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By Diana Diamond

Get Rid of Those Roundabouts!

Uploaded: Jun 14, 2018

Roundabouts are the new “in” thing for Palo Alto’s Transportation Department – and these drivable road circles are part of an $9.6 million bicycle boulevard plan that, when completed, will build 11 roundabouts on two-lane residential streets in town. They finished one recently on Ross Road and most neighbors have complained vociferously that they just don’t like them.

Get rid of these roundabouts, I say. They don’t belong in our city.

They are unsafe and confusing for children, since they force cars and bikes into the same lane; new cars to the area could be confused navigating them, especially at night; and they are just too tiny to do an efficient job. Fire trucks can slowly maneuver about them as they approach a burning building, buses and school buses have difficulties with the circle, and large moving trucks – forget about them!

There was a petition opposing roundabouts that garnered 1,053 signatures a month or so ago, but city officials seemed to pay little attention to it. Then on Tuesday, more than 100 residents came to a city council meeting devoted to Ross Road bicycle improvements -- changes that include narrowed streets, speed bumps, raised crosswalks and intersections, medians, bike boulevard stencils, roundabouts, and sidewalk bulb outs (sidewalk curb extensions) at intersections, all an effort to slow cars down and make the road safer for cyclists. It’s overkill in a big way. I’ve driven down Ross Road several times and find it a confusing street to navigate. Pity the elderly person driving down that street on a dark, rainy night.

A couple of council officials wanted to quell public anxiety. City Manager Jim Keene said the staff did not do a good job communicating with residents about the project, while Mayor Liz Kniss suggested maybe the city needs to improve its public relations about this bicycle plan. Nonsense. If I were a resident and knew in advance that the city was going to build a roundabout, narrow the road, force bicyclists to drive in the same lane as cars and put all sorts of other street “furniture” on my road, knowing about this in advance would not make a difference nor would better PR. A bad idea is a bad idea and PR doesn’t help. Other council members said change takes time, and in a year or so, residents will feel better about the improvements,

I’m not against roundabouts in general. When I was in England whose roads are rich with roundabouts, I thought they were great. The roundabouts were big with large diameters, giving enough time to see an oncoming car entering the lane, and easy to navigate.

Ditto for the new roundabouts at Stanford that eliminate stops at the four intersections and let the traffic flow smoothly. Big improvement.

But what Palo Alto plans to install on narrow two-lane streets are 10 more roundabouts, plopped unexpectedly in the middle of the road, that are so small that there’s not enough time to figure out the best time to enter the circle. Bicyclists have the same problem.

It’s ironic that these small roundabouts presumably built to make it safer for children make it more dangerous for bikers – and residents.