Encinitas traffic commission favors roundabout for Rancho Santa Fe Road 

encinitas welcoming sign
City of Encinitas welcoming sign
(Charlie Neuman)

One-mile, mostly two-lane portion of roadway in Olivenhain has been a bottleneck for years


The idea of installing two roundabouts along Rancho Santa Fe Road to keep heavily congested traffic moving, but not going too fast, seems like the right way to proceed, Encinitas city traffic commissioners said last week.

“I think this proposed solution is good,” Commission Chairman Brian Grover said, adding that he’s never understood why the one-mile, Olivenhain portion of the roadway has so many stop signs and roundabouts would be a nice improvement.

City Traffic Engineer Abe Bandegan presented the roundabout idea to the commissioners, asking them for their views and telling them he’s producing a report on the proposal for the City Council’s initial consideration. He stressed that the proposal is still in the early stages, with no funding yet identified and no engineering drawings done.

“The roundabouts are at the moment just concepts,” he said.

Solving the traffic congestion issues on Olivenhain’s portion of Rancho Santa Fe Road has long been considered challenging. It isn’t an easy fix because two key groups of roadway users view its problems very differently, Bandegan noted.

Commuters who live in Carlsbad, San Marcos and points to the northeast use the roadway as a cut-through route to get to Del Mar and areas to the south. They see the stop signs as a huge hinderance that unnecessarily slows traffic to a crawl, but Olivenhain area residents don’t want to make any changes that might encourage even more out-of-town folks to use this part of Rancho Santa Fe Road as a cut-through route. They like having the stop signs at some of the smaller roadway intersections because it makes it easier for them to gain access to their homes, he said.

A year ago, acting on a proposal put forward by Councilman Joe Mosca, the City Council agreed to hire consultants to identify traffic bottleneck spots on Rancho Santa Fe Road and determine ways to improve traffic flow. Various options were studied, including removing the stop signs, adding traffic lights and installing roundabouts, Bandegan said.

The consultants found that five of the stop-signed intersections had “really low” traffic volumes on the side streets. They recommend removing some of the stop signs and adding traffic lights to the intersection at Lone Jack Road, saying that would be the most effective way to improve traffic flow speeds. That’s not the neighborhood’s preferred option, however, Bandegan said.

“If those stop signs are gone, they might not be able to make comfortable turns on and off Rancho Santa Fe,” he said.

What’s emerging as a compromise option calls for converting two of Rancho Santa Fe Road’s stop-signed intersections — one at Lone Jack Road and one at El Camino del Norte — into roundabouts, but keeping the other stop sign spots. The consultants found that this option still could significantly improve traffic flow during the peak commuter periods, though it was not their top-ranked choice, Bandegan said.

A traffic volume study, which was conducted before the coronavirus pandemic reduced the number of commuters using the roadway, found that southbound drivers during the peak morning commute were taking 16.2 minutes to get through the one-mile section of Rancho Santa Fe Road in Olivenhain. The installation of the two roundabouts could drop that trip to 8.8 minutes, the consultants found.

Traffic Commissioner Marty Benson said he liked the idea of roundabouts, but asked if the improvements might ultimately result in more out-of-town commuters deciding to use the roadway.

“When you make things better you will always have increased demand,” Bandegan responded, saying that is one of the issues that traffic engineers have to balance when contemplating roadway changes.

— Barbara Henry is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune