Monthly Archives: July 2015

Comparing roundabouts and traffic signals

The in basket: Al Shelborne of Kingston wants to know the cost comparison of traffic signals versus roundabouts , such as the one being built at the intersection of Holly Road and Seabeck Highway.

And Cindy Warwick of Seabeck spoke for what I’m sure are a number of skeptics that a roundabout is a good idea there. “Are they crazy?” she asked. “This roundabout thing isn’t going to work.”

The out basket: Cindy didn’t get a lot of comfort from me, as I have come to regard roundabouts as a major improvement in traffic control. Like yellow flashing left turn signals, they save a lot of waiting and idling, from a driver’s perspective. We’ll get to the Kitsap County’s perspective in a moment.

There is a learning curve with both, of course, and my stepdaughter, Ronda Armstrong, who lives out there, says she has seen a few drivers at the under-construction roundabout on Seabeck Highway turn left into it from Holly Road to go toward Silverdale, rather than going around to the right, as is required.

It’s hard to understand how a driver could be that unacquainted with roundabout driving with so many of them being built, so maybe those folks just decided to take advantage of the incompleteness of it all to save a second or two.

Anyway, about comparative costs. The county did a direct comparison of a roundabout and traffic signals before it built the Newberry Hill-Chico Way-Silverdale Way roundabout and found the signals to be slightly more costly. I wrote at the time that that analysis probably wouldn’t persuade a roundabout-hater, as there were a lot of variables and assumptions.

This time, they didn’t bother with such a cost comparison (sorry, Al) , and hang their hat on the greater safety and lower ongoing maintenance and operation costs.

Here’s how Tina Nelson, the county’s senior program manager puts it:

“The county conducts a traffic study for every Roads Capital Improvement Project. Typical study elements for an intersection are operation and safety. The data collected told us that traffic control was needed at the intersection to improve the flow of traffic.

Ronda steps in to put a little meat on the bones of that assertion. She says cars coming toward Holly Road from the north are in a curve and often travel at a speed that leaves those waiting to pull out from Holly Road uncertain whether they dare go in case the approaching driver doesn’t turn right onto Holly, as most of them do. If they guess wrong and pull out, a serious T-bone accident can result

Back to Tina. “Our primary improvement in the past has been to install a signal,” she said. “Now with roundabouts and their advantages, we seriously consider them as an alternate to signals. Roundabouts don’t have the maintenance and operations requirements that signals have and they nearly eliminate severe collisions.

“On the flip side they typically require more land space than a signal does.

“The county policy is that: “When an intersection meets all-way stop and/or signal (criteria), roundabouts should be considered as an alternative. Based on the policy, a roundabout ended up becoming the recommended alternative.

“The traffic study specifically determined that: a roundabout would provide a better flow (operation) of the intersection than a signal and channelization, and that it would offer greater reduction in the frequency of injury crashes, and particularly in severity of crashes,” she said.


Road Warrior’s tragedy leads to some answers

The Judybaker, my wife of nearly 20 years whose observations and questions often enhanced the Road Warrior column, won’t be gracing it any longer. She was taken from me June 20 by a grotesque abdominal infection that grew out of a June 9 surgery.

Her suggestions and contributions to Road Warrior are just a tiny part of what I miss about her.

I want to thank all of you who learned of her death and sent expressions of condolence and sympathy.

A couple of columns I had finished before she died have appeared since her death but this is the first one I’ve tried to write with her gone.


The in basket: My visits to the hospital the week following the initial June 9 surgery, done in Federal Way, made me realize how much harder getting around is between there and Tacoma compared to what we Kitsappers imagine to be traffic congestion. Every day, seemingly at any hour, from the Tuesday of the surgery to the following Saturday, it was miles of vehicles crawling southbound on I-5. Fortunately, I mostly got to see it from the northbound lanes after fighting my way past equally bad backups of those trying to get from Highway 16 onto northbound I-5.

I wondered if what I saw is just the day-to-day norm there, or if something unusual caused it all. And while all the construction on I-5 near the Tacoma Dome certainly will make it easier to get from Highway 16 onto northbound I-5, it isn’t obvious how it could help the southbound jams.

I asked State Trooper Guy Gill of the Tacoma my first question, and Claudia Bingham-Baker of the state Department of Transportation my second one.

The out basket: Guy told me the southbound congestion comes and goes and it doesn’t take much to get it started.

“We have our normal little fender-bender crashes, and when we have one in that corridor past the Tacoma Dome down into Fife, we are seeing people going to the shoulder with tow trucks and everyone likes to look at that stuff. (Backups) will set in from a crash like that and it will take hours to filter out.

“We ask folks to move both vehicles completely off the freeway, find a parking lot or and let us know where you are. If you can steer it, clear it.

“At least clear the lane. It’s up to the trooper to figure it out. Troopers will ask you for a written statement.”

He also put in a pitch for keeping the smart phone out of sight when driving, or you might cause one of those fender-benders.

Claudia replied, “The HOV lanes we are building will help both directions of I-5 traffic. We have two construction projects underway at present; one will add an HOV lane in the northbound direction between Portland Avenue and the Port of Tacoma Road; the second one will add HOV lanes in both directions between M Street and Portland Avenue.

“We have yet more construction coming down the pipeline after these two projects are complete that will add a southbound HOV lane between Portland Avenue and Port of Tacoma Road and an HOV roadway and ramp connections at the I-5/SR 16 interchange.

“These projects are all very large and take several years to complete. We are using the opportunity to not only expand I-5, but to rebuild all lanes of I-5 within each project. I-5 was built in the 1960s and the concrete needs to be replaced. The result is many traffic shifts and realignments that cause construction-related slowdowns.

“So the answer to your question is yes, the current construction will help traffic flow better through Tacoma when it is complete,” Claudia said.

I wish I had greater confidence in the worth of HOV lanes to reduce congestion, but I’ve also learned that the state’s traffic engineers have a good track record in solving problems (not counting the driving surface of the Warren Avenue Bridge in Bremerton) so I’ll take their word for it.