I attended a recent informational meeting outlining the various options for the reconstruction of a 1.4 mile stretch of South Hastings Way next year. I was shocked to learn that a few of the alternatives included development of two roundabouts: One at the Fenwick Avenue intersection, and the other where Main Street intersects with the roadway.
Roundabouts are the circular intersections with yield control of all entering traffic, channelized approaches, counter-clockwise circulation and appropriate geometric curvature to ensure that travel speeds on the circulatory roadway are typically less than 30 miles per hour.
That's the definition according to state transportation officials. But I define roundabouts as a potential traffic hazard.
My experience driving through roundabouts includes the neighborhood feature at Rudolph and Golf Roads in Eau Claire, which was built presumably to lower vehicular speeds. The roundabout along Highway 124 as one enters or exits downtown Chippewa Falls is a bit more complicated for drivers because it merges traffic from Highway 29.
I'm glad that I am not enrolled in drivers' education classes right now. Not only are roundabouts confusing for new drivers, but there are plenty more mature motorists that approach the traffic circles as if they are ready to drive off a cliff.
Roundabouts are cited in numerous traffic studies as being a safer alternative to traffic signals. But if the question about roundabout safety was put to semi-truck drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists or runners, I'm sure the answers would be different.
Thankfully, brighter minds prevailed in the traffic study for South Hastings Way and will not include any roundabouts. In fact, the five new traffic signals will be of the high-tech variety and will have better safety features and offer more flexibility as traffic counts change along Business 53.
Overall, the design of the $8.5 million project looks aesthetically pleasing. The current six-lane highway will be reduced to four lanes with room on both sides that will cater to bikers, walkers and runners.
But if the new Business 53 is being designed to be more user-friendly for all modes of transportation, then roundabouts probably should not have been part of the discussion in the first place. Driving on city roadways is scary enough at times without having to worry about getting behind a driver that is afraid to drive around a circle counter-clockwise.