Tue09232014

Round and round we go: Editorial

Sometimes, what you think is the right answer turns out not to be the right answer for someone else. And in our democracy, majority rules.

So, even if statistics prove a roundabout is the best traffic-calming solution to address speed and safety concerns along Fremont Avenue, it may not be. Not when a full house of nearby residents fill the city council chambers and state emphatically that they don’t want it.

Such was the case last week during a Los Altos City Council study session on a proposed roundabout for the Fremont-Fallen Leaf Lane intersection. One after another, speakers shot down the idea and pleaded with the council to explore alternative traffic-calming measures.

A traffic consultant made a solid presentation, using animated computer graphics to illustrate traffic flow. The roundabout would slow down traffic, he said, and slower traffic means fewer accidents. The consultant noted that 24 accidents had occurred at the Fremont-Fallen Leaf intersection but provided no context on the types of accidents or the span of time involved.

Neighborhood residents would have none of it. Many said speed was not a factor, even though the council approved a traffic plan in 2011 – of which the roundabout is a part – based on residents’ feedback that speed was their biggest concern.

In fact, their biggest concerns turned out to be vehicle access to Fremont as well as pedestrian and bicycle safety. Residents feared they would have no opportunity to turn onto Fremont during peak commute hours, something that’s difficult to do already. Bicyclists unfamiliar with how to properly negotiate a roundabout could increase their risk of being hit, they claimed.

Roundabouts are considered successful traffic-calming solutions among traffic experts, although they are expensive – this one would cost $400,000. The few residents who voiced support had lived in different areas around the country and world, and saw firsthand how they worked.

But the opposing majority worried about something “monstrous,” as one resident put it. Facing the prospect of a roundabout, residents openly wondered which traffic problem the city was trying to solve. Whatever the case, the council directed city staff to examine other traffic-calming alternatives. The people have spoken.

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