Round and Round We Go By John Hibble

Round and Round We Go By John Hibble

The traffic circle/roundabout at the foot of Rio Del Mar Boulevard was the solution to the problem of four roads and a parking lot converging at a single point. The intersection is now able to deal with nine lanes of travel that must also accommodate fire trucks and busses. This was not always the case.

When development began in Rio Del Mar, in 1926 the Aptos Creek estuary was leveled and raised 7 feet. The creek was channelized. A concrete dam was built in 1928 in order to create the “world’s largest freshwater swimming pool”, complete with a bathing pavilion. In 1929, the first class, Spanish style Hotel Don Rafael de Castro opened on the bluff overlooking Monterey Bay, exactly where the condominiums at 260 Rio Del Mar Blvd. stand today. Traffic was not an issue and there were no traffic control devices at the intersection. Traffic became even less of an issue as the depression and World War II undermined tourism.

After the war Aptos began to grow, slowly at first and then by the 1960s the Esplanade intersection needed some form of clarification. In 1966 a trial installation of the traffic island was first delineated by cinder blocks. The Rio Del Mar Improvement Association paid for striping the parking spaces, with the assurance that, after a test period, permanent markers would be installed. 

In March 1967, the Improvement Association asked the Board of Supervisors for an emergency allocation to restore traffic controls in the Esplanade area before the beach became inundated with Easter vacationers but there was no money in the budget. 

Next, legal issues ensued between the county and the State Beach but were eventually resolved and by June 1968 permanent traffic islands were installed.

In the summer of 1999 volunteers from the Aptos Chamber helped to clean up the Esplanade. The traffic island was weeded, the curbs were painted, a small memorial to Realtor Bob Bailey was dedicated and a new Rio Del Mar sign was installed. The labor for the sign was donated by Steve Hosmer of Stokes Signs and Café Rio owner, Pat Duggan, paid for the redwood slab and the lettering. Gwen Kaplan of Lomak Properties arranged for an encroachment permit and got the permit fee waived.

Nothing happens quickly. The newest incarnation of the traffic island had been in the works for a decade. Bill Comfort from the Rio Del Mar Improvement Association and the Aptos Chamber Community Enhancement Committee had been shepherding this project through the county with the assistance of former Supervisor Ellen Pirie. Supervisor Zach Friend secured the final piece of funding through an air quality grant.

The roundabout features a 14-foot metal sculpture of a seagull in flight know as the Whaley Memorial. It was located on the traffic island at Clubhouse Drive and Rio Del Mar Boulevard. Designed in 1976 by Joseph Spencer, it commemorates Tom Whaley, a retired highway engineer and dedicated director of the Rio Del Mar Improvement Association who worked on traffic issues and was a tireless worker on behalf of the community. It was originally installed among several small magnolia trees that eventually obscured it.

What is the difference between a traffic circle and a roundabout? Although they both use a circular design, they operate very differently. Traffic circles are large and are designed for higher speeds. They often have stop signs at their entry points. Roundabouts are designed as small as possible and operate at lower speeds. Roundabouts require drivers to slow and yield to circulating traffic before entering and limit drivers’ circulating and exit speeds. The current design also helps prevent drivers from making left turns into oncoming traffic as sometimes happened in the past.

The project was built by Earthworks Paving Contractors and was completed in 2014. 

If you enjoy stories about Aptos history, please visit the Aptos History Museum and consider purchasing a membership to help keep our doors open.

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