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Traffic signals, roundabouts decision now up to Rancho Santa Fe Covenant residents

The traffic signal and roundabout proponents and opponents intersected once more for a town hall meeting on Sept. 16. About 90 people showed up for the meeting at the Rancho Santa Fe Garden Club, the last public meeting before the issue was taken to a Covenant-wide survey, which was mailed out after the meeting.

All surveys must be returned by Friday, Oct. 30 at 5 p.m. and all residents will have a chance to weigh in on the preferred solutions for Paseo Delicias intersections of Via de la Valle, El Montevideo/La Valle Plateada, El Camino del Norte. The votes will be counted on Monday, Nov. 2.

At the meeting, both sides were given 15 minutes for formal presentations, followed by public comments.

Richard Carlson and members of the Rancho Santa Fe Beautiful Roads group argued that roundabouts could provide a “beautiful gateway” into the community.

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Not only would the roundabouts be more aesthetically pleasing, the group believes that roundabouts are safer, with 37 percent fewer collisions. The group stated there are fewer injury accidents and fatalities because the island replaces the “kill zone” where many serious accidents occur at signalized intersections.

In response to the taking of land to build the roundabouts, the group maintained that only a few Covenant residents will lose a total of 9/100th of an acre combined and the RSF Association will lose three-tenths of an acre. Each landowner will get fair market value through eminent domain, including an estimated $90,000 to Covenant residents and $290,000 to the Association, according to the group.

The group argued that the Village Church would not lose any land because the parking spaces it will lose were given to the county in 2008 in exchange for a variance to build a larger sanctuary.

“The Rancho Santa Fe Covenant is successful because it has maintained its rural character,” Carlson said. “Roundabouts maintain a rural way of life. Traffic lights destroy the Covenant’s rural character and hurt our property values.”

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Speaking for the other side, resident Sam Urisini said traffic signals represent “simplicity, success and safety.”

“We have a problem in this corridor,” Ursini said. “Over 15,000 daily trips go through that corridor and it’s going to go up to 23,000 in 15 years…that’s significant.”

He said traffic signals take just four bolts on a concrete pad to install, without taking of eminent domain and at a much lower cost than roundabouts at about $1.5 million. The light fixtures can be made to look aesthetically pleasing and the construction would not require 18 months of significant delays and detours that roundabouts would, according to Ursini.

Ursini said signal changes will create a “desirable break in traffic” to allow residents along the corridor to safely get out onto Paseo Delicias.

“When you make a decision on the survey, I ask you to please use your brain and not your emotion,” Ursini said. “There are 20,000 vehicles using this corridor, it’s not rural, it’s quite metropolitan.”

Along with the survey, members will receive position letters from both sides.

“Neither side agrees but there is veracity in both points of view,” said RSF Association Manager Bill Overton, who noted that the Association did not edit the letters and worked very hard to carry out the process in the most precise way possible.

Each side created a position paper with graphics on the back that were mailed to residents. Each paper was reviewed by RSF Association staff and San Diego County traffic engineering staff and each paper was edited for accuracy.

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Residents who live along the corridor, such as Patricia Simmons, spoke about losing significant property with the roundabout solution. Simmons said she didn’t think this dramatic a solution made sense for a problem that really only exists four hours a day during peak traffic times.

While roundabout proponents advocate for the ability of roundabouts to keep traffic moving along in a steady flow, traffic signal supporters are looking for signals to provide periodic openings.

“Without a break in traffic flow it will be exceedingly difficult for moms and dads dropping off their preschoolers in the morning rush,” said Don McNeil, representing the Village Church. “Roundabouts will test the patience of the most saintly drivers.”

A few native Europeans spoke about the “fear of the unknown” that exists with roundabouts, something that is commonplace in Europe but still relatively new here.

“I didn’t move here for the traffic lights,” said resident Oliver Fetzer, originally from Germany. “Roundabouts have fewer accidents, they’re easier on the environment and the traffic flows. I think people are so worried that they have to learn how to yield — that’s all you have to do. If you get in a crash it’s a side swipe, it’s never a head-on collision, it’s not because somebody’s texting and running through a light.”

RSF resident Wei Zhang questioned the entire survey process.

“In my mind the board should have never approved any type of survey nor called for a vote for this kind of technical issues. As to traffic signals or roundabouts, that decision should belong to the traffic department of the county. They are the experts and know how to handle this traffic issue,” Wei said. “The decision to do a survey in the end will only cause a split in the community because neither side wants to lose.”

Supporting documents for both sides can be found at rsfbeautifulroads.com and rsfsignals.com.

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