Fifth campus roundabout taking shape at the intersection of Campus Drive East and Serra Street

The university's fifth traffic roundabout is taking shape at the intersection of Campus Drive East and Serra Street, where multiple interconnected construction projects are underway. Initial studies confirm campus roundabouts are having the intended effect of increasing safety, improving traffic flow, reducing carbon emission and decreasing incidents at busy intersections.

Drivers, bikers and pedestrians on East Campus have likely noticed that the university has begun work on its fifth roundabout at the intersection of Serra Street and Campus Drive East.

Roundabout illustration

A new roundabout will reconfigure the intersection of Campus Drive East and Serra Street. (Image credit: Sebastian and Associates)

This newest roundabout is part of a massive East Campus transformation that – when finished in 2020 – will include new graduate residences, childcare centers, underground parking garages, public safety facilities and a new, extensive Manzanita recreation area. Step by step planning for the six interconnected projects requires extraordinary coordination, with each phase starting as related work completes.

Underground utility work at the new roundabout site began in June, and the majority of road work is scheduled to be completed before the first home football game in fall 2019, according to Jack Cleary, associate vice president for Land, Buildings and Real Estate, and Cathy Blake, university landscape architect and director of campus planning.

The roundabout will realign Campus Drive East and replace the two intersections where the roadway splits into two one-way roadways that each intersect with Serra Street. The area, once the site of a service station, is already heavily trafficked by students thanks to its proximity to athletic facilities and residences. It will become even more trafficked when the new graduate residences in Escondido Village are completed. That’s one reason why, in contrast to other campus roundabouts, the new one at Campus Drive and Serra Street will have a dedicated off-road, two-way bike path to accommodate cyclists headed to and from their homes in Escondido Village.

More roundabouts

Since 2014, the university has been installing roundabouts to improve safety for drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists where they converge in busy intersections. Roundabouts have already been constructed on Campus Drive where it intersects with Galvez Street, Escondido Road, Santa Teresa Street and Bowdoin Street.

Initial traffic studies suggest that the roundabouts are increasing safety, especially at Escondido and Campus Drive, which is an especially trafficked intersection. Roundabouts work because they slow traffic down, limit the potential points of conflict and reduce the number of directions a driver or cyclist needs to look before proceeding.

It generally takes drivers two or three times through a roundabout to get the hang of it, which is why Cleary and Blake take every opportunity they can to point members of the campus community to websites describing how roundabouts work. Their website includes several how-to videos with tips for vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians. The most important thing to remember: the vehicle in the circle has the right of way, and vehicles entering need to yield.

“There also is a lot of anecdotal feedback from people that they are working,” said Blake. “I have people actually seek me out to say that they love the roundabouts.”

But roundabouts are not without drawbacks. Event organizers sometimes misuse the circular center of the roundabout to provide directions to drivers. The problem is that the signs might point the right direction to the event, but the wrong direction through the roundabout.

“These ad hoc signs can be very confusing for people who are coming to campus for the first time,” Cleary said. The signs are taken down to ensure safety. But Cleary said his office is happy to provide assistance to members of the campus community who need to point visitors in the right direction.

Roundabout installation at Stanford is opportunistic. In other words, when new projects are occurring, planners take the opportunity to reconfigure intersections to include roundabouts to increase safety. Stanford planners are eyeing other potential roundabout locations, including on Campus Drive West, which will someday be extended closer to Sand Hill Road to provide more space in the central campus for needed facilities.

Eventually, most major Campus Drive intersections will be roundabouts.

Worth the pain

Cleary and Blake are keenly aware that construction on East Campus, especially at the location of the new roundabout, is an inconvenience to drivers, cyclists and pedestrians alike. That inconvenience, they acknowledge, is likely to last a few years. Members of the campus community can stay abreast of closures, detours and rerouting on the Heads Up website.

But they promise the result will be worth the pain. For instance, Serra Street to the west of the Campus Drive and Serra Street intersection and in front of the Graduate School of Business is becoming a pedestrian and cyclist mall. Vehicular traffic there will be prohibited. Manzanita recreation area will be enlarged once Campus Drive is reconfigured and will feature a new soccer field, volleyball and basketball courts, and a picnic area complete with barbecue facilities. In addition, some 2,431 graduate students will have new homes when the new residences are completed, new underground parking facilities will be available and new childcare facilities and a public safety building will be constructed.

“This is all being done in coordinated increments,” Cleary said. “We’re looking at a couple of years. We’re aware this is going to take a lot of patience, but the results will be fantastic.”