Editorial: Right call

A roundabout at Wakarusa and Harvard is a better and safer traffic solution than a four-way stop

A two-lane roundabout on Wakarusa at its intersection with Harvard Road makes sense, given the success of the roundabout at Wakarusa and Inverness Drive.

Lawrence city commissioners reviewed reconstruction plans Tuesday to replace the current four-way stop at Wakarusa and Harvard with the roundabout. Commissioners were mostly favorable toward the project.

The work on the Wakarusa-Harvard intersection is part of the approximately $3 million allotted by the city’s 2017 capital improvement plan to reconstruct Wakarusa Drive from Inverness Drive to Sixth Street. The Kansas Department of Transportation has agreed to pay 90 percent of the cost of the roundabout, up to $600,000. The city’s portion of the project will be funded with infrastructure sales tax funds.

The adjoining street reconstruction is south of the Wakarusa-Harvard roundabout. Concept plans call for five 11-foot-wide traffic lanes, including a center turn lane. The reconstruction will include 5-foot-wide bike lanes and 6-foot-wide sidewalks on either side of the roadway.

None of this is surprising. When city commissioners voted to approve the Wakarusa-Inverness roundabout in 2013, city engineers said a roundabout for Wakarusa Drive and Harvard Road was next.

The primary benefit of roundabouts is safety. Studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and by the Federal Highway Administration have shown that roundabouts significantly reduced injury collisions at intersections where stop signs or signals were previously used for traffic control. Because they allow for a steady and constant flow of entry into the intersection, roundabouts also reduce traffic congestion caused by red lights and stop signs.

On low-traffic roadways, signals and four-way stop signs have proven to be more efficient traffic control techniques, but the growing traffic on Wakarusa certainly would seem to warrant the roundabout.

The primary negative to roundabouts in the U.S. has been drivers’ lack of familiarity with them. But studies have shown that drivers generally adapt quickly. That seems to be the case at Wakarusa and Inverness, which became the largest roundabout in the city when it opened to traffic in January 2015. The new Wakarusa-Harvard roundabout will be identical to the Wakarusa-Inverness roundabout, City Engineer David Cronin said.

That’s a good thing. The city’s use and design of roundabouts has steadily improved over the years, and the Wakarusa-Inverness intersection is the best effort yet. That design should work well at Wakarusa and Harvard.