Traffic roundabout plan at Pleasant Hill Road, Olympic Boulevard
By Lou Fancher
Frustration was high at an open house at which residents and city officials met to view project design drawings for an approved roundabout intersection at Pleasant Hill Road and Olympic Boulevard.
Several residents among the roughly 60 people overflowing the Cedar Room at the Lafayette Community Center questioned whether or not residents along the busy corridor had been adequately heard or allowed input.
"Are (these plans) done deals or can they be modified?" one man asked, before Omni Means chief engineer Ronald Boyle had opportunity to present the plans.
"These people are making a decision for everyone traveling that road and I don't think that's fair," said another resident, referring to council members who had approved the start of the design process.
The Lafayette City Council this spring approved staff moving ahead with design plans on the capital project aimed at improving safety and reducing traffic congestion along the busy Olympic Boulevard corridor. An estimated 14,000 vehicles travel through the area daily.
The engineering consultant's recommendations presented at the open house came after a yearlong traffic options and feasibility study supported by Measure J money. A public engagement process included site visits, public workshops, neighborhood meetings, meetings with the Circulation Commission, and a web-based opinion survey.
Mayor Brandt Andersson said study sessions and public participation at "very well noticed meetings" had been extensive and had included the council reconsidering at the public's request their approval of two traffic signals related to the project. Ultimately deciding they liked their decisions, Andersson said, the roundabout is "a 'yes.'
City Engineer Tony Coe said a web survey allowed for input from people who were not able to attend the meetings. The city's website carries frequent updates and the project's history.
Boyle said studies have shown that roundabouts are generally greeted with 60 percent negative response, but within six months, acceptance is 100 percent. Fatal injuries are reduced 100 percent, and by lowering a standard intersection's 32 "points of conflict" to eight, a 70 percent reduction of all accidents is achieved.
"It's not a traffic circle. It's a very sophisticated piece of traffic infrastructure," Boyle said.
Running computer simulations capable of showing aggressive and nonaggressive drivers, Boyle said the roundabout's features improved upon the safety and efficiency of earlier designs. Pedestrian crossings set back one car length from the intersection allow drivers to see the pedestrian when yielding instead while entering the roundabout and looking at traffic to the left.
More gradual bike lane shifts and street graphics eliminate mixed-speed traffic (an intersection's greatest danger) and the need for bicyclists to weave in and out of vehicle traffic. Paved "aprons" and "blisters" raised approximately 4 inches above the level of the road allow larger vehicles, including school buses and trucks, to use the roundabout.
Improved traffic flow is one of the project's primary goals, and Boyle said projections based on the volume of cars per day in 2015 -- and in 2040 assuming population growth -- were considered.
A number of residents asked about the impact on intersections north and southwest of the roundabout, including at the corner of Reliez Station and Las Trampas roads where a flashing light will eventually be replaced by a traffic signal.
Coe said traffic flow will be improved by reduced speed limits on Olympic and roundabouts' general "calming effect" due to vehicles traveling at slower speeds. A short stretch of Olympic Boulevard that is currently 45 mph will be reduced to 40 mph. After required studies are conducted, Coe predicted that additional speed limit adjustments will prove necessary.
Traffic signaling on Reliez Station Road will be discussed at a future public meeting.
City Manager Steven Falk said $100,000 designated for public art or landscaping to fill the roundabout's center area is in the city budget and will also be addressed in the coming months.
The public design review period ends in February, and once a final design is approved by city commissions and the council, bidding for construction will be accepted until May. Construction is slated to start in July, with the intersection open to public traffic by December 2016.