Roundabouts and traffic calming circles have become an increasing part of the Lawrence streetscape in recent years.
Motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians have gotten accustomed, for the most part, to the new traffic structures, but a proposal to place one, and probably two, huge roundabouts on Wakarusa Drive between Bob Billings Parkway and Sixth Street deserves more than cursory discussion by Lawrence city commissioners.
Commissioners are being asked to provide feedback tonight on plans to rebuild Wakarusa Drive north of Oread West Drive. As part of that project, the city staff is recommending the construction of what would be the city’s largest roundabout at the intersection of Wakarusa and Legends/Inverness Drive. Traffic at that intersection, they say, is heavy enough to warrant increased traffic control. Traffic lights would be another option for the intersection, which now is a four-way stop, but the roundabout is preferable, they say for a number of reasons.
Cost is one. They say traffic lights at the intersection would cost about $500,000, including the cost of adding left-turn lanes on Inverness and Legends. The roundabout would cost $350,000, they estimate, but that figure doesn’t include the required acquisition of property on commercial lots to the west and residential backyards to the east.
The fact that roundabouts and circles place an obstacle in the intersection does serve to reduce the speeds of motorists, but traffic officials’ claim that the structures improve traffic flow and safety for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians seems open to debate. This particular roundabout would involve a not-simple traffic pattern connecting single lanes of east-west traffic, with Wakarusa’s double lanes moving north and south. The squiggly signs in materials that accompany tonight’s commission agenda provide some clues about traffic flow, but the double-lane roundabout almost certainly will cause some headaches, especially for out-of-town drivers.
Another important factor on the Wakarusa plan is the footnote that IF a roundabout is constructed at Inverness/Legends Drive, another similar structure likely will be proposed later at Harvard Road, less than a half-mile to the north. That’s a lot of driving in circles in the nine blocks between Sixth Street and Bob Billings Parkway.
As noted above, Lawrence residents have grown accustomed to the increased number of traffic circles in the city, but it’s obvious that many out-of-town motorists still find them confusing. Perhaps the proposed roundabout at Wakarusa and Legends/Inverness is the best plan for the intersection, but commissioners should look carefully at all the relevant factors for the entire stretch of street from Bob Billings to Sixth Street before making their decision.