Roundabouts: A Great Idea Comes Back Around
Written by Jeff Scott
Back in 1985, when I moved to Kingston after completing college, I was perplexed to hear Kingstonians give directions to businesses near an area called the Traffic Circle. There was no traffic circle in Kingston that I knew of. It was a friend who had gone to Queen’s in the 1960’s who explained to me that back then, there had been a traffic circle at the intersection of Bath Road and Princess Street. It was a rare novelty at the time, and it was such a nicely-landscaped focal point that its location is still referred to as the Traffic Circle, even though it has long since been replaced by a through intersection with traffic lights.
The fifty years since the time of the Traffic Circle has seen a dramatic increase in not only the number of cars, but the amount of time that they spend on the road. One-car families became two-car families, as both parents went into the work force. Distances travelled increased, as families moved out to the suburbs, yet still had parents working in the city. Shopping centres became outlet centres, and recreational time became stronger focuses (ie. the soccer mom). Traffic lights became vital to moving all this traffic. It became easier for drivers to make left-hand turns, and safer for pedestrians to cross the intersection. Traffic circles were no longer needed, nor wanted.
But now, the number of traffic lights has become a problem. To travel across the city, you will have to pass through 35 traffic lights. This has slowed the traffic flow considerably, making travel time much longer than necessary, and more frustrating. Traffic lights cannot easily tell when there are vehicles passing through, and drivers are often left waiting at red lights when no traffic is passing by. All of that stopped traffic takes up space on the road, which means that there needs to be extra traffic lanes at intersections, taking up space and costing money. There is also the added pollution from idling vehicles. One of the most serious problems with through intersections is the fact that sometimes drivers run red lights, causing what are called ‘T-bone’ accidents, which are deadly side-on collisions. One tragic example was when the bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos was hit from the side by a transport, killing 16 people.
Because of these problems, engineers have started to reintroduce traffic circles, which they now refer to as roundabouts. They can’t replace many existing traffic lights because there are often buildings on the corners of the intersections, but they can build them into new developments, such as at Centennial and Venture Drives in the west end industrial area. There are several factors that have to be taken into consideration when designing a roundabout. One is that you cannot put one in where traffic is moving at a high speed. Another is that they do not work well where there is a high volume of traffic, and a final issue is that they are not good for areas with pedestrians.
The intersection of Highway 2 and Highway 15 in Barriefield is one that should be replaced by a traffic circle. There are only three roads connecting, and a roundabout would improve what is currently far too much traffic bunching up because of left turns. There are also very few pedestrians and there are no buildings that would need to be demolished to make it.
Roundabouts don’t need to be circular, nor do they need to be compact. They can be designed so that the lanes of traffic are one-way streets and spread apart with large spaces in the middle. These areas can be used for schools, shopping or government buildings. An excellent example is Queens Park, the Ontario Legislature, which is within a roundabout for University Avenue in Toronto. In fact, the Kingston Centre, which is next to the old Traffic Circle, is within a triangle of surrounding streets. They could be turned into one way streets, which would make the entire Kingston Centre the hub of a new traffic circle. It could be nicely landscaped to become a new focus in Kingston. Well, for that matter, it’s already referred to as the Traffic Circle anyway, so let’s give it a try.
Jeff Scott is a former councillor for the City of Kingston (Countryside District), and has contributed editorial content local publications for a number of years. He continues to live, work and write in the Countryside district of Kingston, and runs his own blog, The Countryside View. Visit his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/jeffscottthecountrysideview to read more of Jeff’s content.