San Ysidro Roundabout at MBAR Pt. 2
Last Thursday, January 9, the Montecito Board of Architectural Review heard a presentation from Santa Barbara County’s Deputy Director of Transportation Chris Sneddon regarding the proposed roundabout slated for San Ysidro Road and North Jameson Lane. The hearing was for conceptual review of the project; it was the first time MBAR had formally seen the plans and renderings.
Sneddon began the presentation explaining to the Board that the intersection was first identified as problematic when the Montecito Community Plan was written in 1992; it currently operates at a level “F” multiple times per day. The project, which will add a single lane roundabout to include San Ysidro Road, North Jameson Lane, and the Highway 101 on and off-ramps, has been in the works for the last several years as part of a trio of parallel projects to improve local traffic in conjunction with the impending widening of Highway 101.
Five years ago, Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG) directed staff to move forward on these projects: a roundabout at Olive Mill and Coast Village Road, mitigation of the railroad bridge at the Cabrillo Blvd underpass, and assessment of traffic solutions at the San Ysidro Road freeway entrances/exits. That board direction prompted a 2017 analysis performed by Kittelson & Associates, which outlined a number of alternatives for both sides of the San Ysidro Road freeway bridge, including roundabouts at both intersections on San Ysidro (one near the Miramar and one at North Jameson), as well as alternatives showing various combinations of all-way stops, traffic lights, and roundabouts. The recommendation by that study was a combination of a roundabout at the north intersection and all-way-stop control at the south intersection, as that combination was deemed the least impactful and most cost effective. The configuration meets County and Montecito Community Plan level of service requirements, addresses potential backups on the freeway off-ramps, provides continuity to the regional frontage road system with Olive Mill and Coast Village Road, minimizes footprint and impacts, and improves pedestrian and bicycle access through the interchange, according the County.
“Our goal is to have the appropriate traffic on the appropriate roads,” Sneddon said, adding that traffic on Highway 101 increases traffic on North Jameson, which then bleeds into smaller streets like San Leandro and La Vereda, which are not suitable for such high traffic volume. Construction on Highway 101 during the widening is expected to compound the problem, Sneddon explained. The project is tied into the 101 widening in both funding and timing, and is expected to be built between 2023 and 2027.
A Design Working Group for the project, which includes two MBAR members and two Montecito Planning Commissioners, has been busy working on the aesthetics of the roundabout, which residents have indicated is a significant sticking point to accepting the roundabout. The current intersection is an expanse of asphalt, with no aesthetic treatment and no continuous pedestrian or bicycle access. “Although we do have these roads with higher levels of traffic, we want to create that neighborhood, semi-rural ambiance feel for the project,” Sneddon said. “We want to bring back the neighborhood lane feel.”
The heavily landscaped project includes pedestrian access on every leg of the intersection, including crosswalks that connect with paved walkways through the medians or refuge areas, breaking up the expanse of asphalt into smaller sections for pedestrians to safely cross. The roundabout also promotes bicycle accessibility, giving enough space for bicycles to traverse the lane, or bicyclists can get off their bikes and walk in the pedestrian areas, Sneddon said. The center of the median will be heavily screened so that drivers cannot see through it, which will cause them to slow down to less than 25 MPH, according to the designers. The northeastern corner of the intersection will also be heavily screened with native trees – Monterey Cypress, Coast Live Oaks, and cherry trees – providing a buffer between the roundabout and the adjacent Hedgerow neighborhood. Signage will be minimal, as will lighting, to keep with the semi-rural ambiance of Montecito. Crosswalks will be clearly delineated to add to pedestrian safety, Sneddon explained while presenting the renderings.
Speakers from the public included Montecito Association executive director Sharon Byrne, who shared constituent concerns including increased traffic during construction, pedestrian and bicycle safety, and potential drainage issues on Highway 101. Byrne went on to give thanks to Sneddon for presenting the project to the MA’s Land Use Committee last week, saying that the meeting was robust and productive. She also noted that a flyer that was circulated in the Hedgerow neighborhood that insinuated that the Montecito Association and the Coast Village Association were opposed to the project was not legitimate, and that whomever generated the flyer used both Associations’ logos without permission.
Other speakers included a representative from COAST (Coalition for Sustainable Transportation), an organization that is in support of the project but feels some improvements can be made for pedestrian and bicycle safety. Several residents from the Hedgerow also voiced their concerns over pedestrian and bicyclist safety, and one said the project would be a dangerous addition to the community. Another neighbor who is legally blind said that the roundabout would not be safe for her to walk through.
Comments from members of MBAR included positive reaction about the type of neutral colored materials being used to build the roundabout, as well as aesthetics and landscaping. The majority of members agreed with the public sentiment that more work should be done ensuring pedestrian safety, as well as safety of bicyclists entering the roundabout. Sneddon responded that the safest way for a bicycle to traverse the roundabout is to take the lane, versus staying on the right side of a vehicle using the roundabout. “We want both experienced and novice bicyclists to feel comfortable using the roundabout safely,” he said.
Planners will be back in front of MBAR at a subsequent hearing, incorporating comments heard into a revised design. Once there is conceptual approval, the project will be heard by the Montecito Planning Commission, and then be back at MBAR for further detail review.