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Round 1 to the roundaboutThe Madison/ High School intersection may yet see a circle.
"Fits and starts, or endless circles?The city public works department is steering toward the latter - a traffic roundabout - as it plans major changes to the High School Road/Madison Avenue intersection this summer.And the city council agreed Wednesday, authorizing formal engineering of a single-lane roundabout as an alternative to an already-planned traffic signal.The decision is not final, but informal discussion suggested general support among council members.I see nothing that can't be overcome with education and good engineer design, Councilwoman Elizabeth Murray said.In a multi-media presentation prepared by the public works department - including video footage shot at a similar roundabout in University Place - Director Randy Witt and engineer Lorenz Eber touted the advantages of roundabouts, common in Europe and said to be enjoying increasing popularity in American cities.Eber described an installation with circular, counter-clockwise traffic flow. Entering traffic would yield to vehicles already in the roundabout, and motorists making a left turn would go 270 degrees around the circle and exit with a right turn.The advantages, Eber said, are numerous, including 30 percent higher traffic capacity than signalized intersections, and improved safety, as vehicle speeds are about 20 mph. There are also fewer conflict points, where vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians can run afoul of each other.Under a tentative design, crosswalks would be located about four car lengths back from the roundabout; splinter islands dividing the lanes would give those crossing the street safe haven halfway across.The roundabout was touted as generally superior to a signal - particularly in terms of air pollution, as long queues of vehicles wind up idling when a light is against them.One fact without dispute - the days of the four-way stop signs at the intersection are over. Backups of 10 cars in each direction are not uncommon, with delays of a minute or more. Measured in terms of functionality, Eber said, at peak driving times the intersection is now classified as level of service E or F - breakdown conditions.School and fire district officials offered qualified support for the roundabout, citing pros and cons of loops near schools and fire halls elsewhere in the state.But several interests, including Bainbridge Library representatives and others from neighboring churches, complained that they've been left out of the loop. We have doubts this traffic circle meets the needs of library uses, particularly pedestrians, said Cindy Harrison, library manager. Also, under the preliminary design the library would lose about four parking spaces in its north lot.Others questioned whether island motorists could make sense of the change, or if they would choose new routes to get to and from town.Some people freak out at these kinds of things, Bruce Martin said. It's going to change the traffic pattern, I believe.Conceded Witt: The one advantage of the signal - and it's a big one - (is that) everybody knows how to use it.Witt said neighbors would be consulted as the project is further engineered. Both the design and decision process are on an accelerated schedule, because the change will be folded into the reconstruction of High School Road from Madison Avenue to Sportsman Club Road this summer. That project has yet to go out to bid.The public works department is seeking input in writing to city hall, or via email at email@example.com. "