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Do Not Enter signs First Street

Multiple signs warn motorists wanting to take First Street out of downtown Napa to the freeway that they better not. Since Friday, First became one-way eastbound after being one-way westbound for over a half century. 

Asked for their opinion of the new roundabout and street flip, Napa motorists let loose with more than 100 comments over the weekend.

Lack of instruction on how to use a roundabout was a primary concern. Many feared that the new roundabout at First Street and California Boulevard complicated the intersection and increased the likelihood of accidents.

“So far, it looks like an accident waiting to happen. Too many decisions have to be made too quickly … ,” Penny Andrews posted on Facebook.

In an email, Frank Benjamin said, “What a huge waste of money. Totally confusing … I believe the number of accidents will surely increase. It saves absolutely no time, actually. I’ll avoid it at all costs.”

Specifically, readers mentioned confusion around how to yield.

“My first comment so far is a plea to all drivers, both locals and visitors….YIELD means let approaching traffic proceed. Doesn’t mean go faster and beat other vehicles to the intersection,” said Jerry Hook in an email.

Phyllis Kleid said she’d observed “cars that should be yielding [are] blowing through the yield signs as if they aren’t there.”

Others like Barry and Alice Zacherle, who first learned how to maneuver roundabouts in Europe, sympathized with difficulties in making the adjustment. But they said they still believe roundabouts will benefit drivers longterm.

“We are sure that Napans will learn to really appreciate the circles, just as we did, when they become familiar and experienced in how to drive them,” they wrote in an email.

The new roundabout at First and California joins one opened two months ago at First and the freeway on- and off-ramps, with yet a third one at Second Street and California to open within a month.

Supporters enthusiastically noted they already saw reduced traffic congestion.

“So far I have been very impressed with how quickly and well the roundabout creation has been going,” Carol Cavagnaro wrote in an email. Though she also noted “motorists don’t seem to pay heed to the yield signs written on the road.”

“My two cents is that roundabouts are a highly efficient way to handle traffic at intersections, much better than stoplights. In addition, they can be very attractive when built right, and are less expensive to install and maintain. What’s not to like?” said Jason Walthall.

The changes come as part of a larger infrastructure partnership between the City of Napa and Caltrans. The plan hopes to reduce congestion at First Street/Highway 29 and improve flow in and out of downtown Napa. Construction began in early June and is expected to conclude at the end of this year.

Some responders preferred that the money — $11 million — would have been used on other infrastructure issues.

“A great waste of money. When you consider the poor, poor shape of Napa streets, the nasty tasting water and the poorly timed traffic lights. There is room for improvement in other areas,” commented George Plunkett on Facebook.

Others, like John Sensenbaugh, responded positively to the initiative. “I applaud the leadership and partnership between city staff, Caltrans and the contractor for a bold vision which I believe will stand the test of time,” he wrote on the social media platform.

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Feel free to reach Carly Graf at @carlykgraf, cgraf@napanews.com or (713)-817-4692.

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City of Napa reporter

Carly Graf covers Napa city government and community issues. She received her master’s degree from Northwestern University in Chicago. She most recently worked for a news outlet in Buenos Aires, Argentina.