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Archive for Sunday, May 5, 2002

Bus driver continues crusade to get rid of traffic circles

May 5, 2002

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Doug Bowen is a man with a mission.

The 74-year-old Lawrence resident doesn't like roundabouts, those circular "traffic-calming" devices that force drivers to slow down and orbit an intersection instead of driving straight through.

Bowen doesn't know anybody else who likes them, either. And he's on a campaign to make the city stop building them.

"Somewhere along the line, this whole thing doesn't make sense," he said. "Why are you spending money to put in a traffic impediment?"

Bowen has received a bit of infamy around City Hall for his efforts. He attended three straight Lawrence City Commission meetings in February (when the issue wasn't on the agenda) to give extended monologues on the ills of roundabouts.

Monday, he's taking his crusade to the meeting of the city's Traffic Safety Commission. This time he's on the agenda.

"And I'll be going back to the city commission," he promised.

So far, his efforts haven't made a difference at City Hall, where officials say they like roundabouts just fine.

"They do what we want them to do," said Mayor Sue Hack. "They keep traffic moving, but they also slow it down.

"Of course, that's one of Mr. Bowen's complaints."

'Can't get around'

Roundabouts are relatively new in Lawrence. The first one was built in 1999 at Harvard Road and Monterey Way.

"It used to be a stop sign," Bowen said of the intersection. "It worked perfectly."

Three more roundabouts were added last year, at Inverness Drive and 24th Place, Inverness Drive and Sunflower Drive, and Crossgate Drive at 24th Place. None have cost more than $150,000 to build.

It is on Inverness that Bowen, a retired construction worker who now drives school buses, regularly wrestles with roundabouts. There are roundabouts in front of Sunflower School and Southwest Junior High, which are along Bowen's route.

The problem with the devices, he said, is simple.

"You can't get around them," he said. "I just watched a truck go up over one of them. I'd like to see an emergency vehicle or a snowplow get around one."

Bowen started talking with friends and acquaintances about the devices and said he had found no one who liked the roundabouts.

"I talked to a couple of hundred people," he said. "Everybody I talked to  I mean everybody, with the exception of two people  well, immediately I got a negative reaction."

He said that instead of roundabouts, the city should concentrate on traffic enforcement.

"If they want to slow people down, just mention speed traps," he said. "People will automatically slow down."

'The safest'

David Woosley, the city's traffic engineer, said roundabouts worked better than speed traps.

"They are the safest form of intersection being constructed in the United States today," he said. "It eliminates a number of accidents and the ones that do happen aren't as severe as at four-way intersections."

Not only does a roundabout force a driver to slow down, he said, it prevents nasty right-angle accidents  when cars collide on roundabouts, they more often strike a glancing blow instead of a crushing broadside.

Speed traps wouldn't be nearly as effective, Woosley said.

"We don't have enough cops to do that," he said. "A police officer can't be there 24 hours a day. A roundabout is."

He said the roundabouts were designed to accommodate emergency vehicles, and officials with Lawrence-Douglas County Fire and Medical have said several times they can maneuver their vehicles around the devices.

Despite Bowen's impromptu survey, Woosley said the city had received neighborhood requests for additional roundabouts. There's a reason for that, he said.

"In many cases, they can handle more traffic than a signal can," he said. "And they can do it more efficiently."

Heard it before

Bowen has heard all the arguments. In fact, he has a packet full of information from City Hall saying there is "ample public support" for roundabouts.

"That's a bunch of crap," he said.

He's so confident that the public is with him, in fact, that if officials don't heed his arguments, he'll campaign for a referendum on the subject.

"Take it to the voters," he said. "I guarantee it will go down unanimously."

Hack isn't so sure.

"I haven't sensed any great conversation to get rid of them," she said.

Though he is opposed to roundabouts, Bowen conceded drivers might become accustomed to navigating them and therefore less averse to the devices. He said people didn't like longer basketball shorts when they became popular on players during the early 1990s, either.

"You look back at the old games, the guys with the short shorts look like freaks now," Bowen said. "It's a matter of getting used to it."

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