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One good turn deserves another

Jerome Evans

Earlier this month, in an editorial headed “Jury is still out on roundabout,” the Tribune writer concluded that a roundabout at the intersection of highways 50 and 89 “may be a great solution to our traffic problems, but planners and politicians have to change a lot of minds before giving the project a rubber stamp.” I am neither a planner nor a politician, but I am an advocate of the roundabout, and I believe the Tribune’s editorial, as well as some of the letters that have appeared here, deserve a considered response.

First let me state briefly why I and many others want this project. These are the principal benefits that we believe will accrue to our city:

First and foremost, a roundabout will replace a very ugly expanse of asphalt at the entrance to our town. Instead, we will have an attractive feature marking the entrance, “the gateway,” to South Lake Tahoe and to the lake itself.

As a consequence, we can expect that the roundabout will serve as an important catalyst for economic development around the intersection. Many of us believe it is time for significant public investment at this end of town and that this is a project that is likely to attract significant private development to the area.

Roundabouts have been proven to move traffic more efficiently and safely through an intersection than traffic signals. According to traffic engineers, more vehicles move past a point at 20 mph, the design speed for roundabouts, than at higher speeds.

There is good reason to believe that the roundabout will substantially reduce air pollution from idling vehicles. Thus TRPA has indicated that it is prepared to invest heavily in the project.

These are the reasons why most who have looked into the facts of the matter strongly favor the plan. But what about the questions that have been raised in these pages and elsewhere?

How will the roundabout work in the winter when there is ice and snow on the pavement? According to folks in Colorado and New Hampshire, the answer is “very well.” A survey of public works directors in other mountain resorts indicated that roundabouts produced no additional problems for snow removal. It will be, if anything, easier for our very capable snowplow drivers to clear the intersection. Brief icing should be less of a problem for vehicles going 20 mph (the design speed) than for those turning right or left at 25-30 mph in the existing intersection.

What about pedestrians? The roundabout will have dividing islands at each entrance, so that pedestrians will have to deal only with traffic from one direction, rather than two as at present.

What about Sunday gridlock when all of our visitors try to leave at the same time? As we all know, this gridlock, which occurs for several hours eight or 10 times each summer, results from three lanes of traffic (counting Pioneer Trail) merging into one. And that one lane extends, effectively, to Ice House. The roundabout will not change this situation, although it may marginally reduce congestion early and late. An additional roundabout at the Pioneer Trail intersection might help, too.

Contrary to the view of the Tribune’s editorial writer, it did take an experienced traffic engineering consultant to answer questions such as these. And those who attended the City Council meeting at which the engineering consultant presented his feasibility report, or watched it on television, know that he did. That is not surprising, inasmuch as his firm, LSC Transportation Consultants, has designed 40 roundabouts of which 20 are in operation.

The engineer’s conclusions were that while costing more, a roundabout will provide “very significant long-term safety, level-of-service, and air quality benefits” when compared with traffic signals. And based on experience elsewhere, “a roundabout would provide adequate safety and convenience for pedestrian and bicycle movements.”

Thus, the feasibility study was very positive. The City Council, after hearing the report, voted 4-0 (one member absent) to move ahead with the project. I have little doubt that the 15 citizens on the Tahoe Valley Community Plan Team will include the roundabout as a part of their” desired alternative.” Caltrans has indicated that it, too, will support a well-engineered project.

It is unlikely, of course, that everyone, or even a majority will be convinced by all this. This is something new to most of us, and change rarely comes easily. As Councilman Mike Weber has said, it calls for leadership.

And, perhaps, more communication with those who are interested. So I will be happy to show tapes of the engineer’s feasibility report and the Federal Highway Agency advisory to groups and organizations that are interested. And I will try to answer the questions of individuals who truly want to learn more about the proposed roundabout. My telephone number is (530) 541-3450 and my email address is Jevansattahoe@aol.com. No cranks, please.

– Jerome Evans serves on the 15-member Tahoe Valley Community Plan Team, an advisory board to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and South Lake Tahoe City Council.


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