SOLEDAD — A new roundabout at the intersection of East Street and Metz Road in Soledad was unveiled to the public with a ribbon cutting on July 6.
Construction began on April 5, with traffic detoured to side streets for months to make way for the modern intersection, the first such roundabout in South Monterey County. The goal of the roundabout is to reduce traffic collisions and improve overall safety in the zone.
City Manager Brent Slama said apprehension and even critical comments are always to be expected, but now that the intersection has been opened and people have been able to try it, feedback has been positive.
“It does take some getting used to, we had police out there the whole first day,” Slama said of the city’s education efforts. “A couple people were hesitant. There were some bicyclists and pedestrians who didn’t know exactly where they were supposed to be.”
Slama said education in how to use the new layout is key. Little problems that sprang up in the opening days were people who came to a stop rather than yielding, and in the most extreme case there was one motorist who went the wrong way making a left turn through the new loop.
The concept of a roundabout has been around for decades, seeing most use in Europe and Latin America, where years of data have shown the efficacy toward safety.
“It definitely has proven that it’s safer in terms of reducing head-on collisions,” Slama said.
He noted that while Soledad and neighboring cities are looking into roundabouts, with Soledad being the first city in South Monterey County to implement the design, one challenge is restructuring existing areas. Soledad happened to have a busy intersection that could be converted.
“It’s not always easy to convert an existing intersection, making a circle out of a square,” explained Slama, adding that roundabouts are often found in newly developed areas.
With cities considering the design, Slama said more roundabouts would likely appear in Monterey County over time.
“It’s just another option available to get people safely where they need to go,” he said. “I definitely think you’re going to see more of these.”