Councilman Randall Stone takes back his support of Esplanade roundabouts

So much for roundabouts on The Esplanade. On Tuesday afternoon, Chico City Councilman Randall Stone, who’s running for re-election, caved to public pressure. He released a statement announcing that he was rescinding his support. That decision came after hundreds of locals voiced opposition on social media sites, some going so far as to threaten to recall him and the others who voted aye to the construction of two roundabouts on the street—one at First Avenue and the other at Memorial Way.

Interestingly, Mayor Mark Sorensen, a staunch conservative, was the swing vote on the roundabouts during a special council meeting last Thursday. My jaw dropped when he joined the three lefties on the issue. But then again, the mayor has more experience with those traffic features than anyone on the panel, and probably most people in Chico.

As he explained during the meeting, he lives on Manzanita Avenue. That’s where three roundabouts were installed about six years ago. The alternative was expanding the road and putting in traffic lights. Sorensen became a believer from firsthand experience. I’m one, too. Just a few weeks ago in this space, I extolled the benefits of the one that was constructed in front of the CN&R’s office a few years ago (see “Talking in circles,” March 31). My main point was that the feature seemed to make the intersection safer to traverse, and according to city staff, that’s true. The number of collisions has been halved.

That’s why it was hard for me to understand why locals would oppose them on The Esplanade. But after watching two meetings on the subject, I figured it out. It’s because, you know, The Esplanade is old and stuff. People decried how Chico’s founder, John Bidwell, originally designed the roadway. Then, some 50 years ago, then-City Manager Fred Davis updated it. To hear the opposition, you’d think approval of the roundabouts would trigger municipal mayhem. Like, next thing you know, the powers that be might redecorate the interior of Bidwell Mansion Ikea-style.

Let’s be honest here, the intersections have nothing to do with the The Esplanade’s charm. The boulevard is lovely because of the hundreds of trees lining it on all sides as well as the gorgeous, century-old homes, like the green barn-like residence on the east side of the street near Memorial and the Goodman House bed and breakfast farther north.

Having said that, I’m actually not in favor of roundabouts on The Esplanade. Here’s why: The more research I do, and the more I envision them, the more it becomes clear that they aren’t a good fit there. That’s mainly because of the design and the busyness of the street. One study I pored over, the Federal Highway Administration’s Pedestrian Safety Guide and Countermeasure Selection System, notes that “multilane roundabouts are not recommended in areas with high levels of pedestrian and bicycle activity because of safety concerns of multiple threat crashes for pedestrians, especially those with visual impairments, and bicyclists.”

Politicking aside, Stone’s call was a good one. So, now what? I don’t have the answer. But I do know that those intersections need modernization. They are liabilities and must be altered in a way to keep everyone safe. Stay tuned.