The Rancho Santa Fe Post

Op Ed: Traffic Lights Will Destroy the Future of the Ranch

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Let’s be clear: I am “anti-traffic light”, not “pro-roundabout,” although I lived in Europe for 10 years and drove them daily. And I do like them. The thought of traffic lights installed in the heart of our beautiful piece of paradise turns my stomach. Not only because they are unsafe and ugly, but because of the long-term implications.

Like many fellow residents, my first choice would be to do nothing, and keep the stop signs. However, I understand why many of us say something has to be done.

I empathize with the people who live along the Del Dios corridor, and the residents who are impacted by cut-through commuter traffic. An ideal solution would be to install a signal at Cielo, and keep it red for long periods of time in the morning, forcing Escondido traffic to go around. But I doubt that would get approved. 

Unfortunately, the issue of what to do about the traffic on the Del Dios corridor has become divisive in our community. Although roundabouts are not the ideal solution (or maybe they will be after we get used to them), I strongly believe traffic lights are a far worse option. 

We are all very fortunate to live in a unique place in this world— a place of unmatched rural beauty, history, and community. We are custodians of this piece of paradise in the San Dieguito River Valley, and we should feel obligated to pass it along to the next generation in as good as, if not better, condition than when we arrived.

With urbanization at our doorstep creating more pressure on our insular community, we need to be stronger than ever and protect what we have. We can all agree that hypothetical 4-lane expressways and numerous traffic lights throughout The Ranch would not leave a better environment for future generations of residents.

Traffic lights might be better for those who don't care about the aesthetic beauty of our Ranch, or for those who value getting to work four minutes faster and do not care about what happens to The Ranch in 10, 15, or 20 years. Or for those who currently have commuters cutting down their street. Or for those who don't “live on that side of The Ranch”. But it is these short-sighted and selfish views that could set in motion a chain of events over the next couple of decades that future members of our community might not be able to stop. 

Shouldn't we be thinking about the bigger picture and of the future? 

Should “They take too long to build”, or “They cost too much”, or “Construction will inconvenience the church members for months and months” really be a consideration to build traffic lights instead of roundabouts? Shouldn't we all put this issue in perspective and decide to leave The Ranch a better place than when we arrived?

The San Dieguito Planning Area's Community Development Standards states: Traffic signals are highly destructive of the rural character of the area’s scenic roadways. They shall only be allowed where safety concerns cannot be otherwise mitigated. Who in their right mind would disagree with that?

The county wants us to make a decision. Many residents want us to make a decision. So, what about this: a solution that maintains our aesthetic rural beauty, shields us from outside growth and urbanization, makes The Ranch a safer place for our families, and still makes commuting smoother for those passing through our neighborhood? Roundabouts do all of that. Traffic lights do not.

Shouldn't we trust what the experts are telling us? The engineers who have the best simulation software? The long history of roundabouts around the world? The expert studies on beneficial environmental impact? The serious safety issues concerning traffic lights?

The only rational explanation I can come up with is that fear is driving the case for traffic lights. Roundabouts are a scary thing for many of our residents. They are an unknown quantity in our part of the world. And fear of the unknown has a way of manifesting itself into excuses, and to choosing the path of least resistance, the easy way out. Traffic lights are an easy way out.

Roundabouts seem like the only clear answer. Yes, there will be a learning curve for residents not experienced with them, but according to every case study I’ve ever read on the topic, drivers have overwhelmingly been happy with roundabouts after they were installed. I challenge any of you to find a case study that supports lights over roundabouts. It does not exist. Roundabouts will allow us to be leaders, showing other like communities the way forward.

We are relatively new residents. My wife and I chose this place to raise our family. Most of our decisions are now based on what is better for our kids. In the two and a half years we have been in The Ranch, we have become emotionally attached to this beautiful, quiet, rural place called The Covenant. As many of you probably did when you arrived. We were not part of any controversial past decisions made here. We do not care about the original reason roundabouts were proposed - to avoid doing anything. All we care about is what The Ranch means to us today, and what lies ahead. We can see clear as day what a truly unique and special place this is, and the battles that will have to be fought as high density growth and urbanization continue to hammer away “outside the rocks”. 

We have an opportunity to maintain the future of The Ranch. We all need to be vigilant and ready to fight if we are going to keep Rancho Santa Fe a special place for our kids and for future generations.

If our fellow residents want to disregard the dangerous, ugly traffic lights and their long-term implications, so be it. We can all say goodbye to The Ranch and the San Dieguito River Valley as we know it. It will end up just an extension of suburbia. But with larger lots.