The consultants of Smart Growth America who came to Pacific Grove from Washington, D.C. to preach safer streets sought to impress upon residents exactly how troublesome – and dangerous – one of their intersections is: the five-way stop at Sunset Drive, Congress Avenue and Cedar Street, part of the Highway 68 corridor. Using a show-don’t-tell approach, they invited people on a walking tour of the area on Thursday, Nov. 10.
Attendees watched the proverbial accident waiting to happen, as a car came within about six feet of a teenage boy on a bike in the middle of a crosswalk. They witnessed other cars entering the intersection, their drivers hesitating, not sure what to do as vehicles approached from other directions. One resident wondered aloud if befuddled drivers would even be able to notice pedestrians and bicyclists. Another concluded the intersection is “not congested, just confusing.”
The Sunset/Congress/Cedar intersection, located near P.G. High School and Forest Elementary, has long been on a shortlist of roadways in need of safety upgrades. A 2016 study by the Transportation Agency of Monterey County offered up possible fixes. One suggested creating a four-way stop by blocking Cedar. Another was a roundabout, similar to, but smaller than, the Holman Highway roundabout at Highway 1, which at the time was under construction about three-and-a-half miles away.
The walking tour was part of a series of three workshops held by SGA Nov. 9-10, to introduce residents to the concept of “complete streets” and related policies that incorporate users of all ages and abilities, not just drivers. SGA came to P.G. as part of a program funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to combat obesity by encouraging people to be more active, including walking and bicycling.
SGA consultant John Robert Smith told an audience of about 25 on Nov. 9 that they chose P.G. specifically after Councilmember Chaps Poduri participated in the 2021-2022 SGA Champions Institute. Four cities were selected for further consulting assistance.
Poduri, who serves as the city’s representative to the TAMC board, says next steps for P.G. include using part of a $1 million grant from TAMC out of voter-approved Measure X funds to hire a technical expert to evaluate the intersection.
During the evening workshop on Nov. 10, Smith played a pre-recorded interview he conducted specifically for P.G. with Mayor Jim Brainerd of Carmel, Indiana, a city touted as the “roundabout capital” of the country. In Brainerd’s 28 years in office, he’s overseen the installation of 147 roundabouts, which he said are safer, less expensive and move traffic better than traditional intersections. “I don’t want to tell anyone in Pacific Grove what to do, but we’ve had very good success with mixing roundabouts and pedestrians,” Brainerd said.
At the end, participants were asked to vote by a show of hands whether they approved of a roundabout for the intersection. A majority who attended were in favor.