Roundabouts rile up CFHS drivers

Are you in favor of roundabouts on University Avenue?

By: Zuhayr Alam

Change is coming to a large stretch of University Avenue in Cedar Falls. After many concerns were brought to the city’s attention in 2008, the city decided to fix many of the problems on University Avenue such as traffic flow.

To fix the problem, the city hired a Cedar Rapids engineering firm known as Foth Engineering. The city decided to go ahead with Foth’s plans after the firm revealed three designs in late February.

The first design consisted of only traffic lights and amassed a total value of $33.2 million. The second design had more traffic lights and fewer roundabouts and came to a total of $34 million. The final design, and the design that the city ultimately chose, consists of more roundabouts and fewer traffic lights. This design was the cheapest of the three with a total value of $32.5 million. Contrary to what many believe, the roundabout option was the cheapest.

The design consists of six new roundabouts and will bring the total number of traffic lights down to two. The plan will also reduce University Avenue from six lanes to four. Two of the six roundabouts will be at the intersection of University and Highway 58, with the other four located at the intersections of University with Boulder Drive, at the intersection of University and a storefront road, at the intersection of University, McClain and Waterloo Road, and one more at the intersection of University and Cedar Heights. The remaining traffic lights will be at the intersections with Rownd Street and Midway Drive.

Traditional traffic lights are made to group up traffic and release all of the cars at the intersection at once, essentially platooning traffic. Roundabouts are made to thin out the platoons which can lead to smoother and steadier traffic flow. Roundabouts can also increase fuel and time efficiency. According to Foth’s estimates, the design will save motorists over 60,000 hours a every year along with almost $25,000, which is by far the most out of the three designs. However, this design will also cost the most to maintain, coming in at a total of $68,000 a year compared to $51,000 for the second design and $17,000 for the first one. Foth estimates that the design will be able to handle projected traffic growth until around 2040. Research conducted by the state of Washington shows that roundabouts reduce accidents at intersections by 75 percent. The proposed design will force some companies to have smaller parking lots and may cause others to relocate entirely.

Senior Isaac Svoboda said he does not like the design.

“Roundabouts are harder for emergency vehicles and semi trucks to maneuver around,” Svoboda said. “Personally, I have seen more accidents around roundabouts than anywhere else. I believe that this is because the older generation was never trained to drive on them, which creates conflict.”

Senior Chris Keys said that roundabouts will be more effective in the future.

“I think that roundabouts will be beneficial for Cedar Falls in the long run,” Keys said. “However, initially, people will strongly dislike them, and I think there will be a spike in accidents for a few years.”

Senior Isaac Kippes agrees with Keys.

“It’s a lot better to keep driving at a slower speed than to have to come to a complete stop every so often for 30 seconds,” Kippes said.

Driver’s education instructor and social studies teacher Kevin Stewart has mixed feelings about the design.

“In general, I like roundabouts. They are effective and efficient for dealing with traffic and intersections,” Stewart said. “With the proposed designs, I have mixed views. They could benefit the city in some ways, but they will hurt business due to reduced lanes and traffic flow.”

Stewart said that the roundabouts will not change the way that he teaches driver’s education.

“We go down to University Avenue a lot anyway, so the kids will be experiencing roundabouts whenever we go to practice there,” Stewart said. “I may put a little more emphasis on them when we go over them in class, though.”

Current plans have construction beginning in 2016 and ending near the beginning of 2018.

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