There are some great street roundabouts throughout the country and world that not only add to a particular area’s aesthetic but also help traffic move in a safe, practical manner.
For most people reading this post, when they think about a local roundabout they probably imagine the one near St. Anthony’s Hospital in Oklahoma City’s Midtown District. I’ve driven through it hundreds of times, and traffic goes through it smoothly even during high congestion periods. It’s visually appealing and set next to restaurants and businesses in historic buildings.
So what about a roundabout on a larger scale for the city, a grand roundabout that moves swaths of traffic off the new I-40 at the Western Ave. exit into and out of downtown Oklahoma City? It’s an enticing idea, one that has caught the attention of Oklahoma City Councilman Ed Shadid, and I hope Oklahoma City and the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) give it serious consideration.
Friends For A Better Boulevard has suggested such an idea as one counter to an ODOT plan for the former I-40 Crosstown Expressway. ODOT plans “revolve around a primarily elevated freeway design with only a small section actual Boulevard,” according to the group’s Facebook page. Some were also concerned the plan didn’t give enough consideration to the Maps 3 streetcar project.
Bob Kemper, a former ODOT engineer and a long-time advocate for a commuter rail system in central Oklahoma, has helped organize an effort to promote the roundabout and “Grand Boulevard” concept. He helps update the group’s Facebook page.
According to Kemper:
Friends for a Better Boulevard encourages a thoughtful, citizen-oriented design that incorporates pedestrian connectivity, effective but calm traffic management, and thorough transit integration.
In an email message, Kemper wrote, “The concept of a roundabout with Classen, Western, Exchange and possibly Reno is not new. I believe there was a circle in that area well before WWII.” Kemper said the latest idea developed from a discussion on OKCTalk and a first visual rendering was done by Andrew Stewart. Another rendering has been done by Nick Roberts. Councilman Shadid has posted the idea on his Facebook page.
Roundabouts are growing in popularity, and one reason is safety. Roundabouts slow down and parse traffic effectively. Four-way intersections are much more dangerous. A U.S. Department of Transportation study shows roundabouts decrease accidents by more than 40 percent when compared to intersections. The study also argues that roundabouts reduce idling, delays and stops. All this reduces congestion and pollution. There’s also no need to maintain signal lights, which saves money.
The study also notes the people’s resistance to roundabouts declines substantially once they’re built and in use.
The idea of a roundabout is just one component of a vision, shared by many people, to create a beautiful boulevard and entryway lined with shops and restaurants that could help revive a particular section of Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma City and the state have an opportunity here to create something remarkable. The decision on the boulevard will affect the city for several decades. The ideas of a roundabout and a thriving boulevard, one highly compatible with public transit and the streetcar project, should be moved forward as serious plans by both the city and state.