Talking in circles

Roundabouts are great and should be considered for The Esplanade.

Each weekday, I have an unobstructed view of the intersection of East First, Second and Flume streets. Two large windows of my second-story office look down at the convergence of those streets, and upon, depending on whom I talk to, the best or worst piece of infrastructure in Chico.

I’m referring, of course, to the roundabout at that location. In my experience, people either love those circular traffic features or they hate them from the depths of their soul. I think they’re great.

Mind you, I wasn’t a fan right away. It took me a while to get used to the ones constructed about six years ago on Manzanita Avenue, mainly because I drove in that area infrequently and each time had to remember how to approach them. Nowadays, though, I travel regularly on that thoroughfare and, compared with the bottlenecks that occurred at that street’s stop signs, the roundabouts are a vast improvement. Vehicles flow through smoothly, even during rush hour.

Same goes for the one in front of the CN&R, which, in addition to reducing backups, makes the area much safer. That’s because motorists headed east and west on Second Street in the old intersection had no traffic control and tended to exceed the speed limit. Meanwhile, drivers who were trying to cross from the stop signs at Flume and First streets had to dodge two-way traffic, including vehicles speeding across the Camellia Way bridge toward downtown.

I’ve worked at the CN&R for more than nine years and, until the roundabout was constructed about three years ago, witnessed numerous collisions and daily near-misses. I’ve seen a single fender-bender since the intersection was reconfigured.

The reason I bring up roundabouts is because they are part of a long-term proposal to improve safety and traffic flow on The Esplanade, as reported in this week’s cover story by Robert Speer. The plan calls for one where Memorial Way meets the boulevard as well as another at East First Avenue, where there’s a major back-up of traffic from folks headed to the university or downtown, mostly from Highway 99.

I realized the other day how especially dangerous that intersection is for pedestrians. Managing Editor Meredith Cooper and I went to take a photo for the cover story and had trouble simply crossing from the south to the north side of East First, where there is a crosswalk but no signalized pedestrian crossing. We got about halfway through the crosswalk when the light suddenly turned red and we had to dodge cars crossing The Esplanade.

For the photo, our cover models, former CN&R staffer Sadie Rose Casey and her son, Asher, used the crosswalk that connects the east and west sides of the famed road. But since the light doesn’t allow enough time for pedestrians to cross its length, they either had to run the rest of the way or stand on the little island in the middle of the street. Things got a little dicey—and it wasn’t even rush hour.

Putting roundabouts at those two Esplanade intersections likely won’t happen for many years. And in fact, if some folks have their way, they won’t even be a consideration. Based on my experience, that would be a mistake.