Roundabout approved for Carlsbad Boulevard at Tamarack Avenue

The Carlsbad City Council has approved this proposed roundabout for Tamarack Avenue and Carlsbad Boulevard.
(Courtesy city of Carlsbad)

Proposal is part of Carlsbad’s ongoing efforts to improve beach access, increase safety along the coast


The Carlsbad City Council approved another roundabout this week for Carlsbad Boulevard, also known as Highway 101, but on a split vote and with a condition to review the decision again before construction gets underway.

The roundabout, still years away, will replace traffic signals at the intersection of Carlsbad Boulevard and Tamarack Avenue. It’s among several pieces of the old highway that the city is redesigning to improve beach access and better accommodate a mix of vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians.

Wider bike lanes and sidewalks, improved crosswalks, and a relocated bus stop also are part of the Tamarack redesign. The city’s Traffic and Mobility Commission unanimously supported the roundabout earlier this year.

Numerous studies show roundabouts are safer and move traffic more efficiently than signal lights. Still, many drivers doubt the science. They remain unfamiliar with roundabouts and fear the switch to them.

Mayor Keith Blackburn and Councilmember Melanie Burkholder voted against the roundabout design Tuesday.

“Tourists, pedestrians, cars, bikes, e-bikes, skateboards, people lost, and people looking at the folks walking around in swimsuits” use the Tamarack intersection, Blackburn said. “This is going to be very distracting, and I just can’t bring myself to support it.”

About 20 people spoke to the council on the issue. About two-thirds of them supported the roundabout.

“It’s time to trust the professionals we have hired, who are trained to analyze traffic patterns, safety measures and environmental impacts,” said Mona Gocan, a civil transportation engineer and former chair of the Traffic and Mobility Commission.

In 2018, the City Council approved a roundabout to be installed at the Carlsbad Boulevard and Cannon Road intersection in the Terramar neighborhood. The design for that project is now 90 percent complete. Construction could begin in late 2025 and will take about one year to complete.

Council members Tuesday briefly discussed postponing a decision on the Tamarack project to see the results of the finished Cannon Road roundabout. However, the delay could cost the city about $1 million in regional grant funding for the project, said Transportation Director and City Engineer Tom Frank.

Also discussed was a proposal to build an interim or temporary roundabout. Frank said that “really doesn’t work” because it’s not a true picture of how the traffic feature works.

Another option recommended by Frank and supported by the council was to approve the Tamarack roundabout and proceed with plans on the condition that when the Cannon roundabout is finished, staffers monitor its performance for at least the first three months of operation.

Then they will bring the Cannon information to the council, and the council will consider whether changes might be needed in the Tamarack project and what the options might be.

Roundabouts are safer than traffic signals because vehicles slow but don’t stop. Drivers can’t run a red light or speed to beat the light. Also, traffic moves constantly, so there is less congestion, even though the travel lanes are reduced from two to one in each direction.

“Speeding is especially dangerous when collisions involve pedestrians,” Frank said. “The high number of pedestrians is one of the main reasons staff is recommending a roundabout.”

There are fewer opportunities for vehicles to collide in a roundabout, and when collisions do occur they are at slower speeds and with glancing contact, so they are less likely to be fatal. Also, there is less noise and pollution because there’s no sudden acceleration away from a stop.

Another concern sometimes raised is that roundabouts could become an obstacle for fire trucks and other emergency vehicles. Fire Chief Michael Calderwood said that won’t happen because the roundabouts have an interior “apron” that any large vehicle can drive onto to get through the intersection.

So far, only one roundabout has been installed on Carlsbad Boulevard, completed in 2014 at the State Street intersection near the Oceanside border.

In June, the Carlsbad City Council approved plans to reroute a one-mile section near the southern end of Carlsbad Boulevard and install roundabouts at Palomar Airport Road, Solamar Drive and Island Way. So far, there’s no money for construction and completion is years away.

Encinitas recently installed a roundabout on North Coast Highway 101 in Leucadia as part of its streetscape improvement project, where more roundabouts are planned.