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Eyes on the Street: Pasadena’s New Roundabouts

A sightly new pair of traffic circles have been making the rounds in the Crown City, and transportation activists are pleased

The roundabout at N. Hill Avenue and E. Topeka Street in Pasadena. Credit: Chris Greenspon/SBLA

To make some streets safer, Pasadena is building roundabouts. There is an almost finished roundabout on Avenue 64 at Burleigh Drive (all that’s missing is landscaping and the western parkway), and the recently completed North Hill Avenue roundabout at East Topeka Street.

The roundabout at N. Hill Avenue and E. Topeka Street in Pasadena. Credit: Chris Greenspon/SBLA

Colin Bogart - a volunteer with the Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition and Active Transportation Director for the public health non-profit Day One - says he’s very happy with the execution of both roundabout projects, especially the one on Hill.

“That was actually a project that was developed by the [Pasadena] Department of Transportation, closely with the residents who live in that area,” Bogart tells SBLA. “In fact, myself and other members of the Complete Streets Coalition originally wanted to try to participate in community outreach, and the city asked us politely not to participate unless we had anybody who actually lived in that immediate area, because they really wanted it to be a choice of the folks who lived in that area as a means to calm traffic on Hill.” 

According to the Department of Public Works, this portion of Hill averages 9,000 car trips per day. With one lane in each direction and no center turn lane, residents should be able to more easily come and go from their driveways. 

At the time SBLA visited Hill and Topeka, drivers passed through the circle gingerly, without struggle. Some big trucks were a bit slowed by the somewhat tight turn, which is the point; to reduce collisions and injuries. 

The nearly complete roundabout at Avenue 64, on the other hand, has such wide lanes that it accommodates larger cars with ease. The southbound side of it is almost straight though, and doesn’t seem to slow drivers much. 

The roundabout at Avenue 64 and Burleigh Drive in Pasadena. Credit: Chris Greenspon/SBLA

It does have a number of thoughtful features though: curb extensions, high visibility crosswalks (still being painted last week), rainwater capture elements. There is also hardscaping around the center planter for service trucks, as well as around the adjacent driveways to allow safe coming and going for residents.

The project was selected over “public concerns that Avenue 64 is being used as a cut-through route from neighboring cities, resulting in speed-related collisions and poor pedestrian safety,” and particular issues with “vehicles using the two-way left-turn lane as a passing lane.”

“Avenue 64 and that particular [forked] intersection was very weird and big and open, so it's much better with a roundabout there,” says Bogart.

Fresh paint on the Avenue 64 roundabout in Pasadena. Courtesy of the Pasadena Complete Streets Coaltion and Pilar Reynaldo.

In the past, some residents in the city haven’t responded well to roundabouts, Bogart recalls. A pair of roundabouts on Glenarm Street (at Los Robles Avenue and at El Molino Avenue) were both saddled with unnecessary stop signs due to a lawsuit from several neighborhood associations, according to the city’s website.

Bogart laments, “I guess they were convinced that these roundabouts were gonna cause people to avoid El Molino and Los Robles [... and] it was going to discourage people from using those two streets, and so they were going to cut through their neighborhood streets instead. And so they filed a lawsuit, and in the end, the compromise was that they had to put in stop signs at those two intersections.”

Additionally, left turns through the neighborhood from Glenarm were physically blocked off as part of the lawsuit. So was it worth putting in the roundabouts at all?

The city’s data says, yes. “Indications are that after an initial uptick following installation, crashes are holding at levels that are lower than the pre-installation condition.”

Those Glenarm roundabouts have been in place since the late 90’s. If Pasadena’s own metrics aren’t enough to convince readers, here’s some more corroboration. Study after study finds that roundabouts reduce collisions.

That’s why Bogart says Pasadena needs them, and he’s heartened by the two newest additions.

“We don't have a good track record in Pasadena when it comes to traffic collisions, particularly in relation to pedestrians and bicyclists,” he remarks. “We're highly ranked by the California Office of Traffic Safety. We're generally in the top 10 of similar sized cities for pedestrian and bicyclist injuries and fatalities. So something needs to be done, and this is a cost effective way to do it, and a way that can actually be very attractive if the city makes it so.”

Completion for the Avenue 64 roundabout is anticipated by the end of July.

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