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.