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Archive for Thursday, January 24, 2002

Roundabouts keep traffic going slowly in circles

January 24, 2002

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Paul Blake says traffic has slowed in his neighborhood.

Cars used to go too fast by his house in the 700 block of Michigan Street, he said, until the city installed a "traffic circle" at Eighth Street.

Plenty of cars are still on the street. But now, there are also lots of flashing brake lights as drivers slow to navigate around the circle.

"It's probably a good thing," Blake said. "Before they put it in, people would go pretty fast through there. It slowed them down a little bit."

But traffic circles and their bigger traffic-calming cousins called roundabouts aren't always popular. Planning Commission Chair Ron Durflinger says a pair of temporary traffic circles on Harvard Road, at Goldfield and Grove, are "dangerous."

"They don't encroach enough to slow traffic, but they've taken out the stop signs," he said. "Coupled with the fact nobody understands the term 'right of way," you're going to have an accident.

Nearby property owners fear the devices will cause land values to drop; emergency officials are ambivalent at best, worrying about how to quickly steer big fire trucks and ambulances through the intersections.

"They present us with some problems," Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical Chief Jim McSwain said, "but we're used to problems. I think we can do OK with them, but it's going to take some time and some training."

Some elsewhere in the nation aren't so patient. Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported some cities are tearing out roundabouts they blame for increasing traffic accidents. That article has already been widely circulated to Lawrence city officials, who say the devices here are faring better than those in most cities.

"What little we've studied on them, they seem to be working fine," said David Woosley, the city's traffic engineer.

The roundabouts mentioned in the Wall Street Journal handled far more traffic than those in Lawrence, Woosley said. Most roundabouts, he said, have proven successful.

"There have been many that have been put in and very few that have been removed."

Lawrence has four full-sized roundabouts: at Harvard Road and Monterey Way; Inverness Drive and 24th Place; Inverness Drive and Sunflower Drive; and Crossgate Drive at 24th Place.

The last three were installed last year. The first, on Harvard Road, has been in place since 1999. Woosley said that intersection has experienced one accident in each of the past two years.

"And both of those were single-vehicle accidents, where the person was driving too fast," he said.

Lawrence City Commissioner Sue Hack teaches at Southwest Junior High School, close to both Inverness roundabouts. Those devices drew vocal opposition from neighbors when approved in April, but Hack said there have been no problems.

"I think they do the two things roundabouts are supposed to do," she said. "Slow the traffic down, but keep it moving. That's what I see when I go through them."

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