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The DOT has a PR problem; give the roundabout a fair hearing

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By Saturday, Nov 24, 2018 Viewpoints 11

It comes as no surprise that the proposed roundabout at the entrance to Great Barrington has sparked immediate, angry pushback. Maybe that’s because everyone who has a driver’s license has strong feelings about traffic engineering.

But here’s the thing;  just because I use a faucet doesn’t make me a plumber. The data and science of  traffic studies and engineering are real, verifiable things. Wouldn’t it be foolish to dismiss them out of hand,  assuming we know better?

The majority of negative opinions about the roundabout can be summed up like this:

  1. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” (and “don’t spend the money.”)
  2. “How can this intersection be dangerous when I use it every day?”
  3. “Roundabouts are baffling and unsafe.”
  4. “With a roundabout, traffic will be backed up to Bridge Street.”

Here are answers the DOT gave to these objections in a public hearing this week.

  1. It does need fixing. The intersection of Routes 7 and 23 isin fact broken – it’s in disrepair,  doesn’t meet code for pedestrians,  offers no options for bikes,  and has an unacceptably high “crash rate.” The high crash rate is why the roundabout project qualifies for federal highway safety funds. (No local money is being spent.)
  2. It is dangerous. The signalized intersection is dangerous because of high approach speeds. Route 23 has a very wide, low-angle entry to Route 7, essentially the ‘”lingshot effect” like a highway on-ramp. When drivers try to beat the light (a common occurrence) their speed can top 55-60 mph — in an intersection with no bike lanes or pedestrian safety.

The intersection is also dangerous because lines of waiting vehicles can block the Police Department, obstructing emergency response.

  1. Roundabouts make sense.They are common all over the world and quickly understood. Because all traffic flows in one direction, roundabouts have a better safety record – fewer crashes and lower-impact events than high-speed signalized intersections.
  2. Roundabouts move traffic better. Because roundabouts eliminate 30-second wait times and “queuing,” they process traffic volumes more efficiently than signals. Current and future volumes would be better handled.

Again, it’s easy to say “I use it, therefore I know,’ but maybe the pros actually DO know. It’s all too easy nowadays to dismiss professionals and scientists as partisans, or disbelieve hard data that “just doesn’t feel right.”

We all know the DOT isn’t exactly popular – it seemed to catch the blame for Barrington’s Main Street makeover. But its mission is safety, and the GB Police and Fire Departments are on board with this project.

I would like to see us give the roundabout a fair hearing. It might just be that traffic engineers (and drivers all around the world) know what they’re doing.

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11 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Ivan Kruh says:

    Well said. Anyway, anyone who uses that intersection as a pedestrian KNOWS it is broken from experience. As a resident in the area using it to walk into town frequently I trust but do not need the data to know the intersection is very, very broken. Crossing 23 east on the west side of 7, especially with children in your care, can give you a heart attack as you try to guess which cars will stop at the light to make a left on to 7 north and which ones will fly through the ramp to make a right on to 7 south. Even worse is the next leg of that journey – crossing 23 west as cars fly onto it from 7 south with poor visibility for driver and pedestrian, and not a lot of time for drivers to stop for unexpected pedestrians in the crosswalk. Walking from your home to downtown should not pose such a risk. I personally thank the DOT for taking this on!

    1. Craig Okerstrom-Lang says:

      This GB’s south and west gateway intersection and the round about will be a vast improvement both for safety and for aesthetics.

      Right now vehicles zoom onto our Main Street well above the speed limit from this intersection.

      And there is no safe way for pedestrians and bikes to cross there.

  2. Pamela Johnson says:

    I’m just back from England where traffic is typically denser than here but is managed very effectively by lots of roundabouts. People objecting possibly haven’t had much exposure to them. The 23/ 7 intersection looks like it would really benefit from one.

  3. Ann C says:

    So why, after decades of frustrated, often confused, drivers did Pittsfield finally get rid of the Park Square roundabout?

    1. Bobby Houston says:

      Hi Ann- Park Square wasnt a roundabout but what is known as a racetrack, sending drivers many hundreds of feet out of their way in order to continue north. Of course it was confusing, it was dumb….

  4. Jan Wojcik says:

    There is a tendency for the DOT to make roundabouts a common solution for everything.
    Case in point, in Amherst, they took an intersection near Atkins Farmstand to change the intersection of Rt 116 and Bay Road with the placement of not one but two roundabouts.
    Watching trailer trucks navigate that mess is not amusing.
    The same issue will apply with trailer trucks driving north on Rt 7 and wanting to head west on Rt 23. As in Amherst, they will have to have the trailer go over the fully paved roundabout in order to make the left change in direction.
    The intersection needs improvement without a doubt, I just don’t see the advertised solution as the best.

  5. Shawn says:

    The roundabout will look nice, especially b/c that is the entrance to our town.

  6. Joseph Method says:

    Sounds good to me.

  7. Thomas McClelland says:

    The intersection definitely needs improvements. But this one has parculiarities that need consideration from the community. There are 7 driveways within 50 yards of the intersection. DOT did not address this. We don’t want bumper cars.

    1. Tom Blauvelt says:

      HI Tom,
      The DOT did address the situation with driveways. I have attached a quote from the original article”:
      Moore said the new design would improve access from those driveways, though he did acknowledge that it will involve easements and the likely taking of very small portions of land from three property owners: the owners of the Searles Castle property; McTeigue and McClelland jewelers; and the town of Great Barrington, which owns the land on which the police station sits.

  8. Laura Keefner says:

    Whatever happened to the state fixing the ugly and bouncing brown bridge?

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