Roundabouts: To be or not to be?

Nine have been proposed for Tower Road


This month commissioners may get to vote on whether they want to pack a stretch of Tower Road with roundabouts like this one shown on Glen Springs Road.

DOUG FINGER/ The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, January 3, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 2, 2006 at 11:31 p.m.
An issue that keeps circling back to the Alachua County Commission should return this month - Tower Road roundabouts.
Commissioners last month were primed with a presentation on the pros and cons of the traffic-moving structures that motorists seem to either adore or despise.
This month, commissioners may get to vote on whether they want to pack a stretch of Tower Road with roundabouts.
County engineer Dave Cerlanek said a recommendation is being developed for the commissioners that will likely call for nine of them.
"As far as it goes, that is probably going to be it. There are reasons for it, and we want to lay that all out in a presentation," Cerlanek said. "We are looking for a night time so that people can attend. We like to have the public comment."
Commissioners want to modify Tower Road to ease congestion without adding lanes. Tower Road is primarily two lanes, though it widens to four from SW 8th Avenue to Newberry Road.
No money has been set aside for the project, though the county has studied it extensively for the past 10 years.
The current plan calls for three roundabouts along with improvements for pedestrians and bicycle riders.
However, a new study for Tower Road has been developed for the Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization - which is made up primarily of members of the Alachua County and Gainesville city commissions.
That plan recommends nine roundabouts. Most median cuts would be eliminated, forcing drivers pulling onto Tower Road to make only right turns. Drivers who need to go in the other direction would circle through the nearest roundabout.
Having nine roundabouts would reduce the distance that motorists would need to backtrack.
In a recent presentation to the County Commission, Cerlanek said roundabouts in many circumstances work better than traditional intersections in maintaining a relatively smooth flow of traffic.
However, tie-ups still occur at some during peak traffic times, he added.
Studies done by federal and state transportation agencies indicate accidents are less severe in roundabouts than at regular intersections.
Cerlanek said roundabouts sometimes pose problems for bicyclists, who may find them tricky to navigate. They are also sometimes difficult for pedestrians, particularly those who are sight-impaired, said Cerlanek, citing various studies.
County Commissioner Mike Byerly, however, said the studies with which he is familiar indicate roundabouts are safer for walkers.
"I've been following this issue for years. One of the things that seems to be consistent throughout is the overwhelming superiority in terms of safety for pedestrians," Byerly said. "There is a difference of opinion about bicycles, but with pedestrians I've never been able to find one - ever - that roundabouts weren't superior."
Alachua County Public Works Director Rick Hedrick said safety measures are sometimes needed for pedestrians at roundabouts.
Police were needed at the Clearwater Beach roundabout so pedestrians could walk safely between the beach and the marina.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Paula DeLaney said in some European cities traffic is periodically stopped at roundabouts to allow pedestrians to cross.
"They have intersections with roundabouts that would make Archer Road pale in comparison in size, and in my experience they just stop all of the traffic so the pedestrians can go," DeLaney said. "It is still more efficient, I'm sure, than the stop and wait, but that is how they handle it. They stop all of the cars or you'd never get across."
Cerlanek said staff is trying to carve out time at a meeting this month for the discussion. A firm date has not been set.
Cindy Swirko can be reached at 374-5024 or swirkoc@ gvillesun.com.

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