School officials should demand answers to their questions about roundabouts and other traffic structures close to schools.
Lawrence school board members are right to be concerned about a series of traffic roundabouts being planned for Louisiana Street between 17th and 31st streets.
The addition of the roundabouts and other "traffic calming" structures will have a significant impact on all motorists traveling on Louisiana Street, but some of the greatest changes will take place at intersections adjacent to local schools.
On Tuesday, city commissioners approved construction of a roundabout at 27th Street Terrace at the entrance to South Junior High and Broken Arrow schools. Another major roundabout is planned for Louisiana and 19th Street, next to Lawrence High School. As many as six roundabouts may be built between 17th and 31st Street by the time the project is completed.
The major goal of city traffic planners is to reduce the speed of motorists along Louisiana Street. The city's transportation planner also says he's convinced roundabouts also could increase the capacity of intersections along Louisiana.
Lawrence motorists who have experienced the city's existing roundabout at Harvard Road and Monterey Way probably can see both advantages and disadvantages to the structures. It's easy to believe that roundabouts slow traffic. Motorists have to slow down to enter the roundabout and yield to vehicles already in the circle.
The existing roundabout works relatively well because the traffic volumes on the street are fairly low and steady. It also is a three-way intersection, which reduces the number of entry points to the roundabout.
It's difficult, however, to envision a roundabout at an intersection that is as busy as 19th and Louisiana, especially at peak times. Motorists approaching a roundabout are supposed to yield to vehicles already in the circle, but even at the relatively low-traffic Harvard and Monterey Way circle, some motorists find it difficult to merge into traffic. That situation would be considerably aggravated by heavy traffic such as what would be common near LHS just before or after the school day or after a major event at the school.
And, even if the roundabout offers a safer route for motorists, it would seem to have just the opposite impact on pedestrians as they try to dodge a constant flow of traffic into and out of the circle. Would crosswalks have to be relocated away from the intersection? If they were located close to the intersection, they would seriously interrupt the traffic flow.
The city's traffic planner says that roundabouts have "a big learning curve," but he is convinced that once school board members see the research, they will embrace the traffic concept. He may be right, but it still seems prudent to approach this traffic trend with caution. The roundabouts are a huge financial investment the one at 27th Terrace is estimated to cost $318,000 and presumably will dip deeply into adjacent property, much of which is residential. If the roundabouts don't work, one would assume it would cost at least as much to return them to conventional intersections.
City, county and school officials have made an effort in recent years to try to work more closely together and consider the impact of their actions on the other units of government. This would seem to be a perfect opportunity for collaboration. School officials deserve answers to their roundabout questions and city officials should make every effort to deliver them.