Archive for Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Editorial: Wrong spot

The center of a multi-lane traffic roundabout is the wrong place for a public art installation.

December 18, 2013


Public art is great, and Lawrence’s investment in art to accent various public buildings around town has been money well spent.

The city’s Percent for Art program, which allows a portion of spending on public works projects to be dedicated to purchasing art, has resulted in many visual delights in Lawrence. Sculptures like “Flame” at City Hall and “Mobility” at the Lawrence Visitors Center are attractive and send the message that the city and its residents appreciate and value the arts.

That being said, however, it makes no sense to extend the Percent for Arts programs to street projects, such as traffic roundabouts.

Last week, the Lawrence Cultural Arts Commission decided to ask the Lawrence City Commission to include an art project in the design for the new roundabout planned for Wakarusa Drive at its intersection with Legends/Inverness. The Percent for Arts says the city may set aside up to 2 percent of the cost of all capital improvement projects for acquisition and installation of art in public places. Its definition of capital improvements includes city buildings and renovations, parking facilities and lots, park improvements, park land and recreation facilities.

Routine street projects aren’t eligible, city officials say, but the cultural arts commission sees roundabouts as a gray area: not exactly parks, but more than routine street work. The roundabout project is consistent with the “spirit” of the Percent for Arts program, they say. Besides, said one commissioner, “We don’t have enough opportunities,” to spend city money on public art.

Once again, public art is great. It’s wonderful to have artwork that people can enjoy when they visit a park or are stopped at a major intersection. However, when drivers are negotiating the new multi-lane roundabout on Wakarusa Drive, they need to keep their eyes on the road, not on a lovely sculpture in the middle of the circle. The same goes for pedestrians at the intersection. Traffic moving around the circle would prevent anyone from getting too close to the artwork and, to the extent it captures people’s attention, it could be a dangerous distraction.

As part of their discussion arts commissioners also suggested that the Percent for Arts program might be applied to city trails projects. That idea deserves consideration. Unlike people driving around a roundabout, people walking on a trail have a good opportunity to view and enjoy an artistic endeavor.

But, please, not on the roundabout. Whether or not you are a fan of this popular new scheme for traffic control, installing artwork in the eye of the circle would not be a good use of city money.


Ken Lassman 4 years, 3 months ago many folks have taken a taxi, bus or rented a car just to be able to take the roundabout that circles the Arc de Triumphe at the Place de Etoile in Paris? Beautiful fountains, sculptures and monuments are linked to roundabouts around the world, and even locally as a kid I remember the thrill of getting my parents to circle the Chi Omega fountain on the KU campus.

You are entitled to your opinion about the potential dangers of linking art and roundabouts, but unless you have some statistics that bear that out, it's just your empty opinion. Isn't that what good journalism is supposed to ferret out for us readers? In contrast, polls of favorite roundabouts all around the world place the ones with great art in the middle as being consistently at the top of the list. Lawrence already has one roundabout with a fountain, and I daresay a poll would put it at the top of the list of favorite roundabouts--why not give it some worthy competition?

Scott Batson 4 years, 3 months ago

Many people confuse older styles of circular intersections with modern roundabouts. East coast rotaries, large multi-lane traffic circles (Arc D’Triumph), and neighborhood traffic circles are not modern roundabouts. If you want to see the difference between a traffic circle, a rotary (UK roundabout) and a modern roundabout (UK continental roundabout), go to to see pictures. And here’s another site that shows the difference between an older rotary and a modern roundabout: The FHWA ( has a video about modern roundabouts that is mostly accurate ( ).

Richard Heckler 4 years, 3 months ago

Just think of this request for art in the roundabout as a low maintenance landscape plan. Low maintenance landscaping with art seems reasonable. The sculpture mixed with beautiful very large stones and river rock.

Would not a beautiful landscape with foliage be equally as distracting? Yet wayyyyy more maintenance?

Richard Heckler 4 years, 3 months ago

Easton Pennsylvania Traffic Circle

Scott Burkhart 4 years, 3 months ago

Nice link, Heckler. Did your hands finally cramp up at the keyboard?

Beator 4 years, 3 months ago

Art is a personal choice. Like religion, I don't want someone else's art shoved down my throat because they think it's good for me.

Ken Lassman 4 years, 3 months ago

By your logic, since architectural style is a personal choice, having a home that is visible to the public is a violation of your personal aesthetic and therefore visual access to all buildings should be walled off so that your eyes do not have to be offended by seeing an architectural style that you find offensive. But what do you wall it off with? Any screen that is constructed has form and is therefore subject to the same potentially offensive content as that which it is screening off from your sensibilities. This quickly turns into a bizarre kind of world view at best.

Successful public art stands the test of time, appeals to a cross section of the community and holds up to repeated exposure. Adding such pieces to a roundabout has been a successful combination that has worked worldwide and even locally (Chi Omega fountain).

Beator 4 years, 3 months ago

By your logic, art the public pays for is short for "architectural style"? Thanks. I didn't know that.

Julius Nolan 4 years, 3 months ago

Just get a stack of crushed cars from local wrecking yard . Will be fitting monument for results from this fiasco of a roundabout.

Scott Batson 4 years, 3 months ago

 Modern roundabouts are the safest form of intersection in the world.  Visit for modern roundabout FAQs and safety facts.  Modern roundabouts, and the pedestrian refuge islands approaching them, are two of nine proven safety measures identified by the FHWA,

John Graham 4 years, 3 months ago

I assume based on the other "art" the city has paid taxpayer dollars for to place around town whatever "art" is chosen will cost well into the 5 figures and no one will have a clue as to what it is supposed to symbolize. I can guarantee that whatever it is, it will in no way be comparable to those pieces of art found in Paris mentioned above. I can also guarantee busses will not be hired to drive around it just to view it.

Scott Batson 4 years, 3 months ago

If you’re looking at the other side of a modern roundabout when you’re entering, you’re driving unsafely. Drivers entering a modern roundabout should first look for pedestrians, then watch for other motorists coming from the left and then watch for pedestrians when exiting. The motorist on the other side of the circle won’t get to you for 5 or ten seconds. Obscured views across the central island is one of the safety features.

Roundabout Art: French Video: Video 2: Topito top 25, France: Bend Art drive: PixPlot Roundabouts: Art in traffic circles, flickr: Art in roundabouts, flicker: Podcetrtek Traffic Circle located in Slovenia

Ken Lassman 4 years, 3 months ago

Thanks for the many additional fine examples of roundabouts with lots of public art, monuments and displays in the middle. Seems that this is not a big issue in Europe at all, or Lawrence, for that matter since our first roundabout circles a fountain.

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