While downtown Urbana is most notably known for the Man on the Monument statue, the roundabout is becoming another object synonymous with the center of the city.
Previously controlled by traffic signals, the intersection of U.S. Route 36 and U.S. Route 68 has been operating as a roundabout since 2009. To celebrate its upcoming 10th anniversary, city officials have ordered a facelift.
City Engineer Tyler Bumbalough said when the conversion took place last decade, the project was the city’s “low-cost way to try out a roundabout.” While he added the roundabout has helped ease congestion at an intersection used by over 20,000 drivers a day, safety concerns prompted the city to move forward with the Monument Square Roundabout Safety Improvements Project, scheduled to take place in 2019.
“(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,” Bumbalough said.
Burgess & Niple, the engineering firm hired to design the improvements to the roundabout, conducted a traffic study that revealed that while no one has been killed within the roundabout, 65 crashes were reported during a three-year period. The 22 crashes per year average, Bumbalough said, is well above the national average of 13 crashes per year in comparable urban roundabouts.
While many roundabouts contain some sort of curbing or physical barriers, Urbana’s low-cost version is without, which could explain the increased rate of accidents.
“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.”
In place of curbing, the roundabout is littered with yellow striping often ignored by motorists making their way through downtown Urbana.
“Yellow means don’t cross it, yet we see that quite a bit,” Bumbalough said.
Public given chance to sound off
During a public hearing held in February, city officials and representatives from Burgess & Niple laid out the plans for the Monument Square Roundabout Safety Improvements Project, while giving those who attended a chance to weigh in on the proposed changes.
Following the meeting, the city gave the public an additional month to submit concerns or suggestions pertaining to the project.
Bumbalough said the response from the community was “good” as 20 individuals shared their comments and suggestions.
“There were many good, constructive comments that will warrant some extra thought as Burgess and Niple refines their preferred alternative,” Bumbalough said. “Many times, the city and Burgess and Niple will be tasked with meshing interests of pedestrians with interests of motorists.”
He added the next step will be the “full-fledged design” of improvements to be made to the roundabout when construction commences in 2019.
Curbing future accidents
In February, Brian Moore, a representative of Burgess & Niple, said the the primary focus of the project is installing curbed medians and islands in the areas currently striped yellow.
Installing these physical barriers in and leading to the roundabout, he said, will help 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 most recent project design presented to the public in February showed curbed islands between the coming and going lanes in all four directions, while smaller medians are planned 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.
In an attempt to reduce sideswipe accidents 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.
As for the loading zones located in each of the four parking quadrants within Monument Square, the plan is for each one to be transformed into a landscaped island.
To make up for the loss of four loading zones, the project calls for various parking spots near the corner of each exiting lane of the roundabout to be designated as loading zones during a specified time frame that will be established later.
For those making their way through the downtown area on foot, the Monument Square Roundabout Improvements 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 the Scioto Street/Locust Street intersection.
First and foremost, the pedestrian safety portion of the project focuses on making drivers aware of the 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.”
To help pedestrians feel a bit safer as they navigate through the crosswalks, the project calls for the construction of refugee islands between the entering and exiting lanes of the roundabout in all four directions, so pedestrians won’t need to cross all three 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 details
All said and done, the Monument Square Roundabout Safety Improvements Project, which includes the repaving of the roadway, is expected to cost $769,000.
The city’s share of the project will total $115,000 as the following funding amounts have been secured to covered the majority of the total costs: $345,000 in Ohio Department of Transportation Highway Safety Improvement Program funds, $176,000 in ODOT Small City Program funds, and $133,000 in ODOT Urban Resurfacing Program funds.
During the February public hearing, 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.
This initial work, she said, won’t affect drivers or pedestrians as both will have full access to the roundabout as normal.
Once the center circle is finished, however, construction crews will close one approach into the roundabout at a time. During these closings, only emergency vehicles will be allowed to pass through that particular approach.
“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 added she anticipates once construction begins, it should be wrapped up in approximately six months.
Joshua Keeran may be reached at 937-508-2304 or on Twitter @UDCKeeran.