Tue08192014

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Traffic expert promotes roundabouts for Los Altos


Photo By: Ellie Van HOutte/Town Crier
Photo Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier

Traffic expert Michael Wallwork extols the safety benefits of roundabouts in Los Altos at a May 15 forum.

A traffic expert deems roadway roundabouts an ideal solution that demands a second look from skeptical Los Altos residents.

“Even a bad roundabout works,” said Michael Wallwork, a transportation engineer whose mission is to take the traffic-calming mechanism mainstream.

Since constructing Melbourne, Australia’s first roundabout in the 1970s, Wallwork has designed 800 roundabouts across the globe. He said roundabouts are not only aesthetically pleasing, but also much safer than signalized intersections. Melbourne’s 4,000 roundabouts recorded 57 accidents during a four-year study, while its 2,500 signalized intersections reported 1,352 accidents during a similar period.

Wallwork appeared at the Los Altos Forward-sponsored forum “Picture This: Roundabouts in Los Altos?” May 15, weighing in on a proposed roundabout at the convergence of San Antonio Road, Main Street and West Edith Avenue.

“It’s an expanse of asphalt,” he said of the current condition of the busy three-way intersection. “Each movement is working on a different phase, making waits long.”

Installing an elliptical roundabout at the intersection would benefit both pedestrians and motorists, according to Wallwork. Instead of waiting at a signal, he added, drivers could seamlessly merge into a traffic circle, yielding to pedestrians as they cross San Antonio to and from downtown to the civic center area.

Assistant City Manager James Walgren said the city has studied installing a roundabout as part of the Civic Center Master Plan, an effort to make the intersection “safer, more visual.”

Walgren emphasized that the redesign of the intersection could not only shorten the pedestrian link, but also allow the creation of a more appealing gateway entrance to downtown. Although further study by a traffic engineer, public review and council approval are still needed, he added, the vision for a roundabout is one that could come to fruition if the city secures project funding.

A recent proposal for a roundabout at the intersection of Fremont Avenue and Fallen Leaf Lane met with opposition from neighborhood residents.

“The concerns people have are the same in every community,” Wallwork said.

Because the roundabout concept is new to many U.S. cities, Wallwork said he frequently meets with residents to dispel misinformation about pedestrian and cycling safety as well as fire truck and emergency personnel navigation through traffic circles. With pre-project education, he said, proposals move forward 90 percent of the time.

When a roundabout is well designed, safety and operations improve immediately, according to Wallwork. Although the initial expense for a roundabout may be higher than stop signs or traffic signals, he added, the reduction in accidents and fatalities justifies the cost.

“It’s up to the people whether they move forward or give up,” Wallwork said of roundabouts in Los Altos.

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