Coastal Commission Upholds Roundabout Projects

By Kelly Mahan Herrick   |   April 29, 2021
The upcoming roundabout project at San Ysidro Road was in front of the California Coastal Commission on appeal last week; the appeal was denied unanimously

At a hearing last week, the California Coastal Commission upheld approvals for two upcoming roundabouts in Montecito after considering appeals of both projects. 

The two roundabouts – one at the intersection of Olive Mill and Coast Village roads and one at San Ysidro Road and North Jameson Lane – have had a polarizing effect on the community, garnering opinions both in support and opposition of their development. County and City planners say the roundabouts will alleviate traffic issues at the two clunky intersections, which are currently controlled by stop signs. The projects are two of three parallel projects to improve local traffic flow in conjunction with the widening of Highway 101, and have been in the works for years. 

The San Ysidro roundabout project includes replacing the current intersection at San Ysidro, North Jameson, and the Highway 101 northbound entrance and exit with an oblong-shaped roundabout and adding a four-way stop on the other side of the freeway bridge, at San Ysidro and South Jameson Lane (near the Miramar Resort). The single lane roundabout will include pedestrian access on every leg of the intersection, including crosswalks that connect with paved walkways through the medians or refuge areas. The roundabout has enough space for bicycles to traverse the lane, or bicyclists can get off their bikes and walk in the pedestrian/sidewalk areas. The area will be heavily landscaped, per the conditions of the project, and signage is limited to coastal access and safety signs. The Montecito Board of Architectural Review, a Design Working Group, COAST, and the Bicycle Coalition contributed to the design of the project, which was approved by the Montecito Planning Commission in June of last year.  

The Olive Mill roundabout is under joint jurisdiction by the City and the County, with respective planning commissions hearing the project for over nine hours last August. The project consists of reconfiguring the confusing six-legged intersection at Olive Mill Road, Coast Village Road, North Jameson Lane, Highway 101 northbound off-ramp, and Highway 101 southbound on-ramp to a single lane roundabout. Like the San Ysidro roundabout, the Olive Mill project will include pedestrian refuge islands, sidewalks, street lighting, signage, crosswalks, landscaping, and drainage facilities. The existing bike lanes along Coast Village Road, Olive Mill Road (North), and North Jameson Lane would be maintained up to the roundabout approaches, and the roundabout approaches would be narrowed to slow traffic and merge the vehicle lane and bike lane into a shared roadway. Cyclists wishing to not ride through the roundabout could dismount their bikes and cross the west and north legs of the roundabout as pedestrians. All improvements would be accommodated within existing Caltrans, City, and County right-of-way. The project includes removal of up to 50 trees, with replacement on a 3:1 basis. 

The appellants to the projects assert that the approved developments are inconsistent with the City’s and County’s local coastal program’s policies related to minimizing vehicle miles traveled. The appellants, which include transportation watchdog nonprofit Cars are Basic (CAB), surmised that the County and City failed to identify the project alternative that achieves the greatest minimization of vehicle miles traveled and energy consumption. 

California Coastal Commission staff reported to the Commission last week that they believe that the City and County adequately demonstrated that neither roundabout would create any substantial increase in vehicle miles traveled since neither project expands the roadway or is intended to increase capacity. According to staff, both projects include pedestrian and bicycle improvements that would make it safer to walk and bike, thus helping to reduce vehicle miles traveled. 

The appellants also argue that the roundabouts are problematic in general, because they support the Highway 101 High Occupancy Vehicle Lane project, which involves highway widening, and would induce an increase in vehicle miles traveled. The CCC’s South Central Coast District Director Steve Hudson reported that the roundabouts are needed independent of the HOV project, as the intersections have been operating at lower than acceptable levels for years. “They are necessary to improve the level of service for these intersections. We do believe that this is not going to result in any additional vehicle miles traveled,” Hudson said. Commissioner Caryl Hart, who grew up in Montecito, said: “I think that this is a very positive action by the City to reduce air quality impacts. I think roundabouts are very positive.” Hart made a motion to determine the appeals raise no substantial issue on the grounds on which they were filed. The decision to deny the appeals was unanimous. 

Both roundabout projects are in the final stages of design, after being approved by the Montecito Planning Commission and Santa Barbara City Planning Commission last summer. 


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