Controversial intersections discussed at S.A.V.E. event
● By J. Chambless
Engineer Jeff Riegner co-chaired a presentation on safe streets with transportation planner Carol Kachadoorian.
By Richard L. Gaw
The preliminary work currently being done by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation [PennDOT] at the troublesome intersections of Route 841 and Route 926 off of Route 41 – specifically, the idea of building roundabouts there – served as the chief topic of discussion at the "The Skinny 2014," an annual speaker series partnered by S.A.V.E. and the Brandywine Conservancy, held on Nov. 7 at the Stroud Water Research Center in Avondale.
Robert Leonard, traffic engineer and senior associate with Erdman Anthony – consultants for the projects – told the audience that the refurbishing of the intersections have yielded several early design concepts, influenced in part by the ideas and suggestions offered by residents who live nearby. An online survey posted earlier in the year yielded over 400 responses, which Leonard said will be compiled into an organized summary report and shared early next year. The findings "would summarize the alternatives being developed for the two intersections, and lead to the dismissal of some ideas that didn't receive support from the community," Leonard said.
Although 2015 will likely see final, agreed-upon design concepts for each intersection, Leonard said that it may be several years before each project breaks ground.
"We will spend a good part of 2015 trying to get through the environmental process to clear that alternative," Leonard said. "It is not going to be a slam dunk. It may be a good answer, but it's going to need a lot of clarification and justification, and the environmental resource agencies will be scrutinizing that alternative process as we further develop final, agreed-upon conclusions for the intersections. I don't want to mislead anyone into believing that we're just going to walk out and start building. It's going to take a little while."
Although Leonard said that he most frequently suggested solution to easing the traffic problems at both intersections has been to build roundabouts, he said Leonard there has been no consensus reached yet at either intersection.
"The idea of roundabouts have dominated most of the alternatives and discussions up to this point, and I think in and of itself, there is not opposition in putting a roundabout in," he said. "It just has to be determined that it is the most effective solution."
Leonard referred to a recent public feedback event Erdman Anthony held at the London Grove Township Building, that invited residents to review several preliminary design ideas for the intersections and offer their opinions.
"Most of the people didn't just say that they liked that design and didn't like that," Leonard said. "They told us what it was about something they liked or didn't care for. If we can go back and fine tune it a little and address that particular issue, then we might be onto something.
"At the end of the day, we want to do a solution that is welcomed by the community," he added. "We don't want to come out here and do something and have everyone curse us every time they drive down the street. It needs to be compatible with the what the objectives of the community are."
Mark Johnson, an engineer with MTJ Engineering and a nationally-recognized expert in roundabout design solutions, tailored his presentation to what impact roundabouts may have to the Route 926 and Route 841 intersections. He also gave some examples of effective roundabouts, demonstrating how they treat larger vehicles as well as pedestrian crossings.
"The reality is that when roundabouts are designed, they take into account the human factors that are involved in any intersection," Johnson said before his presentation. "What we hear typically with well-designed roundabouts is that, 'After I went through it a couple of times, it felt like it was always there.' The reason that [motorists] feel like it was always there is that the design it is based on 50 years of science developed in the United Kingdom. It takes into account view angles, entry angles and all of the engineering principles that we apply."
The event also featured a co-presentation by engineer Jeff Riegner and transportation planner Carol Kachadoorian on "complete streets," thoroughfares that are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Tying in the needs for the Route 841 and 926 intersections, the presentation focused on the key issues that make up the definition of "complete streets": safety, usability and walkability.
Kachadoorian said that complete streets are a series practices and actions, driven by policy, that need to happen in order to arrive at a desired outcome.
"When designing complete streets, it really changes the way we think about designing transportation networks," Kachadoorian said. "We're also moving from just designing for motorized vehicles to designing for people, whether they're in a vehicle or walking."
"The idea is, 'What do you want from your streets and your roads?'" Riegner said. "That's the primary theme that we'd like you think about with these [intersection] projects. Streets are inherently walkable. For a community to really be livable, there has to be some opportunity to walk."
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.