Q. What’s the deal with the traffic circle? – Bill Alkofer
A. The Long Beach Traffic Circle, whose official name is The Los Alamitos Traffic Circle, isn’t actually a traffic circle anymore. It was built to help facilitate drivers from Los Angeles heading toward Marine Stadium and El Dorado Park during the 1932 Olympic Summer Games.
It was a traffic circle when it was built, but now it’s a roundabout, and yes, there is a difference. Although, if you’re not an engineer, you probably don’t care. Either way, I’ll attempt to explain.
The term roundabout describes an intersection where entering traffic flows in freely, but must yield to cars already in the circle, while entry to a traffic circle is controlled by stop signs or traffic signals.
To keep things simple, I’ll just call it “the circle.”
The circle in Long Beach was converted to a roundabout during a Caltrans redesign in 1993. When first built, it was the terminus of the Roosevelt Highway (US-6) that connected to Provincetown, Mass., 3,227 miles to the east.
Local historian Stan Poe told me that during the Olympic Games travelers would come south from Los Angeles and be directed north on Los Coyotes Diagonal toward the archery event or south on Pacific Coast Highway toward Marine Stadium and the rowing events. The streets had different names then.
It may have been built for the Olympics, but as far as Mr. Long Beach’s kids, “The Little Beachers”, are concerned – it’s a ride.
Every time we enter the circle I hear cheers from the backseat, “Daddy, go around again, go around again!” My race car-type circles usually continue until I whip my wife into a dizzying frenzy and she threatens to throw up.
The roundabout, part of Pacific Coast Highway (CA-1) and Lakewood Boulevard (CA-19) is owned by the State of California but maintained by Long Beach. I asked the city how many cars travel the circle and how many don’t quite make it around. They wouldn’t give up the numbers, but it’s been reported that the circle has 60,000 drivers each day.
When I asked Long Beachers about the circle I mostly heard stories of crazy drivers and the tales of accidents. Sebastian Lopez, head trainer at the UFC Gym at the circle, said he wishes drivers would “just use their signals.”
“People need to learn to drive. I see accidents everyday,” he said.
Urban legends abound about deaths in the roundabout. Circlers told me the designer, Werner Ruchti, died in a car accident while going around the road. Others told me he and his son died in the same manner – neither is true.
Another rumor was that the Rolling Stones played in the center of the circle. Also, not true.
Tom Moser, owner of Port City Tattoo at the circle, said he “Kinda likes not having to stop.” Moser said he grew up by the traffic circle in Orange.
“This one’s bigger, but I’m used to it” he said.