OB’s Roundabout Receives ‘Onion’ in Annual Architectural Competition

by on October 19, 2022 · 23 comments

in Ocean Beach

It’s the 46-year-old annual San Diego “Orchids and Onions” competition and OB’s roundabout won an award.

Trophies are handed out by the San Diego Architectural Foundation for the region’s best and worst architecture, making it one of “the closest-watched local events.”

The U-T says:

It’s unique for an architecture organization to acknowledge bad work because a lot of the judges work in the industry and could hurt potential clients’ feelings with any type of demerit. However, San Diego Architectural Foundation still pushes forward with its popular competition every year.

This year, no one got the top prize for Grand Orchid or Grand Onion but that has happened before, as recently as 2021 and 2018. A committee of seven jurors evaluated nominations for this year’s competition.

Here’s the statement:

Bacon Street at West Point Loma Boulevard, San Diego. Owner/developer/designer: City of San Diego

Judges’ comments:

“Although it may have had good intentions from a municipal standpoint, (the city) failed to recognize the pedestrian experience. It actually deters pedestrians from walking through here. It’s a missed opportunity for the city to incorporate some landscaping.

There has been a lot of chain-link fencing put up as barriers to keep people from going through the space, which really indicates to me a failure. Roundabouts are supposed to improve flows of cars and people and bicyclists, and this particular roundabout just confuses everyone.”

Go here for the other Orchids and Onions at the SD U-T.

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Webb October 19, 2022 at 4:05 pm

I would add that, as someone who rides a bike through this intersection with some regularity, I find it very frightening. There is simply not enough space for a bike and a car to pass through any part of the roundabout at one time, and drivers do not always yield right-of-way to bikes, even the bike is in the circle first. I felt far safer with the previous design.


Scott Batson October 20, 2022 at 8:41 am

You describe an enforcement and cultural issue, not road design. Modern roundabouts operate in the 15-20 mph range and confident cyclists are to take the lane. Those less confident should use the pedestrian area. Bike lanes in a modern roundabout are poor design and inherently dangerous when a cyclist is going through and a driver is turning right.


Paul Webb October 20, 2022 at 11:30 am

I would say that creating a situation that requires enforcement is bad design. I would also say that forcing a cyclist to use pedestrian areas or facilities is (a) illegal and (b) poor design.

BTW, I am a confident cyclist but when there is not enough room for a car and a cyclist and cars don’t yield ROW, I get concerned. As another writer points out, just what problem does this design at this location correct? The lane is too narrow and the curve radius is too tight for, say, an ambulance, a fire truck, my van, etc.

Rip it out and start over. Oh, and next time do a decent job of paving!


Scott Batson October 20, 2022 at 12:05 pm

How wide is the lane? Do you know what a truck apron is, or how a mini-roundabout works? If you take the lane, your space is yours space. Taking the lane means riding in the middle of it, not off to the side. Most vehicles are about 7 feet wide, maximum. Travel lanes in a roundabout are typically 12 feet. If you’re having trouble staying on the pavement, it’s probably not the road design that is at fault.
Failure to yield right of way occurs at many locations, so by your logic all those locations are also poor design. I guess we should remove stop signs and traffic signals now…


Paul Webb October 20, 2022 at 2:37 pm

Scott, before you question my knowledge, perhaps you should tell me your qualification for making the statements that you do.

Have you ever watched a fire truck or ambulance (or many other trucks) at this roundabout? They drive straight across the raised pavement, because they cannot turn sharply enough, as evidenced by the tire tracks running across the circle.

You may not agree with me, but the San Diego Architectural Foundation clearly does.

I don’t dispute that failure to yield ROW occurs at other locations (duh!), but to create a situation that places a cyclist at greater risk (which I expect you will not agree occurs because a confident cyclist will do a better job of transiting this circle) by design is unconscionable.


Scott Batson October 21, 2022 at 4:41 pm

30+ years as a licensed civil engineer in California, Oregon and Washington designing roadways.

The Architectural Board are not focusing on safety or efficiency, they are focusing on aesthetics. Pretty doesn’t equal safe (or smart).

By your questions it seems clear you do not know what a truck apron is for or how mini-roundabouts operate. There are lots of videos online, should you like to learn.


Paul Webb October 22, 2022 at 12:07 pm

Okay, I get your qualifications. However, there is neither a truck apron or a slip lane at the traffic circle, just a regular curb. BTW, I have been a professional planner, including a stint with Caltrans, since the mid-70’s. I am very familiar with mini-roundabouts, as well as other transportation infrastructure.

My take on the foundation was that they were not just questioning the aesthetics, but the overall design. I have felt from the beginning that this was a poor choice for implementing a roundabout. The Abbott/W. Point Loma intersection is much larger and would have been a better location.


Greg October 20, 2022 at 7:37 am

What was the point of this piece of infrastructure? It doesn’t seem like it was built with peds/cyclists in mind but I also don’t think it was built solely for autos. What did this solve?


Scott Batson October 20, 2022 at 12:06 pm

Mini-roundabouts permit smaller, lower cost, footprints that still allow larger vehicles to make left turns by tracking over the circular island.


Christo Kuzmich October 20, 2022 at 3:54 pm

You have to be kidding. By design larger vehicles barrel straight through?

If the space is so small that all traffic cannot negotiate it in the same manner- it fails.


Scott Batson October 21, 2022 at 7:41 am

So, every other intersection designed so that the infrequent truck has to pull wide to turn right is, to you, a failed intersection? Do you understand that designing all roads so that an uncommon vehicle can negotiate it remaining in their lane is both wasteful of resources and dangerous? Those larger intersections you expect everywhere would be true nightmares for pedestrians to cross, and the speeds those large radius corners permit would be very unsafe.


Pauline Sauter October 20, 2022 at 11:27 am

Who in OB asked for this??


Scott Batson October 20, 2022 at 2:46 pm

The 11/13/14 OB Rag ran a story on the project. All comments to the story seemed favorable.


Michael Claisse October 20, 2022 at 12:33 pm

Every time i go through it, I wonder why there has to be so much concrete in it. Plant some flowers or something! it’s hideous, and this is a well-deserved award


Scott Batson October 20, 2022 at 2:29 pm

Flowers in the circle, for trucks to drive over?


Carl M Zanolli October 20, 2022 at 5:29 pm

From what I’ve seen, the roundabout is doing a pretty good job of performing the purpose for which is was intended, that is, keeping vehicular traffic moving to prevent the horrendous traffic jam backing up all the way to Sunset Cliffs.

In order to work effectively it seems a roundabout cannot give primacy to pedestrians and bicycles.


asdfg asfasdfg October 20, 2022 at 7:23 pm

These roundabouts are garbage.


Geoff Page October 20, 2022 at 10:07 pm

How does the roundabout do this “keeping vehicular traffic moving to prevent the horrendous traffic jam backing up all the way to Sunset Cliffs?” The main function of a roundabout is to move traffic more quickly. How does that help the traffic jam situation? It doesn’t.


Scott Batson October 21, 2022 at 4:37 pm

You seem to confuse high speed with less delay. Roundabouts operate in the 15-20 mph range and have many fewer stops than signals or all-way stop intersections, particularly off-peak. The operating speed of a modern roundabout makes interaction between users easier and safer and reduces wasted space.


Geoff Page October 21, 2022 at 4:56 pm

I’m not confusing anything, I didn’t say anything about high speed. I know how roundabouts work and have driven my share. They allow traffic to move more quickly than four-way stops do. I watched a study on this and it was clear. Not speed, just more quickly. But, you didn’t answer the question about how this solves the traffic congestion.


Greg October 22, 2022 at 11:04 am

Unfortunately, nothing is going to solve traffic congestion in OB outside of overall demand destruction, mode shift, or significantly diminishing residents’ quality of life by increasing personal auto capacity through our neighborhoods.


Chris October 23, 2022 at 8:13 am

I’m a bit confused here. I’m not familiar with this particular roundabout so that’s why I’m asking. If this roundabout is keeping traffic moving, wouldn’t that prevent traffic jams due to traffic flowing through?


Geoff Page October 23, 2022 at 12:20 pm

Chris, the clog is at WPL and Sunset Cliffs. The jams start there and extend back to Bacon. Getting through Bacon more quickly just results in the same problem.


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