Thanks to the Lawrence city commissioners who are raising objections to a proposal to put a large traffic roundabout in the intersection of Ninth and New Hampshire streets.
It’s been a while since roundabouts and traffic-calming circles were addressed in this space. The community has become resigned to the presence of the questionable structures in many residential neighborhoods.
However, the proposal to install at Ninth and New Hampshire a roundabout as large as the one located at 19th and Barker streets certainly is worthy of closer examination by city commissioners.
The proposal was put on hold Tuesday night after two city commissioners — Mike Amyx and Aron Cromwell — raised questions and objections to the plan. Their action may not stop the roundabout project but it at least put it off until commissioners could take a closer look at how the structure would affect traffic and safety at the location.
The roundabout is being proposed by the development group involved in projects on three corners of the intersection. They say the roundabout “will increase traffic mobility and flow, and increase traffic safety and pedestrian safety.” It also will provide an opportunity, they added, to decorate the intersection by placing a piece of artwork in the center of the roundabout.
Public art is great, but it is not the top priority for a heavily used intersection like Ninth and New Hampshire. Developments in that area are bound to increase pedestrian traffic so pedestrian safety should be of utmost importance. Cromwell correctly noted that the roundabout at 19th and Barker is extremely dangerous for pedestrians. The current four-way stop at Ninth and New Hampshire requires all motorists to stop and look for pedestrians. Roundabouts encourage motorists to keep moving unless they see pedestrians or other vehicles to whom they must yield. Although traffic engineers argue that roundabouts promote traffic safety by providing a barrier that forces vehicles to slow down, the structures are designed to promote traffic flow, not pedestrian flow.
At Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners also were told that more detailed design work would have to be done to show that delivery trucks, fire engines and other large vehicles — city buses? — could negotiate the roundabout. If the many large vehicles that frequent downtown are forced to drive up over the roundabout’s curb to get around the intersection, keeping the circle in good repair could be a monumental task. A roundabout as big as the one at 19th and Barker also seems too large for that downtown location.
Perhaps additional design work will convince commissioners and the community that a roundabout is desirable at that location, but they shouldn’t be too quick to accept this plan. Aesthetics are important, but not as important as traffic and pedestrian safety.