After a crash occurred at a recently installed traffic circle at E. Bixby Road and N. Weston Place earlier this month—just the latest incident that has impacted the area’s safety, according to those who live nearby—residents of Long Beach’s Los Cerritos neighborhood are demanding its removal.
City officials, though, say the roundabout has actually made the intersection safer, with fewer serious crashes since its 2019 installation.
The traffic circle is one of several that Long Beach installed as part of a larger traffic-calming project called the Daisy/Myrtle Bike Boulevard that was meant to provide a “safer north-south bikeway connection from downtown to the neighborhoods of Wrigley, Los Cerritos, Bixby Knolls, and North Long Beach,” according to the city.
Some residents have taken issue with the fact that the roundabout is shaped like an oval rather than the traditional circle. But Paul Van Dyk, a traffic engineer with the Long Beach Public Works Department, said the traffic circle has nonetheless fulfilled its goal. There were more reports of crashes involving pedestrians, he said, before it was constructed.
“These are exactly the type that we want to prevent,” Van Dyk said.
While the intersection was split between Districts 7 and 8 when it was installed, last year’s redistricting effort moved it under the jurisdiction of District 5. Councilwoman Stacy Mungo could not be reached for comment.
Nearby residents, meanwhile, still question its safety. Neighbors have witnessed vehicles drive up onto curbs, sidewalks and veer into pedestrian lanes because, they say, the unusual shape can catch drivers by surprise.
As of last Friday, broken reflective traffic signals and dirt on the street remained around the circle following a crash that took place almost two weeks prior, on March 11.
Kelly Michelena, who lives on the corner of the intersection, was one of the first on the scene of that collision after she heard the explosive sounds of a car speeding through the center island and flipping over multiple times.
According to the Long Beach Police Department, officers were dispatched to the intersection at around 8:12 p.m. and found an overturned SUV that had crashed through the intersection and an electrical box before it flipped over. The cause of the crash is still under investigation, but DUI is a possible factor, according to police.
“We thought it was an earthquake or a plane that had crashed in our neighborhood,” she said. “It was horrific.”
Michelena called 911 while running outside barefoot to help the woman in the vehicle. The driver “just kept saying over and over again, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t see it. What happened?’” Michelena said.
Michelena, who moved to her home in 2017, fears for her children’s safety when they play on their front lawn. She installed brick columns and a fence around her home to protect against vehicles driving up onto the sidewalk.
“This helps with peace of mind, but not for my neighbors who live on each corner,” she said, “or for the pedestrians I speak to who avoid this intersection out of fear.”
This was the second crash reported in the last six months where a car has driven directly through the intersection. In the early morning of Monday, Oct. 11, 2021, the LBPD responded to a vehicle that had flipped over around 1:55 a.m. The driver, a 27-year-old Long Beach resident, sped through the intersection and hit two parked vehicles. No injuries were reported, and the driver was arrested and booked on suspicion of driving under the influence. The investigation for that crash is ongoing.
Public Works also received a report of another crash that happened there on Sept. 20, 2019, which only caused property damage. In this crash, similar to the most recent collisions, officials said a drunken driver drove through the traffic circle.
Van Dyk, though, was clear. The traffic circle—along with two other similar oval-shaped roundabouts that were installed as part of the project—has worked to reduce serious and fatal crashes since it was installed.
According to Van Dyk, traffic circles like this one are created to slow drivers down to about 15 miles per hour, which significantly reduces the risk of serious crashes. Because Bixby Road is a wider street than Weston Place, Van Dyk said, the oval shape of the traffic circle was necessary to achieve that low level of speed—but the shape itself, he said, hasn’t compromised safety.
Still, following this month’s crash, members of the Los Cerritos Neighborhood Association sent a letter to city officials urging them to either remove or change the shape of the island from an ellipse to a circle and also add speed bumps.
Along with the letter, Michelena created a petition that has now received more than 475 signatures.
That course of action is familiar for the neighborhood. After the October crash, which damaged two parked cars, residents sent a letter to council members in District 7 and 8, calling for its urgent removal.
Van Dyk said the Public Works Department installed additional reflectors and larger signs on the traffic circle after that collision.
For residents, those changes aren’t enough.
One neighbor, Michelena said, even changed the floor plan of her living room so that her couch wasn’t by the window, fearing that she would be killed if a car drove through it.
Community members cited other deadly crashes that have happened in Long Beach, including when a driver crashed a truck into a North Long Beach apartment early this month, killing 3-year-old Samantha Palacios and her father Jose. The 2019 killing of a mother, father and their 3-year-old son after a suspected DUI driver drove onto a sidewalk is also top of mind for residents, though neither of those incidents occurred near a traffic circle.
“If some family or child were killed at this traffic circle, it’s a story,” said Michelena. “It’s a big story, and let’s not let it get to that point where we say, ‘Why did it look like this?’”
But for Van Dyk, the traffic circle isn’t a problem that needs to be solved.
“I would say that it’s operating as designed and as we intended it to,” he said, “because we, again, have only had DUI crashes at this location, and no one has been seriously injured, to my knowledge.”