Study: ‘Y’ roundabout gets favorable review |

Study: ‘Y’ roundabout gets favorable review

Susan Wood

Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune / A study on the potential for a roundabout at the "Y" indicates that such a road device would be costlier but also safer and more eco-friendly than conventional traffic lights.

As residents goes round and round over the possibility of having a roundabout at the South Lake Tahoe “Y,” the city’s transportation consultant released a feasibility report that mostly paints the traffic devices in a favorable light.

For the most part, the report says roundabouts are safer, attractive, efficient, environmentally friendly – but costlier to construct than proposed improvements to the traffic-signal intersection.

LSC Transportation Consultants estimates a roundabout at the busy “Y” intersection would cost $2.6 million – a little over a million more than traffic-signal improvements originally planned there by the city and Caltrans.

“Does the public want to spend another million? That’s a question,” Mayor Kathay Lovell said. The City Council, which expects to discuss the $5,400 report during its May 3 meeting, plans to get a reading from the public during an upcoming town hall meeting and community survey.

Many stakeholders who weighed in on roundabouts view them favorably, but the issue doesn’t come without critics who have shared concerns on the street and in the Tahoe Daily Tribune’s letters ranging from the backup of traffic on holiday weekends to snowy road conditions.

Many motorists approach roundabouts with apprehension anyway. Lovell admitted to proceeding slowly through the one in Lincoln.

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“The aesthetic aspect is very exciting. My concerns are cost and safety,” she said.

Lovell pointed to the statistic indicating roundabouts reduce serious accidents by 90 percent.

“I want to know if that means on black ice,” she said.

Gordan Shaw, who conducted the report for the Tahoe City transportation firm, cited a crash report prepared by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in 2000.

“Roundabout installation should be strongly promoted as an effective safety treatment for intersections,” according to the study as submitted by Shaw. “Since most road users travel at similar speeds through roundabouts, have low relative speeds, crash severity is generally reduced compared to most traditionally controlled intersections.”

Law officers who see accidents on a daily basis also chimed in on the safety issue.

“It probably makes sense if you think about it. Red light violations cause serious accidents because people who go through them are probably not traveling 5 to 10 mph,” police Lt. Terry Daniels said Tuesday.

Still, the department has not endorsed the concept.

The report also says that while studies in England indicate the number of pedestrian crashes occurring at roundabout intersections is generally lower – by at least 33 percent – the jury is still out on cyclists. Bicycle crashes on modern roundabouts increased without a separate lane.

Public Works Director Brad Vidro said the city may consider a separate lane if the roundabout is constructed. If the city decides to move forward with an engineering study, the concept would require Caltrans approval. Phone calls to the state agency were unreturned.

Roundabouts are included in the regional transportation plan of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, which includes a bicycle master plan.

“We’re looking it over. In general, we support roundabouts. Ultimately, it comes down to a case-by-case basis,” TRPA spokeswoman Julie Regan said. “Something has to happen to improve (traffic flow) in the area.”

The report states roundabouts would improve traffic flow by at least 75 percent by 2016. In theory, moving the vehicles through the intersection would reduce idling – a common culprit of air pollution.

Roundabout concepts are also proposed at Stateline and Kings Beach. But as the gateway to South Lake Tahoe, the “Y” is considered a Grand Central Station of sorts. Development of that side of town is now in the works by the Tahoe Valley “Y” Community Plan Team, a group of stakeholders working on a plan to reconstruct the southwest end of town.

Jerome Evans, who’s on the team, has been a strong advocate of roundabouts.

“I think it would be a major catalyst in improving the appearance and development of the area,” he said. “This report answered the concerns about traffic.”

Evans said he wasn’t surprised by the cost variance between roundabouts and traffic-signal systems. The Community Plan Team will not determine the financing of its “Y” plan, but the parks and recreation commissioner is convinced environmental funding may be directed to the project.

“I think the financing will work itself out,” he said.