Representatives from Burgess & Niple, a Columbus-based engineering and architectural firm hired by the city of Urbana to study the Monument Square roundabout, presented a conceptual design of proposed improvements to the U.S. Route 36/U.S. Route 68 intersection to over a dozen community members on Monday during a public forum held at the municipal building.
Community Development Manager Doug Crabill said that when the intersection was converted from traffic signals to a roundabout back in 2009, it was done so as a “relatively low-cost conversion.” Now the city has begun looking into moving forward with the next evolution of the roundabout through the Monument Square Improvements Project.
City Engineer Tyler Bumbalough noted one of the biggest issues with the current state of the roundabout is drivers not using the roundabout correctly – mainly driving through the prohibited areas that are painted yellow.
“We are looking at ways to help us keep people where they need to be as they traverse through it,” he said, adding 25,000 vehicles travel through the roundabout per day.
Citing 65 documented crashes – three of which involved bicyclists – in the roundabout over the past three years, Burgess & Niple representative Brian Moore said, “The number one goal (of this study) is to improve the safety of the intersection.”
While the number of crashes over the past three years is down from the previous three years, Moore added 65 crashes over a three-year stretch (21.67 per year) is “relatively high” considering studies show most roundabouts average 13 crashes per year.
After conducting a traffic study of the roundabout over the past few weeks, Moore said, he believes the higher rate of vehicle accidents per year in Monument Square is caused by a lack of curbing to direct drivers where to go, multiple entrances to parking lots, path overlap on multiple approaches and sight distance.
Solving safety issues
After analyzing all the data from the study, Moore said, the firm believes the best solution for reducing crashes and improving pedestrian safety within Monument Square is constructing curbs throughout the roundabout.
Essentially, the plan calls for curbed islands to be installed in most, if not all of the areas currently painted with yellow lines.
As for the yellow-striped circle around the Man on the Monument, the initial plan is to construct a raised truck apron to keep traffic flowing through the circle by preventing vehicles from being able to cut through the current painted circle.
Moore said the installation of curbed islands would slow down vehicles, create defined areas for the vehicles to traverse through, improve sight distance for drivers and reduce confusion in the parking lots.
The curbed islands would also help with pedestrian safety at all four crosswalks by creating what Moore called “refuge islands” for pedestrians. These refuge islands, which would be located in the middle of each crosswalk, would give pedestrians a safe place to stop in order to make sure drivers are aware of their presence before continuing to cross the rest of the street.
In regard to the parking areas inside Monument Square, the initial plan calls for the current loading zone areas to be removed in favor of curbed islands. To accommodate for delivery vehicles, loading zones would be created at various spots located just past the crosswalks as to not interfere with any lines of sight for pedestrians or drivers. For example, a loading zone could be placed after the crosswalk on South Main Street in front of Carmazzi’s or past the crosswalk on North Main Street in front Security National Bank, Crabill said.
Public concerns addressed
Several downtown business owners in attendance voiced their concerns with pedestrian safety inside the crosswalks, stating the simple act of crossing the street in the roundabout presents a danger to every pedestrian no matter the time of day.
Moore said to address this safety concern, flashing pedestrian crossing beacons could be installed prior to the crosswalks to alert drivers, and for visibility issues at night, light poles could be installed in these same areas as well.
Another issue brought forth by business owners during the forum was the need to address how fast some drivers try to get through the roundabout.
The initial plan for improvements to the roundabout, Moore said, include design elements that would reduce speeding. He said the presence of curbed islands would result in drivers only being able to safely traverse through the roundabout at a maximum speed of 13 to 14 miles per hour, while the installation of raised crosswalks would help to slow down traffic before entering the roundabout.
Crabill said the findings of the study and the conceptual design detailing the proposed improvements to the roundabout will both be presented next week by the city and Burgess & Niple to representatives from the Ohio Department of Transportation District 7 for review.
If ODOT approves of the city’s plans for the Monument Square Improvements Project, Crabill said, the next step would be to seek funding for the project either through ODOT’s Small City Program or through ODOT safety funding.
“This study gives us what we need to apply for these grants,” Crabill said.
To get a jump-start on the grant process, Urbana City Council on Tuesday heard the second reading of a resolution that if passed on Feb. 16, would allow Director of Administration Kerry Brugger to submit an application to ODOT under its Small City Program for funding for the roundabout improvements.
Crabill said during council’s Jan. 19 meeting that if ODOT approves the city’s application for Small City Program funding, 95 percent of the Monument Square Improvements Project would be funded with grant dollars.
Joshua Keeran may be reached at 937-652-1331 (ext. 1774) or on Twitter @UDCKeeran.