San Mateo County released the latest draft of its Connect the Coastside transportation plan last week. Those plans include three roundabouts in the Moss Beach area and a multiuse trail paralleling Highway 1.

A policy in the 2011 amendments to the Local Coastal Program prompted the project by mandating the creation of a transportation plan to address transit issues that would arise as the Coastside becomes more heavily developed. The plan will cost an estimated $100 million.

According to Midcoast Community Council Chair Len Erickson and County Planning Services Manager Joe LaClair, both the MCC and the county are focused on gathering community input.

“We’re very interested in finding out what the community thinks about the plan, what their priorities are, and if they are accurately reflected in the document,” LaClair said. “And we’re looking at what changes, if any, we may need to make to get to a consensus on what the vision for transportation improvements and land use control in the Midcoast should be going forward.”

The plan proposes three roundabouts in the Moss Beach area, at 16th Street, California Avenue and Cypress Avenue, which have already sparked community conversations and concerns that they will worsen traffic in the area by slowing down motorists. Another is considered for the intersection of highways 92 and 35.

Both LaClair and Erickson acknowledged that roundabouts will reduce speeds on Highway 1, but said the safety benefits outweigh the marginal slowdown.

“I would argue the impact on roadway speeds is negligible,” LaClair said. “You’re talking about a second or two. And the safety improvements overall are tremendous, for pedestrians, for motorists and for bicyclists.”

A U.S. Department of Transportation study confirms these safety benefits, finding that roundabouts decrease overall crashes by 35 percent and injury crashes by 76 percent.

LaClair said the county Planning Commission considered roundabouts in response to community input to an earlier draft of the plan. That plan proposed traffic lights at key intersections.

“There was pretty significant community backlash in opposition to signals, so we went back to the drawing board,” LaClair said. “We began then exploring the potential of constructing roundabouts at these three intersections.”

LaClair said that while roundabouts are more expensive up front, the operation costs of keeping a signal running, including electricity and maintenance, make the two options cost competitive. 

Erickson also said the current layout of the Moss Beach area, with its many access points to the highway, is unsafe because drivers must gauge if they can maneuver in time for traffic. It’s even harder for visitors unfamiliar with the area. He sees roundabouts as a solution, but recognizes that there will be a transition period.

“It does require adjustments to driving habits, and that’s always a concern,” Erickson said.

In addition to road safety, the plan will prioritize improving pedestrian mobility with added pedestrian crosswalks and the multi-modal trail from Miramar to northern Montara. The plan also proposes increased Caltrans and SamTrans services and updates to transit stops, which LaClair said will encourage the use of public transit.

“One of the reasons we believe transit use on the coast is low is because the pedestrian environment isn't conducive to safe pedestrian conditions,” LaClair said.

Erickson said the MCC is forming a committee tasked with looking at the plan and understanding community views. He said that while the MCC’s Jan. 29 meeting will provide an informational update for the public, more substantive community discussions will follow in March.

According to LaClair, once the plan is adopted, the county will focus on implementing it as quickly as possible, prioritizing partnering with Caltrans to begin building the crosswalks and roundabouts on Highway 1.  

Funding for the project will come from federal, state and local sources as well as grant funds. The plan also proposes creating a traffic mitigation fee on all new developments to offset the increased traffic that new development will bring. 

Erickson and LaClair agreed that the timing of the plan’s release is important to the larger conversation about development happening in the community. 

“Connect the Coastside is an effort to deal with existing traffic and traffic that will

result from development going forward,” LaClair said. “These improvements are necessary.”

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