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Archive for Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Traffic tools

When it comes to reducing accidents at two Lawrence intersections, roundabouts are the wrong things for the job.

February 7, 2007

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It seems the roundabout fans in Lawrence's City Hall have found some soulmates in the Kansas Department of Transportation.

"I'm biased," said Brian Gower, state traffic engineer for KDOT, "but I think roundabouts are one of the most effective tools we have to address crash issues. From a safety perspective, I love them."

In fact, KDOT is willing to show its love of roundabouts by paying a large portion of the cost of installing new ones at two busy Lawrence intersections: 19th Street and Naismith Drive and just north of Sixth and Iowa streets.

This is an early valentine that the city should return to sender.

The two roundabouts are among three projects from which Lawrence can choose to accept state funding to improve intersections with high accident rates. The third, left-turn lanes and realignment at Ninth Street and Avalon Road, seems unlikely to be the city's choice because local money would be required to buy at least one home needed for right-of-way for the project.

So, unless the city can negotiate another traffic solution with KDOT, it will get to choose between two roundabout projects that would be a menace to local motorists. The roundabout at 19th and Naismith might work for normal daily traffic at the intersection, but one can only imagine the bottleneck it would create after a Kansas University basketball game.

Even worse, however, is the jury-rigged plan at Sixth and Iowa, where a collaborative effort of state and city traffic planners has concocted this scheme to eliminate left turns by westbound traffic on Sixth Street: Motorists wanting to head south on Iowa Street would have to exit to McDonald Drive, go three-fourths of the way around a roundabout to head back south, then merge onto Iowa Street.

It seems that any reduction in accidents from this plan would be offset by an increase in accidents caused by traffic merging into the right lane to exit onto McDonald Drive or merging back onto Iowa. And that doesn't account for the increase in accidents at Ninth and Iowa Streets caused by the many motorists who would use that intersection to avoid the Sixth and Iowa mess.

In both of these cases, dedicated left-turn lanes that allowed left turns only with an arrow would eliminate many of the accidents. If that solution is too expensive, especially at Sixth and Iowa, and if some non-roundabout way to improve the situation can't be found, the city would be better off just turning down the state money and leaving the intersections alone.

The good news is that at least some elected and non-elected officials at City Hall are getting the message about roundabouts. Mayor Mike Amyx's understatement was "I don't think the community really wants very many more of them, to be honest."

Amyx has that right. And either one of these two projects would be one roundabout too many.

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