Thursday, September 20, 2012


Yesterday's post tried to address the existing Winooski roundabout.  It is a project I have followed the planning phase forward.  But reflection leads to the conclusion one should not try to force fit changes on the traffic circle when the problem lies in the mission the available space was designed for and how best to address that mission and the transportation needs. That reflection leads to the following for consideration...

While the City and transportation planners try to fix the seven year old Winooski City Center roundabout, the “problem” really resides in the original concept, one which led to today's dead end traffic circle design with no satisfactory exit.
There exists a roundabout solution, but only after revising the entire design on the vast underutilized space surrounded by the 230 feet by 450 traffic circle-sized roundabout gets reallocated to productive functions. Most two lane roundabouts with walker traffic are under 200 feet in diameter like the Brattleboro Keene Turn Roundabout with a diameter of 172 feet with two laners as small as 150 feet in diameter.
Let's face it, the large central area of the roundabout operates as sort of a cemetery lot, dead space that is nice to look at but otherwise useless for most citizens. The City center area needs to primarily serve the needs of the adjacent businesses along with fostering social interaction and providing an urban ambiance—the dead space inside the circle succeeds in defeating that overall purpose.  Consider, for example, the sidewalk on the westside where the most popular breakfast spot in the region, Sneakers, with just a single line of outside tables making the narrow sidewalks almost impassible—just an example of the downside of the space now devoted to the dead central area. If the central roundabout island is so attractive and useful, for example, why does the Winooski Farmer's Market locate at the southeast corner of the roundabout adjacent to the Champlain Mill?
Everyone considers the walker signal access to the dead zone or to cross from the east to west side a safety issue and conflict welcome to neither walker nor driver.
The fix—when you look at the larger picture—becomes obvious. Forget the dead zone and serve the adjacent businesses and services, provide for safe walking and driving, and erase congestion. The solution? Why, a dumbbell of roundabouts of course! One each of about 150 feet in diameter on upper end and one at the lower end—with a central connector about 200 feet long north to south.
How does a Winooski Dumbbell help? It provides outstanding benefits to the businesses and transportation alike. First, it erases the long downgrade street segment which creates the speed problem dangerous to both drivers and walkers alike. Second, most of the land inside the dead zone becomes accessible to the east and west side so that plaza space becomes possible, workable parking occurs, and urban ambiance everyone seeks can be provided. Everyone wins. For walkers two safe new crossings are created similar in comfort to the north traffic circle crossings—and the southwest walker crossing where two of the three walker crashes occurred becomes low speed and far safer. West side parking might be faced eastward and the west side sidewalk more than doubled in width. The center City design would suddenly serve customers and citizens rather than the dead zone which looked nice in fancy plans but ends up totally useless, really a blight on the area and forcing the contorted and dangerous traffic circle now in place.
There are some short term considerations—raised crosswalks can increase walker safety and reduced vehicle speeds. Most important, trying to remedy a failed basic design makes no sense when an injury costs $126,000 and a fatality $6.1 million, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
A final note on walker safety. French roundabouts experience about one walker fatality yearly per 15,000 roundabouts and one walker injury per 225 “roundabout years.” Vermont walker injures so far are one in Montpelier and the three at Winooski when overall one walker injury would be anticipated to date. The walker crash rate at Winooski City Center Roundabout really rates the description astronomical. Note the death this year across the bridge in Burlington at the signalized intersection, Barrett Street and Colchester Avenue.

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