The future of Urbana’s lone roundabout was the topic of discussion during a public meeting held Thursday in the city’s municipal building. Attendees saw design plans for the Monument Square Roundabout Safety Improvements Project, scheduled for construction in 2019.
City Engineer Tyler Bumbalough said the U.S Route 36/U.S. Route 68 intersection, converted from traffic signals to a roundabout in 2009, is used by over 20,000 drivers a day and has reached the point where it could benefit from a facelift.
“This was our low-cost way to try out a roundabout,” he said. “So far, we think it’s worked as far as getting traffic through with less congestion.”
Safety, however, is something the city would like to address after a study done in late 2015 by Burgess & Niple, the engineering firm hired to design improvements for the roundabout, revealed that 65 crashes happened within the intersection during a three-year period. While none of them resulted in fatalities, Bumbalough said that an average of 22 accidents per year is well above the national average of 13 crashes per year in similar urban roundabouts.
By undertaking the Monument Square Roundabout Safety Improvements Project, Bumbalough said, the city is “trying to move on to the next evolution here, which will aim to make the roundabout safer for both vehicles and pedestrians.”
He added there are several reasons the city has had an issue over the past eight years with accidents or close calls within the roundabout. The most glaring issue involves a certain piece of infrastructure widely seen in other roundabouts around the state but nonexistent in Urbana – curbing of some sort.
“There aren’t any medians guiding vehicles or slowly them down on the approaches,” Bumbalough said. “These physical barriers help a vehicle slow down naturally.”
What the Monument Square roundabout does have – yellow striping – is being ignored in many cases, he added, by motorists traveling through on a daily basis.
“Yellow means don’t cross it, yet we see that quite a bit,” Bumbalough said.
Brian Moore, a representative of Burgess & Niple, said while the firm is early in the design phase that’s scheduled to continue through 2018, the primary focus is on putting physical barriers in the form of medians or islands in the areas currently striped yellow.
These barriers, which will allow for large trucks and emergency vehicles to maneuver through the roundabout, will help to achieve the following: Define vehicle lanes, slow vehicles, create refuge areas for pedestrians using the crosswalks, improve sight distance, and reduce confusion in the corner parking areas.
“What’s going on out there right now is that it’s just all striped out,” Moore said. “We don’t have any defined curbs to really guide the vehicles where to go. When I first drove through it, I thought it was kind of like the wild west. You could just kind of go wherever you wanted.”
The current project design shows curbed islands being installed between the coming and going lanes in all four directions, while smaller medians will be constructed between all four thru-lanes and right-turn lanes to help guide traffic. The striped circle around the monument would be transformed into a slightly-raised, mountable structure known as a truck apron.
To try to prevent sideswipe accidents from happening inside the roundabout, Moore said, the right-turn lanes will be realigned to point more toward the right instead of the current alignment, which points more toward the through lane and could be mistaken as such by drivers unfamiliar with the intersection.
Additional proposed improvements to the infrastructure inside the roundabout include turning the current loading zone in each quadrant into a landscaped island, while curb bumpouts would be installed at all corners to help direct traffic in and out of the parking areas.
Another idea is to eliminate a few parking spots during the daytime near the corner of each exiting lane. These spots would be used during certain hours as loading and unloading zones.
Moore added that feedback from the public concerning every aspect of the project is appreciated and can be directed to the city, which is currently accepting all suggestions and concerns. Comment forms can be picked up at the engineer’s office in the municipal building or printed off the city’s website at urbanaohio.com. All forms are due back to the city by March 13.
To help those navigating the downtown by foot, the project focuses on increasing safety at all four main crosswalks in the square, as well as the ones at the Miami Street/Walnut Street intersection and Scioto Street/Locust Street intersection.
The first line of defense involves alerting drivers entering the roundabout area of upcoming crosswalks by installing rectangular rapid-flashing beacons on each side of all six crosswalks in the project area.
“Essentially, if someone wants to cross at that point, they hit a button and it flashes, kind of like a strobe on a police car,” Moore said. “It’s activated when the user wants to cross. It’s been a pretty highly effective device for crossing these types of situations.”
Additionally, creating what Moore calls “splitter islands” between the entering and exiting lanes of the roundabout in all four directions will prevent pedestrians from needing to cross all lanes of traffic at once.
“The nice thing with those is we’ve got a little refugee island in here so pedestrians, as they are crossing, can seek refuge in the middle and then they can focus on crossing the rest of the way,” he said.
Moore added additional lighting is proposed to improve visibility, while the curb ramps at every corner will be updated to meet current Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards.
Costs, construction timeline
The Monument Square Roundabout Safety Improvements Project is expected to cost $769,000, which includes paving and construction inspection costs.
The project will be funded through $345,000 in Ohio Department of Transportation Highway Safety Improvement Program funds, $176,000 in ODOT Small City Program funds, $133,000 in ODOT Urban Resurfacing Program funds, and $115,000 in local funding.
Emilie Worley, a representative of Burgess & Niple, said construction is slated to begin in 2019 with the center circle around the monument the first section addressed.
At this point in construction, she said, drivers and pedestrians will have full access to the roundabout as normal.
Once the center circle is finished, construction crews will close one approach into the roundabout at a time. At this time, only emergency vehicles will be allowed to pass through that particular approach if needed.
“While one is closed, the square will function as a T-intersection,” Worley said. “Pedestrians will still be able to get through to all the businesses. Parking might be closed here or there at different times, but for the most part, everybody is still going to be able to get downtown.”
Worley anticipates construction will take six months.
“Construction is always fun and tempers flare, but it’s short-term pain for a long-term gain,” she said.