A Little Local History on Roundabouts

By Montecito Journal   |   September 12, 2023

Traffic circles sound so British, don’t they. I feel like folk in Downton Abbey period garb should be milling around, with an occasional ‘ahooga’ horn barreling into the Olive Mill. Thanks for your softly-wrapped skepticism/wariness about the new “fixes.” I was an outspoken critic when the idea first surfaced and maintained a wary and concerned eye for the many years I served on Coast Village Road. I LIKED the old warren of country lanes converging on that gateway intersection, and proffered that we already had a Montecito roundabout, if only we cut down all the stop signs and let it happen organically. Interesting what necessity and courtesy might have fostered there. But, alas and anon… it’s gone.

The ovoid shape is not new to Santa Barbara. The first roundabout in the community, the Milpas Street Oval, was installed about 25 years ago… it too, was shoehorned into a long-ago developed chunk of real estate, burdened by legs that serve as on-and off-ramps to the HWY101. Engineers did not have sufficient right-of-way to be able to design a proper circle… and so we got the new geometry (like the new math) that calls an oblong shape a circle. I know. I had to contribute some right-of-way to the project from a parcel I owned that was near the goofy design, and I was an outspoken critic of that “fix” too. Not an opponent… just a very interested commentator offering critique and alternatives. Didn’t work. It got built, and probably made things worse.

The story of the Olive Mill roundabout design is a page burner. That is, the one page that explains how it came to be what it is, has been burned… as in swept away by a shoulder shrugging “whatever” uttered by the chorus of agencies that share parental rights of that traffic device. Caltrans, the City of SB, and the County of SB each have jurisdiction over pieces and parts of the octopus (I think there are 12 lanes of traffic feeding into or out of it… I lost count). One of those ménage à trois members – you can guess which – approved a large, expensive, complicated mixed-use building to be constructed in the area where right-of-way should have been acquired when it was available and affordable. The “Price Building” could have been conditioned with an obligation to sell or convey sufficient right-of-way to this design effort way back when it was mere pencil on paper… not after Price spent >$12M(?) building a three-story building complete with shored underground parking. I think that, among all the other explanations you might be offered, is the reason you got what you got. (For an interesting comparable situation, refer to what happened with the City of SB parking structure across from the Courthouse… a tiny little “oops” was eventually uttered by then-Mayor Marty Blum when it was designed and built without a turn in/turn out lane!) 

Finally, as I think you know – because I keep mentioning it – I now live in Bend, Oregon, home to more than 50 traffic circles of various size and lane count. They were designed with the growth of the community, not installed a century after. They work really well, and, here in Bend there is a wonderful “Art in Public Places” team that commissions incredible pieces of man-made beauty wedded with natural landscape into the design of more than 20 of these. Having seen that happen here in Bend since 2005, like Marco Polo bringing new ideas and spices back to his peeps, I did propose such a treatment in the two Olive Mill roundabouts… but got nowhere. 

So I moved somewhere.


Bob Ludwick

Let’s Leave Montecito’s Noteworthy Unnoted

Amidst the ad nauseam paparazzi stalkings of our local famous folk, I wish to report to your readers (a group that includes, according to columnist Richard Mineards, England’s King Charles II) that this week I encountered at the grocery store, indeed chatted briefly with, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, the King’s daughter-in-law.

Alas for the purveyors and consumers of “gotcha” faux-journalism, I will sell neither the location of my early morning encounter, nor the personal photo my hubby took. Neither will I reveal with whom Mrs. Mountbatten-Windsor was shopping, what she wore, the handbag she carried, her hairdo, nor what she purchased. One less piece of local clickbait for the Daily Mail and its lowbrow brethren. Yes, I confess to sharing my surprise encounter privately with the R.B.F.H., or Rich Biotches from Hell, my three longtime girlfriends from back East who had just left Montecito disappointed that, despite dropping mucho dolares in local restaurants and shops, they enjoyed no glimpses of any famous folk. Yes, you can spend $50 for a lobster roll and people-watch… others also dining on $50 lobster rolls. 

Should I run into Prince Harry emerging from the gym, Christine Baumgartner coming out of the bank, or Ellen and Portia at Tre Lune, I’ll continue to do what so many of us do – keep my lips zipped and let the famous prey enjoy a bit of privacy. But should I encounter any of those peskily obnoxious interlopers, the paparazzi, I promise to take their photos and post them immediately. 

Eileen White Read

A Neighbor’s View of the Roundabout

I just read your editorial in the Montecito Journal regarding the roundabouts.

I live quite near the roundabout on San Ysidro and Jameson and have felt all along that this project would be so out of scale with the neighborhood as to make it seem as though we are living in some large metropolis and not a small, once bucolic town.

I fear that I was correct.

The removal of so many trees, the addition of huge amounts of concrete, the scale, and in my opinion, useless addition to a problem that never existed to warrant such a massive project.

As you mentioned, there was never an accident at that intersection or at the Olive Mill intersection, we all knew how to use them properly and in fact, I predict more accidents to come due to the roundabouts.

Our neighborhood worked hard to try and figure out another solution to the so-called problem in the hope that the roundabout would not come to fruition. We attended meeting after meeting but knew in the end we would not be heard.

Now it is almost completed, no amount of vegetation (and let’s hope it all does not die back once planted) can mask the size and scope of the project in the Hedgerows that has changed the complexion of the neighborhood forever.

Thank you kindly,

Shelley Badat

On Circles and Lanes

I enjoyed your article about the circles.

A question that comes to mind is why the Olive Mill circle is only one lane? There’s at least a lane’s width of hardscape above the curb so maybe it’s not a lack of space. There’s not even an extra lane for CVR traffic turning onto Channel Drive.

I’m concerned it may be more of a bottleneck than something that improves traffic flow.

Mark Dewey  


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