Archive for Monday, November 12, 2001

A calming device?

November 12, 2001

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Without proper instructions, a traffic-calming device can become more like a traffic hazard.

City officials call the obstruction that has been placed in the intersection of Harvard Road and Goldfield Drive a "traffic-calming device."

The makeshift traffic circle may slow traffic at that intersection, but the confusion it is causing isn't likely to have a "calming" effect on drivers.

The circle looks something like a temporary roundabout, a lesser version of the structure at Harvard Road and Monterey Way. And the signs drivers see as they approach the circle from east or west on Harvard are the same ones that mark a roundabout. But once drivers reach the circle, things get confusing.

The structure at Harvard and Goldfield includes none of the directional signs that instruct drivers which way to proceed around the circle or that they should yield to drivers in the circle. To add to the confusion, the stop signs on Goldfield have been left in place. That means those drivers are supposed to yield to traffic on Harvard, thus conflicting with the normal flow of traffic in and out of a roundabout.

It's also not clear whether turning traffic should travel around the temporary circle. Should someone making a left turn travel to the right around the circle or simply swing left in front of the obstruction? At least one driver who asked a city official about the traffic patterns was told that a left-turn in front of the circle was entirely permissible and that additional signage wasn't necessary because the ordinary rules of the road apply.

A similar circle also is planned on Harvard at its intersection with Grove and Mulberry drives. These temporary structures were requested by people who were concerned about the speed of vehicles traveling on Harvard Road which carries considerable through traffic from Monterey Way to Wakarusa Drive. If this temporary structure is effective, traffic officials say, it may be replaced with a permanent roundabout.

It's almost certain that, out of confusion, any driver approaching these obstacles will slow down, which is the main goal traffic engineers were trying to accomplish. But there doesn't seem to be any reason to cause so much uncertainty for drivers. The first temporary "traffic-calming" device is little more than an obstacle and a potential hazard. If officials really want to see how roundabouts will function at these intersections they should take out the stop signs and give drivers the proper directions to enable them to use these temporary roundabouts as the permanent structures would be used.

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