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A rendering depicting a roundabout at the intersection of Carlsbad Boulevard and Tamarack Avenue. Courtesy image
A rendering depicting a roundabout at the intersection of Carlsbad Boulevard and Tamarack Avenue. Courtesy image
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Carlsbad moves slowly toward possible Tamarack roundabout

CARLSBAD — The City Council gave the yellow light to a controversial new roundabout proposal along Carlsbad Boulevard on July 18, tentatively approving the project but only after a final review before construction.

Between installing a roundabout or traffic signal, the council voted 3-2 to move forward with the environmental review, permitting and final design of a roundabout at the intersection of Carlsbad Boulevard and Tamarack Avenue.

Mayor Keith Blackburn and Councilwoman Melanie Burkholder voted against the roundabout option.

Before the city seeks a bid for the Tamarack roundabout project, however, city staff will first present a report within five months following the completion of the Carlsbad Boulevard and Cannon Road roundabout.  The report would detail the effectiveness of a roundabout at Carlsbad Boulevard and Cannon Road, which is part of a larger, previously-approved improvement plan in the Terramar area.

Overall, the process is expected to take several years. Construction of the Cannon roundabout isn’t expected to begin until 2025, according to a city spokesperson, and pre-construction efforts for the Tamarack roundabout could take up to two years.

“If (Tamarack)) construction starts in late 2025, the project could be completed by late 2026,” but that hinges upon “coordination with State Parks, completing an environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act and obtaining a coastal development permit,” staff wrote in the report.

The Carlsbad City Council tentatively approved a roundabout at the intersection of Tamarack Avenue and Carlsbad Boulevard Photo by Steve Puterski
The Carlsbad City Council tentatively approved a roundabout at the intersection of Tamarack Avenue and Carlsbad Boulevard Photo by Steve Puterski

Tom Frank, the city’s transportation director, and Lauren Ferrell, an associate engineer, gave a detailed presentation regarding options for a roundabout and traffic signal at the Carlsbad-Tamarack intersection, but focused on the roundabout, citing national data that indicates roundabouts are less expensive and reduce fatalities and collisions.

“Our No. 1 concern for the community is to make it slower and safer for all of the users and increase opportunities for active transportation users,” Frank said. “By making changes to designs to our streets, we’re influencing the way people use our streets.”

According to the Transportation Research Board, roundabouts have reduced the number of fatalities on roadways by 90%, injuries by 67%, and crashes by 35%. The city also cited a report by the Federal Highway Administration that roundabouts reduce the “frequency and severity of crashes” by “eliminating the most severe types of crashes: high-angle movements including right-angle, left-turn and head-on collisions.”

The agency also noted roundabouts decrease “conflict points” (crosswalks, intersections, etc.) between vehicles, pedestrians and bicycles. Ferrel noted that a roundabout at Carlsbad-Tamarack would widen sidewalks and shorten the distance for pedestrians crossing the street by half (from 90 feet to 44 feet).

Staff reports the city’s first roundabout at State Street on Carlsbad Boulevard, in operation for the last nine years, “operates efficiently and effectively with multimodal traffic, including vehicle volumes of up to 19,600.”

The environmental benefits include reducing emissions and fuel consumption at intersections, which in turn “improves local air quality and reduces greenhouse gas emissions,” the staff’s report reads.

Frank said the city received a $1 million active transportation grant from SANDAG for the project, which can be used for either the roundabout or traffic signal.

Nearly two dozen public speakers voiced their opinions during the meeting, with the a majority of residents were against the roundabout. Supporters said a roundabout would provide better safety for motorists, pedestrians, cyclists and skateboarders while reducing emissions and vehicle speeds.

Mark Embree, whose daughter-in-law Christine Embree, a Carlsbad mother who was struck and killed by a motorist while riding her e-bike last August on Basswood Avenue and Valley Drive, spoke passionately about the need for a roundabout. The driver of the vehicle, Lindsay Turmelle, 42, faces a charge of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter in Vista Superior Court. 

“The driver who hit (Christine Embree) chose to be distracted,” Embree said. “If you vote for intersection, you’re allowing people to make decisions. You have to vote for the roundabout and make bicyclists and drivers engage with the roads.”

Opponents of the roundabout said the construction is awkward and confusing and could impact emergency response times and present a possible danger for cyclists choosing between a roundabout or a multi-use pathway alongside pedestrians.

Others noted that if a collision occurs in the roundabout, motorists on Carlsbad Boulevard will be trapped due to congestion. Some also argued that crashes or incidents on Interstate 5 already force motorists to use Carlsbad Boulevard, serving only to create more congestion along the popular thoroughfare.

The Tamarack roundabout is contingent on data collected from the soon-to-be installed roundabout at Cannon Drive and Carlsbad Boulevard. Photo by Steve Puterski
The Tamarack roundabout is contingent on data collected from the soon-to-be-installed roundabout at Cannon Drive and Carlsbad Boulevard. Photo by Steve Puterski

According to the staff report, a roundabout would “result in less delay for all users” if I-5 is blocked by traffic, plus motorists may also utilize El Camino Real, which already handles a large volume of traffic, as another potential option.

Former city Traffic and Mobility Commissioner Steve Linke gave a presentation questioning the city’s analysis of and comparisons to the State Street roundabout. Linke noted staff’s analysis primarily relied on national data on roundabouts instead of using information collected from local roadways.

Citing data from the Carlsbad Local Roadway Safety Plan that includes the city’s crash data from police reports over a five-year period, Linke said the State Street roundabout had the highest intersection crash rate in the city (15 total collisions) and is in the top three for intersection crash frequency (between 15-18 collisions) behind the intersections at El Camino Real and Melrose Drive on Palomar Airport Road.

Linke said the State Street roundabout’s overall collision and injury rates are each roughly 5 times higher than all other intersections. 

“Its high volumes of intermingling vehicles, pedestrians, bicycles, and transit raise serious safety and congestion concerns,” he said. “The most recent traffic study and the content in the staff reports and presentations have been thoroughly cleansed of all disadvantages of roundabouts. This is marketing spin rather than the unbiased information you should expect to guide your decision-making.”

Throughout the meeting, confusion swirled around the proposed timelines between the Cannon and Tamarack roundabout projects. The Coast News could not confirm the Cannon project dates prior to publication.

Blackburn, who said he typically doesn’t favor roundabouts, was nearly convinced to support the option but had too many concerns, noting the comparison between Carlsbad Boulevard intersections at Cannon and Tamarack were “apples and oranges.” For example, Cannon has a different configuration and doesn’t have the same pedestrian traffic, beach access, or bathrooms nearby, Blackburn said. 

Burkholder said her concerns center on pedestrian safety, a lack of comparable intersections and residents’ feedback. Since the city cannot work on the three roundabouts from Manzano Drive to Island Way concurrently with Tamarack and use it as a metric, Burkholder said she couldn’t support the roundabout at Tamarack.

Bhat-Patel said the roundabout is positive and increases safety by stopping drivers from running red lights. Councilwoman Carolyn Luna said she trusts staff as subject matter experts on the roundabout discussion, although expressed some trepidation about whether the intersection was appropriate for a roundabout.

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