Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Lake Whitney Elementary School Parents Overwhelmingly Support a Roundabout

Conceptual roundabout for Roberson Road and Windermere Road.  Credit: WALC Institute and TDC Design Studio
UPDATED MARCH 13 --  At a Community Meeting last night, Lake Whitney Elementary School parents and nearby neighbors overwhelmingly supported a proposal for a roundabout at the intersection of Roberson and Windermere Roads instead of Orange County's current plans to add lanes on Roberson.  One community leader estimated that about one hundred residents voted for the roundabout proposal in Commissioner Boyd's informal poll.  I didn't count the number of "yes" votes, but can confirm that support was overwhelming and that only two residents voted in opposition.    

Jurgen Duncan, the Canin Associates transportation designer who designed the Windermere roundabouts, explained that single-lane roundabouts can accommodate up to 25,000 vehicles a day.  He said that the County plans only address east and westbound traffic.  He said a roundabout would alleviate north and southbound motorist congestion as well.  He presented the following conceptual drawing:

I'm told that two transportation engineers who looked at the intersection concluded that a roundabout would work.  Kelly Morphy, a Lake Whitney Elementary School Mom and leader of the community effort, gave a wonderful presentation, expressing that the intersection should be a "people place," given the proximity to George Bailey Park, the elementary school, and 3,000 residents within one mile. 

I urged those attending the meeting to get out of the cars and walk around one of the roundabouts in the Town of Windermere on foot.  I said they would find that roundabouts slow traffic so that pedestrians and motorists can make eye contact.  Motorists will slow to a stop and motion pedestrians across.  I said this civility happens virtually everyday in the Town of Windermere.  (Roundabouts not only saved Windermere taxpayers millions in road widening costs, but also the Town's charming character).   Theresa Myers, a resident of the Town, said that she and her children walk and bike the roundabout by Windermere Elementary School, including during rush hour, and that she finds it safe.  Other residents expressed similar experiences. 

I said that the Federal Highway Administration now accepts roundabouts as a "proven safety countermeasure."  I pointed out that the Windermere roundabouts ended mile-long traffic back-ups.  I said, "We know from our common experience that they work." 

Jurgen explained that modern roundabouts have very precise angles of deflection to slow traffic, normally to between 15-20 mph.  County officials pointed to "roundabouts" in Avalon (really a large traffic circle) and near Lake Reams in Horizon West.  Tory Parish disagreed with the latter characterization, calling the Horizon West rotary "a high speed sling-shot." 

Residents expressed concern with the type of development the current road widening proposal would encourage.  Kelly suggested that a roundabout would encourage more desirable development. 

Residents also expressed a willingness to delay relief from congestion at the intersection in order to "get it done right."

Jurgen said a roundabout would cost between $350,000 - $450,000.  Jurgen's plan, as currently laid-out, would require the County to acquire about 500 square feet at a corner, whereas the County's current plans require no right-of-way acquisition.  (The County's current plans would cost about $495,000, including over $100,000 for design work already done).  Winter Garden City Manager Mike Bollhoeffer indicated that the City could contribute funds budgeted for intersection improvements.  Ocoee Mayor Scott Vandergrift said that impact fees from the Belmere development, not yet spent, were another possible source of funding. 

Here's my letter published in last week's Orlando Sentinel:
County should address its roadways' shortcomings
Thanks to Sentinel columnist Beth Kassab for shedding light on West Orange County's transportation-planning shortcomings ("Our suburbs shouldn't settle for risky roads," Sunday).

We shouldn't require children to walk across six lanes of highway to school, especially in Horizon West, where the county's own land-use plan mandates a "pedestrian-oriented" environment.

The county is planning yet another highway for Horizon West's Town Center, which will make residents drive, instead of walk across the street to shopping and dining.

Roundabouts, like Windermere's, cut injuries 70 percent and fatalities 95 percent, compared to intersections with traffic lights. Roundabouts move traffic so efficiently that they eliminate the need for road widenings that cost taxpayers millions.

Lake Whitney Elementary School parents are championing a roundabout for Roberson Road. Yet the county rolls out disco-era road-widening "improvements," which increase danger to kids on foot.

I support the efforts of citizens who are urging a course correction.

Rick Geller District 1 Planning and Zoning commissioner

Here's a LINK to Ms. Kassab's strong column, accompanied by video footage from C.R. 535, site of a six-lane highway school crossing.