Roundabouts ahead for three coastal Carlsbad intersections

Cyclists pass a road-cleaning crew on Carlsbad Boulevard after a high tide in January.

Cyclists pass a road-cleaning crew on Carlsbad Boulevard after a high tide in January.

City supports preliminary plans to realign 1-mile section of old Highway 101 south of Palomar Airport Road


A one-mile stretch of old Highway 101 in southern Carlsbad would be realigned with three roundabouts under a preliminary proposal supported unanimously this week by the Carlsbad City Council.

City staffers and consultants are studying ways that piece of the 101, known locally as Carlsbad Boulevard, can be made safer and moved back from the encroaching hazard of sea-level rise. The work is funded by a $533,175 state Coastal Conservancy grant awarded in 2020.

High tides and storm surf erode the bluffs and sometimes wash rocks and sand onto the low-lying traffic lanes between Manzano Drive and Island Way. As part of the plan, those lanes would be moved east and roundabouts would be built at Palomar Airport Road, Solamar Drive and Island Way.

“Roundabouts result in the least delay for drivers at intersections,” said Tom Frank, transportation director and city engineer, in a presentation to the council. Studies show they are far safer than traffic lights.

Drivers slow but don’t stop at roundabouts, which keeps traffic moving and results in fewer fatalities and less serious injuries in collisions, he said. Roundabouts also reduce the noise and pollution caused by idling and accelerating vehicles.

Construction is unfunded and still years away. The council will get another look at the plan early next year when the study is finished. But the City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to pursue a design that will use roundabouts instead of traffic lights.

The study also proposes moving the low-lying southbound lanes away from the beach and closer to the northbound lanes in an area where the two directions of traffic are separated by a wide, landscaped median. The northbound lanes, at a higher elevation, will remain where they are. Sidewalks, bicycle lanes, pedestrian crossings and other features would be added.

Most of the parking in the area will remain and some could be added. An existing lot nearest Palomar Airport Road would have access from the roundabout to be built there.

The old southbound lanes would be left in place and used for bicycle and pedestrian traffic, perhaps as part of a linear coastal park sometimes suggested for the southern end of Carlsbad Boulevard. The former traffic lanes could remain in place for decades until they become unsafe or erode away.

Both the city’s Beach Preservation Commission and its Traffic and Mobility Commission recently voted unanimously to support the plan and the use of roundabouts.

Some people, including Carlsbad resident and Beach Preservation Commission Chair Kathleen Steindlberger, suggested Tuesday that the city adopt a more aggressive “retreat now” approach by removing the old traffic lanes immediately.

“The goal of the grant is to move threatened infrastructure out of the way of sea-level rise,” Steindlberger said, so the city should take out “the dip in the road” that is already occasionally flooded.

Another speaker, Mitch Silverstein, an Oceanside resident and policy coordinator for the Surfrider Foundation, agreed with Steindlberger.

Removing the road now would create a more natural beach and help protect what’s left of it, he said.

“Think big and keep the larger vision in mind,” Silverstein said.

Only one person opposed the plan, saying roundabouts are “not a one-size-fits-all solution,” and that the city should “pump the brakes” before approving them.

Frank said city staffers will return with an update after the grant-funded work is complete, probably in March 2024. The council will discuss what steps to take next, and there will be more opportunities for the public to comment before any construction.

Carlsbad has one other roundabout on Carlsbad Boulevard, installed in 2014 at the State Street intersection near the Oceanside border. Carlsbad also approved a roundabout in 2018 to be installed at Carlsbad Boulevard and Cannon Road as part of the Terramar improvement project, with construction expected in 2025.

Earlier this year, the Oceanside City Council approved plans to shrink a one-mile section of Coast Highway, its piece of old Highway 101, from four lanes to two and add roundabouts, bike lanes and mid-block pedestrian crossings.

Encinitas recently installed a roundabout on North Coast Highway 101 in Leucadia as part of its streetscape improvement project.

Highway 101 was once Southern California’s main north-south route for commerce and inter-city travel, a function that passed to Interstate 5 when the freeway was built in the 1960s.

In recent years, San Diego County’s coastal cities have worked to transform the old highway into a road shared by vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians, making it more of a destination than a way out of town.