Residents resoundingly reject Fremont roundabout

Photo By: Courtesy of City of Los Altos
Photo Courtesy Of City Of Los Altos

A roundabout proposed for Fremont Avenue at Fallen Leaf Lane in Los Altos met with vocal opposition from neighborhood residents, who fear its installation could create additional problems.

It may be back to the drawing board for city staff after Los Altos residents again voiced overwhelming opposition to a traffic-calming roundabout proposed for the Fremont Avenue and Fallen Leaf Lane intersection.

Packing the Los Altos City Council Chamber for the second time in eight months, most residents living at or near the intersection urged councilmembers at the Jan. 8 study session to consider alternative traffic solutions to the one-lane roundabout, which many found obtrusive and contended would only add to commuter gridlock.

“You’re going to create all these unforeseen problems,” said 30-year resident Frank Martin, who maintained that accidents involving cars and bikes would increase.

Part of a collector-street traffic-calming plan the council approved in 2011, the Fremont-Fallen Leaf roundabout was the first of four proposed for Fremont intersections. A roundabout involves a large circular patch of landscaping in the middle of an intersection that forces traffic to slow down while moving around it. The initial roundabout proposal drew approximately 110 people to a May 2012 hearing, with an overwhelming majority opposed to it.

Traffic expert Frederik Venter of RBF Consulting said roundabouts are the best traffic-calming options for reducing speed and increasing safety. He justified the proposed roundabout, citing 24 accidents at that intersection over an unspecified period of years and the statistic that 85 percent of vehicular traffic on Fremont exceeds the 30 mph speed limit by up to 9 mph.

But some residents said speed was not an issue on Fremont and that morning gridlock could be partially due to an improperly synchronized traffic light at the Fremont-Belleville Way intersection, across the Los Altos border in Sunnyvale. A big concern also voiced was the prospect of vehicles turning onto Fremont during busy periods.

“The problem is left turns during high traffic periods,” said 17-year resident Greg Frees. “The roundabout will not leave any gaps (for merging traffic).”

Several longtime residents questioned the need for any traffic calming at all, especially the roundabout, which carries a $400,000 price tag.

“I’m still not clear what the problem is that we’re attempting to solve,” Frees said.

A few residents supported the roundabout. Al Hubbard of Fallen Leaf Lane called it a “perfect solution,” noting that it’s a matter of getting used to it.

“As people become more familiar with roundabouts, it’s a solution you’re going to see more and more of across the United States,” he said.

Residents suggested a wide range of alternatives to the roundabout, from speed bumps and painted “Keep Clear” signs on the street to widening the bridge along Fremont toward Loyola Corners to relieve eastbound traffic. Others suggested raising the speed limit on Fremont from 30 to 35 mph to allow police to use radar to nab speeders.

Los Altos City Councilwoman Val Carpenter suggested that city staff explore other solutions.

“We have other alternatives that are less expensive and meet the needs of the people here,” she said.

Councilwoman Megan Satterlee approved the collector-street plan in 2011 on the premise that speeding was the main concern.

“We made a bad assumption that speed is the issue,” she said.

“If speed is not the issue, then address the access and safety perspective,” Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins said. “A $2 million investment (for Fremont roundabouts) to reduce the speed 7-9 mph – that’s a sledgehammer (solution).”

Los Altos’ Transportation and Project Manager Cedric Novenario said staff’s next step is to re-evaluate traffic-calming measures on Fremont, including examination of accident reports to determine the factors causing them. He could give no timeline for when the issue would return to the council.

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