Council goes round and round about roundabout — public hearing set for Dec. 20

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An artist's rendering of the proposed roundabout at Five Corners.

City of Edmonds Public Works Director Phil Williams said he wasn’t surprised to learn that there is opposition to the roundabout now being planned to replace a current five-way stop sign at the intersection aptly named Five Corners.

Appearing before the Edmonds City Council Tuesday night, Williams was armed with a Power Point full of statistics about the value of roundabouts, from reduced air pollution (thanks to less idling at stop signs) and accidents (due to fewer “conflict points” where serious collisions can occur) to improved aesthetics.

Williams also brought along what he called his “gurus of roundabouts” — experts with knowledge about how and why roundabouts work effectively to control movement through intersections, minus stop lights and stop signs.

The City Council voted unanimously last July to authorize the mayor and city staff to sign a consultant agreement to begin the planning process for the roundabout at 212th Street Southwest and 84th Avenue West. The city received a federal grant for $463,000 to fund final design and right-of-way acquisition; with a required 13.5 percent local match set to be paid for through the city’s Street Fund.  The city is continuing to pursue grant money for the construction phase, Williams said.

Despite the earlier unanimous council approval, lately some councilmembers and citizens have been questioning the value of the roundabout, given the city’s current budget challenges. The reason for discussing it Tuesday night, along with four other projects in the City’s Comprehensive Plan and Capital Improvement Program, is because the council must take formal action to remove any projects currently scheduled as part of the program. The future of those other four already-approved projects — including $1 million for a stoplight at Ninth Avenue and Caspers Street — are also being scrutinized by the council in light of the current economic climate.

Councilmember Steve Bernheim said he’s worried about the roundabout’s cost given what he views as “marginal improvement” to the driving efficiency of people using a roundabout vs. a stop sign (according to Williams’ statistics, drivers spend on average 115 seconds during peak hours going through the Five Corners five-way stop intersection, but would spend only 10 seconds using a roundabout.

“I just don’t know that people will tolerate spending this money for this result,” Bernheim said.

Williams noted that roundabouts traditionally are opposed at first in most communities where they are introduced, but that the opposition turns into support once people use them. “Usually it’s based on a lack of information,” Williams said. “It’s incumbent on us to educate the public.”

He also said the perception that there are no traffic problems at Five Corners isn’t true, and noted there have been eight serious accidents at that intersection from 2007-2010.

Since 1997, a total of 250 roundabouts have been built in Washington state and more than 3,000 have been constructed nationally, Williams noted. “It’s a technology that has really taken hold and is growing rapidly,” he said.

Councilmember Diane Buckshnis voiced her support for the roundabout, calling it “innovative and smart,” adding that she believes the idea will catch on. “People are saying not in my backyard, but when it’s there, they’ll love it,” she said.

Councilmember Michael Plunkett said that while he admired the quality of Williams’ presentation, he wasn’t convinced of the roundabouts’ safety or effectiveness, and wondered if the city could add stop signs to the roundabout design.

Williams said that installing stop signs would reduce the roundabout’s effectiveness and noted it would be unlikely the city could receive grant money for the project if stop signs were included. That statement was confirmed by Brian Walsh of the Washington State Department of Transportation, one of the “roundabout gurus” in the audience.

The city has spent $70,000 on consulting fees for the project so far, Williams said, and would have to return the grant money and absorb that cost if the council decides to stop the project.

Following the discussion, the council agreed to hold a public hearing at the Dec. 20 council meeting on both the roundabout project and the proposed traffic improvements on 9th Avenue at Caspers and Main streets.

The council also took the following action Tuesday night:

– Adopted ordinances to refinance general obligation and revenue bonds.
– Voted 7-0 to accept an Planning Board amendment to the city’s Comprehensive Plan Map that adjusts the boundaries of the Medical/Highway 99 Activity Center. However, based on comments from area homeowners, the council agreed to exempt two single-family neighborhoods located northwest and southwest of Edmonds-Woodway High School from being included in the activity center.
– Directed the City Attorney to prepare an ordinance that would allow up to 3-foot-high exceptions from city code building height limits for roof-mounted solar installations.
– Further discussed elements to be included in the Non-Represented Salary and Benefits Study and agreed to work on a prioritized list.
– Delayed until the next council meeting a decision on extending the sunset date for Citizens Economic Development Commission.

22 COMMENTS

  1. Being a resident of the Five Corners area I believe this would be a major improvement aesthetically and improve the flow of traffic.

  2. Roundabouts are wonderful. Traffic flows better, less fuel is wasted, and the chances of accidents are reduced. It’s an investment in our city, not a cost. We should replace a lot of our multiple-way stops with roundabouts!

  3. I agree that the round-about would enhance the traffic flow and the appearance of the now-all-asphalt at Five Corners. There’d be no backups at peak times, and fewer hesitations at other times. Instead of stop signw, drivers would need to slow down while driving through the round-about.

  4. The fountain at 5th and Main is a great example of how people don’t know how to use roundabouts. Even when there is stop signs! Also this is a great way to waste money, when our city’s cash is strapped tight.

  5. Modern roundabouts are the safest form of intersection in the world. Visit http://www.iihs.org for safety facts.
    The first cost of any two choices is a poor way to compare. Life-cycle cost is the best (present value of future costs, a.k.a. net present value). When comparing modern roundabouts to signals for a 20-year life cycle (the standard period), modern roundabouts usually cost us much less. Costs to compare include: first cost (design/land/construction), operation and maintenance (electricity, re-striping, etc.), crash reduction, daily delay (what’s your time worth?), daily fuel consumption, pollution (generated), area insurance rates (this costs more where it is less safe to drive). Each of these things, and others, can be estimated for any two choices and everyone near or using the project area will pay some portion of all of these costs.

  6. I oppose the roundabout. I live fairly near Five Corners. My veterinarian is located there. I have never had any trouble at this intersection which I drive through frequently. People generally are polite and wait their turn to move forward from their stop signs. Surely the City can think of better uses for our City’s revenue.

  7. Paul S.- I agree.
    I have been using this intersection daily for the past 25 years and I swear some people do not know how to handle this intersection. Many times people just bolt right through without waiting their turn. As a pedestrian, I’m never sure if a driver see’s me crossing.
    My car has also been rear-ended more than once while waiting to proceed.

  8. I have gone through this intersection every weekday evening at 5:30 for the past year and a half. I am surprised that there are not more problems there, but it seems to work better than you would think. I have never waited 115 seconds, my average wait is less than 30 seconds. When was the data collected and at what time? Perhaps 5:30 is late (although I wouldn’t think so).

    One thing that bothers me about moving too far ahead with this project is that we have no funding for the basics; sidewalks and overlays. We don’t even have match money for any grant we might hope to get to fund the construction of the project. Staff should be concentrating their efforts on a funding plan recommendation.

  9. What am I missing here? We are talking about a roundabout at five corners and spending big money to get it. Didn’t the council put a levy on the ballot for badly needed street overlays that failed? Apparently 13.5% of the cost of the roundabout will be paid from the city’s street fund which could be a large number depending on the finished construction costs. Does anyone remember the Haines Wharf project? I also understand that the majority of this project will be paid for through grants from the Federal Government. Last time I checked the Federal Government was upside down about fifteen trillion dollars and climbing at an uncontrollable rate. Could part of this be that cities all across this great country have their hand out for projects that are “innovative and smart” and might catch on? We will do our small part to add to the enormous debt that our children and grandchildren will have to somehow pay to avoid the inconvenience of having to wait 105 seconds, just over a minute, but only during peak times. Personally, I expect our leaders to be better stewards of our finances.

  10. “…Could part of this be that cities all across this great country have their hand out for projects that are “innovative and smart”… ” Wait? the fed gov is passing this money out as a reaction to the outstretched hands of cities? That is not my understanding. The intention of the government stimulus spending is to ease the un/under employment issues and put money into the hands of the citizens who will spend it on goods and services.

  11. There are several reasons for doing a roundabout at 5 corners, and there are several more reasons for not doing it. The most important factor is that in poor economic times like this we should not be taking on “nice to do” projects when we don’t even have enough money to do “need to do” projects. A roundabout at 5 corners is clearly, at best, in the “nice to do category”. Personally I would not put a roundabout there even if we had the money.

    Evidently it has recently been revealed that if the city does not proceed with the roundabout, then the grant money that was received will have to be repaid. Let’s not spend a couple of million dollars to build a roundabout in order to not have to repay any grant money.

  12. As a common citizen, I guess I don’t understand why grant money is accepted in the first place before a total project is a “go ahead” and total cost known and now apparently may have to be repaid if the project does not happen. This would be the wrong reason to go ahead and build it and is not sound business practice in my opinion or fair to the tax payers. If some money is earmarked from the street fund, why not fix the streets first? I am confused, I thought we did not have money to fix streets but can finance a roundabout from this fund? I say give the citizens the basic services they pay taxes for like streets if possible and put the special projects like this on the back burner before they get to this point.

    I guess I don’t understand continual spending like this in poor times in Edmonds, perhaps someone can help enlighten me.

  13. I have doubts as to a round about being a wise investment.
    !. Five corners is supposidly a walking neighbor hood. I am not sure having a constant flow of cars is conducive for crossing the street.even though their will be pedestrian islands.
    2. When you stop at a stop sign or stop light you have time to notice the businesses in the surrounding area. Using the the statitics cars will move through the round about in 10 seconds as appossed to the maxiumin of 115 seconds with the stop signs which
    gives ample time for drivers to see the businesses and decide to stop. You dont see much when you dont stop and go through in10 seconds. Doesnt make good economic sense. I have been through the circles in Port Thownsend about 20 times and could not tell you what surrounds the circles
    3 Do we want traffic to speed up or slow down.
    4. How much property will have to be bought through condemnation and how will it effect the businesses.
    I would urge all interested parties to come and speak at the public hearing On Dec. 20th.

  14. I would be supporting the round about under better economic times. Not now.
    Also I drive 9th and Casper every day. Casper is 196th two blocks further North.
    I have never had any trouble navigating that turn either coming or going. If we must do something then put a stop sign on either side of Casper and be done with it.
    Take the Millions in savings on these two projects and start overlaying those horrible roads in the Meadowdale area. These other big money projects need to wait.
    Dave Page

  15. There are many good posts here about why a round-about at Five Corners doesn’t make sense that I won’t repeat. Even if economic times were better, I don’t feel a round-about is either needed or helpful. Comments by our elected officials that this “doesn’t cost us anything” because of grants (paid by other tax monies) and “when it’s there, they’ll love it,” are examples of why opinions of elected officials are at an all time low. I used to always vote for taxes because I believed our elected officials were fiscally responsible. Now they are acting like irresponsible home owners that would rather have the latest electronic toy instead of repairing a home that’s falling apart. With attitudes like this, it’s going to be a long time before I’m willing to support a tax increase.

  16. In the 50 years I have been going thru the corner the only “serious” accident I recall was in 1970 when my mom knocked over one of the gas pumps at the station that use to be there..no one was hurt but I was “seriously” embarassed!

    why does “round-about” look so much like “run-around”?

  17. I have written on several occasions about the poor judgement being shown by our city in spending what I understand is over $1million to build a roundabout at 5 corners. I was told by the mayor’s office that the project would reduce traffic waiting times–and wondered why I would worry about the cost as most would be paid by a federal grant. Well, I’ve gone thru this intersection twice a day for nearly 3 decades, and wait time is rarely a problem. And since I pay local, state and federal taxes, I do worry about unwise spending–especially during tough economic times. I don’t care where the tax revenue is coming from–we should not be spending money on projects that just aren’t necessary–period. No wonder voters don’t trust government and are unwilling to approve new taxes–if that’s how we allocate current funds.
    We need to prioritize wisely–and I’m confident the citizens of Edmonds would like to see their money used better. Fixing existing roads–and paying cops and firemen to keep our town safe seem like better ideas than unneeded roundabouts and 800 square ft parks (like the $250,000+ “park” at old Mill Town).
    We need some serious leadership committed to wisely using our money!!!!!

  18. I, too, drive through 5 Corners twice a day – and I have done so for the past 12 years. While I’ve never seen an accident there, I’ve seen a number of close calls.

    While I certainly support the idea of a roundabout, I’m deeply troubled by the cost. This is one of those cases where it would be quite lovely to have the roundabout if it cost about ten thousand dollars, but that’s simply not gonna happen.

    It appears one of the biggest issues (in terms of both safety and the timing of traffic) is that drivers arrive at the stop signs and then just SIT THERE. I’d say that at least 50% of the time, drivers simply don’t know the traffic rule and so they kind of wait a little…and then someone just guns it and runs through the intersection, leaving the rest of us to wonder about traffic education, driver’s license exams, and the distance to Stevens Hospital.

    As someone who drives the route daily, I’m as interested in a solution as anyone. I’ve often wondered if a painted version of a roundabout might help drivers. Just picture a really gigantic white painted circle with the numbers 1-2-3-4-5 along the edge to help drivers understand “who goes next” when there are 5 cars present.

    Edmonds: You pay for the painters and I’ll raise the money for the paint. 🙂

  19. In tough economic times why are we spending money we don’t have on something we don’t need? I was always taught if it’s not necessary don’t buy it.
    It kind of reminds of the Skipper’s fiasco.

  20. Does anybody know if $1,936,500 plus $436,000 = $2,372,500 is the total amount of grant money obtained related to the 5 Corner’s Roundabout project?

    One reason I ask is because the City has an item on tomorrow night’s City Council Agenda which indicates that estimated construction costs are now $3,623,097. I do not know if the $3,623,097 includes any of the following:

    1. Right of Way acquisition – I believe this may have cost over $100,000 – an amount that may be far greater than originally estimated.

    2. Artwork – $25,000?

    3. David Evans and Associates, Inc – new maximum amount payable of $518,200. (Is this $518,200 included in the $3,623,097?)

    4. Any other costs not included in the estimated construction costs of $3,623,097?

    It would be nice to know up front how much TOTAL money the City is going to pay related to this project – the complete amount for everything from start to finish. It may be impossible for citizens to know the internal costs – how much time City Staff spends on projects like this.

    At one point, I thought the City would be limited to a required 13.5 percent local match set to be paid for through the city’s Street Fund. I may have misunderstood –any help would be appreciated.

  21. From the above December, 2011 article about Five Corners:

    The city has spent $70,000 on consulting fees for the project so far, Williams said, and would have to return the grant money and absorb that cost if the council decides to stop the project.

    MEN reported the following on April 2, 2014 related to the Sunset Avenue controversy:

    City Attorney Jeff Taraday was directed to look into whether the city would lose approximately $70,000 in grant money spent so far on the project design, if a decision were made to change the scope of the project.money has been spent on the planning phase thus far.

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