Easing the Gridlock at Olive Mill and Coast Village Road

By Bob Hazard   |   August 15, 2019

On Monday, August 11, 2018, Montecito residents got their first look at the conceptual design for a proposed roundabout to be constructed at the intersection of Coast Village Road and Olive Mill Road.What makes this roundabout challenging and unique is the fact that the circle will have six legs and 10 lanes of traffic entering or exiting the single-lane traffic circle within a constrained right of way. The second oddity is that this roundabout lies halfway within the City of Santa Barbara and halfway within Montecito, which cedes its planning authority for this project to traffic planners at County Public Works.

Landscaping and Aesthetics

The conceptual unveiling of the roundabout occurred before a joint meeting of the City of Santa Barbara Architectural Board of Review (ABR) and the Montecito Board of Architectural Review (MBAR). The review was focused only on landscaping and aesthetic review, not traffic loads, environmental impacts, traffic engineering from the county or the city, Coastal Development permits, nor city and county design review approval.

The applicants seeking conceptual review comments from ABR and MBAR commissioners for the Olive Mill roundabout included Laura Yanez, Project Engineer and Olive Mill Roundabout Project Manager (employed by the City of Santa Barbara Public Works); Morgan Jones, Senior Environmental Planner for the County of Sana Barbara; and James Faber, Associate Vice President T.Y. Lin International, a consultant.

The applicant team submitted the Olive Mill roundabout project to the city and county in July 2018; last Monday was the first conceptual review open to the public.

The Overhead View 

The first thing to notice is that the roundabout is a single-lane roundabout. The paved outer circle, indicated in light green just outside the inner landscape circle, is paved to provide a wider width for truck-turning templates.

On the top left of the schematic drawing is the new John Price office building that after 15 years of planning, permitting and design review replaced the Phillips 66 gas station. Price was represented at the meeting Monday by Jim Youngson, principal consultant at Terrain Consulting.

A pedestrian crossing stretches across Coast Village Road from the Price building to the Montecito Inn, as shown on the drawing in white. The southeast corner (lower right), bordering the southbound on-ramp to the 101 contains no pedestrian crossing and no bike lane to the beach on the east side of the roundabout.

The upper right northeast corner, designed to accommodate northbound off-ramp traffic from the 101, as well as two-way traffic on North Jameson, severely impacts the Montecito home of Roger Ritten at 10 Olive Mill Road (top right). The new exit ramp will take 10 to 12 feet of his property, and will move the traffic within 12 feet of his bedroom and negatively impact the ingress and egress to his driveway.

View from Montecito Inn

The first thing to notice is how beautiful Coast Village Road (CVR) looks with no traffic and no perpetual gridlock. The landscaping is lush and first class. The proposed plan may inspire the City of Santa Barbara and the landlords on CVR to invest in the same type of landscaping to create a signature look for Montecito worthy of its reputation as a five-star community. The second thing to notice is that both sides of Coast Village Road have been narrowed from two lanes to one lane for entrance into the traffic circle, creating a possible pinch. The curb lane in front of the Montecito Inn also currently accommodates a bus stop, which will disappear in the new configuration, due to denser landscaping occupying what had been lane space.

The CVR center divider strip has been narrowed and may not accommodate the width of the “Welcome to Montecito-Coast Village Road” current wooden sign.

Looking Toward the Mountains

Notice the lack of a pedestrian pathway for walkers, or bike lanes, on the east side of the roundabout coming from Butterfly Beach. The landscaping is beautiful and in character with Montecito. The lighting is important and must be done right. Adequate funding must be available for landscape maintenance and irrigation. 

Looking Toward the Beach

This view, from Olive Mill looking south toward the ocean, with the iconic Montecito Inn on the upper right, shows pedestrian pathways on both sides of Olive Mill, plus a pedestrian crossing, but no bike lanes.

The raised landscaping within the traffic circle and the low sandstone wall, mixed with ice plants, boulders and mature trees is quite lovely. 

The Entrance to Montecito

Again, the rendering is beautiful. Presumably, the street with the Yield sign is North Jameson Lane and the one on the left is the off-ramp of the 101 at Olive Mill. North Jameson Lane looks like it has been reduced to one lane; it is obviously a two-way lane, popular with bikers and hikers.

Travelers exiting the 101 at Olive Mill will be entering the traffic circle at a steady rate, forcing two-way traffic on North Jameson to sit and wait for a roundabout clearing. This is not your typical roundabout. With six entry streets and ten lanes of traffic to accommodate in a one-lane circle, things may get a little dicey without painful studies of traffic loads projected out for the next 75 years.

Public Comments

Comments from both the public and ABR and MBAR were generally favorable in terms of aesthetics. Some homeowners expressed a fear of declining home values from the turmoil and construction disruption at the heart of the Coast Village business district. Bob Ludwick, chair of the Coast Village Association (CVA), congratulated City planners for working closely with his team in design planning. CVA represents 120 businesses on Coast Village Road and Coast Village Circle, plus thousands of Montecito shoppers and diners. Other speakers wanted to know, “What problems are we trying to solve? Are traffic counts quantifiable? Will improvement in traffic flow (if any) be worth the pain of construction disruption?”

Support for getting CVR traffic moving faster was unanimous. Concerns were expressed about losing four parking spaces in front of the Montecito Inn and Lucky’s. One resident feared tourists could not successfully navigate a one-lane roundabout. Jason Copus, representing the Montecito Inn, expressed general approval for the plan, despite probable construction at night, not good for Inn guests unable to sleep with bright lights and pile drivers.

Starting with the landscaping review seemed an odd way to pursue project approval. One attendee suggested that a new round of state or federal funding could be coming out in March and that some element of conceptual planning had to be completed by then. Sounds plausible to me.

Commissioner Comments

Both Kevin Moore, chair of the city’s ABR, and John Watson, chair of MBAR, were generally supportive, with Watson pushing for moving the traffic circle (or oval) 10-feet to the south to aid the northeast corner neighbor, Roger Ridden. City Staff responded that they were constrained by the limited right-of-way from moving the design to the south.

Neither the Montecito community, nor anyone else, has seen traffic studies including flow rates; no final design; no cost estimates; no funding plan; no timeline and no construction schedule for an Olive Mill Roundabout. MBAR member Claire Gottsdanker summed up the majority opinion of those working with the design team: “It is time to move forward to stop backup… The character of Montecito is incorporated in the landscaping.”

More reviews and more public hearings are still to come. What we should learn in time is when construction will begin, when it will end, and what the impact will be. What we would like to know is what the unintended consequences of a new roundabout will be on the entire Coast Village Road traffic conundrum. But, because those consequences will be “unintended,” we won’t know until we… do know. So, we have the choice of either crossing our fingers or getting it right.

Let’s opt for getting it right before construction even begins.


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