21, the City Council certified an environmental impact report on the proposal and directed city staff to finish designing the project for the intersection of Jimmy Durante Boulevard and San Dieguito Drive.

“It is going to be a great asset to the community,” said Deputy Mayor Terry Sinnott.

The roundabout was originally proposed as part of a citywide sidewalk improvement project, but after some community members voiced concerns about the need of a roundabout and impacts on traffic, the traffic calming device was pulled for a separate study.

As part of the required California Environmental Quality Act review, the city’s consulting firm, San Diego-based Kleinfelder, prepared the environmental study. The report concluded that the roundabout is the “environmentally superior” option for improving the intersection, compared to a traffic signal or no changes at all.

The study also found that both the roundabout and traffic signal would keep traffic flowing at acceptable levels through 2035, except during peak hours of the San Diego County Fair. The roundabout would cause less delay than a signal during off-peak times, according to the study.

Although Councilman Al Corti did not vote on the issue because he owns property in the area, speaking as a resident, he said he supported the project.

“It’s not uncommon for the speeders (on Jimmy Durante Boulevard) to exceed 40 mph approaching 50 mph at this intersection and that is the major reason, I think, that we need to make an improvement,” said Corti, who lives on Jimmy Durante Boulevard. “I walk that intersection, I go through it on my bicycle, I go through it on my motorcycle and I drive through it all the time, and it is a dangerous intersection, especially coming out of San Dieguito Drive.”

Located just southwest of the Del Mar Fairgrounds, the proposed roundabout will be about 100 feet in diameter with a 64-foot inner circle. The project will also include curbs, gutters, pedestrian ramps, sidewalks and landscaping to slow speeds and improve safety.

In February, the city’s Traffic and Parking Advisory Committee voted to recommend a roundabout at the intersection.

During the meeting, Public Works Director Eric Minicilli explained the project stemmed from the long-established community plan, which calls for citywide improvements that discourage vehicles and make Del Mar more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly.

“There was a desire to see reduced speeds in the community, to make it safer for pedestrians and bicyclists,” Minicilli said. “That has always been a Del Mar goal, as far as I know, and it’s always been communicated to staff from council that that is something the folks in Del Mar want to see happen.”

The intersection is already frequently used by pedestrians during the fair, racing season and special events.

The city completed sidewalk improvements along the southeast portion of Jimmy Durante Boulevard toward the intersection last year. River Path Del Mar is also currently being extended and is expected to be completed in May.

“One of our jobs as council members is to ensure the safety of the community, and that is a dangerous crossing,” said Councilman Don Mosier. “I think the roundabout is the best alternative for that and there’s lots of statewide and national data supporting the safety of roundabouts.”

Still, some nearby residents said a roundabout doesn’t make sense for the intersection. The posted speed limit is 40 mph on Jimmy Durante Boulevard and the roundabout is designed to reduce speeds to 15-20 mph, staff explained.

“Down at the Beach Colony, it fits,” said Annette Wiesel, who lives nearby. “People go slow there. They have a stop sign every block. A roundabout would keep the flow. They wouldn’t have to stop.

“Jimmy Durante is different,” she added. “Jimmy Durante is designed to have traffic move in and out of Del Mar at 40 mph. … A signal-controlled traffic light, I think, is more effective at keeping the traffic flowing on Jimmy Durante because that’s what Jimmy Durante was designed to do.”

Others worried that the roundabout would make it even more difficult to leave their residences and merge onto the road, especially during the fair and racing seasons.

“I have no way in or out except for that one road,” said resident Beth Westberg. “When it backs up coming south on Jimmy Durante, guess what? It’s backed up heading north. I have no way to get into my house. So I’m very disappointed in your vote.

“Since you think my travel plans aren’t going to be hampered, is it OK if I call you when I sit in traffic?” she asked. “We can chat, so I have something to do while I’m sitting at the intersection. I’ll call each one of you, and I’ll make sure everybody else does, too.”

As part of the council’s decision to approve the roundabout, Councilman Dwight Worden proposed working with the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which runs the state-owned fairgrounds, to manage traffic at the intersection during events at the fairgrounds.

The city doesn’t control the Del Mar Fairgrounds, but it does control Jimmy Durante Boulevard, so Del Mar issues permits for traffic control.

Del Mar will offer additional traffic control personnel when necessary. The city will also establish a hotline for residents to call to report traffic problems at the intersection.

“I feel my main obligation is to our people, who live in Del Mar, to make sure that they can navigate to get out of their homes and out of the canyon,” Worden said. “I think if we impose those conditions, we solve the problem that remains.”

His colleagues agreed, and included the conditions in their vote.

The roundabout’s design is expected to be completed by summer. Construction is scheduled to begin in November and completed by February 2017.