Circles of calm: Route 41 paves way for additional roundabouts11/04/2020 11:13AM ● By Richard L. Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
On occasion, Bob Leonard will find himself sitting in his stopped car at a traffic light at off-peak hours, with no other cars in sight.
He will wonder to himself, Why is this light not green? Shouldn’t there be a transportation design here that will enable me to keep moving forward without having to come to a full stop? Is there another method in place that will save me from having to wait in idle for the color that means ‘Go’?’
There is rich and layered irony to Leonard’s internal questions, given that he already knows the answers and has helped to facilitate the solution.
He is the principal associate and transportation department manager for Erdman Anthony, a Mechanicsburg-based infrastructure engineering firm currently working with PennDOT on the development of roundabouts along Route 41. Leonard, who is also a PennDOT consultant, is currently overseeing the design of a roundabout at Route 41 and 926 in Londonderry Township, which is expected to receive clearance by the end of 2020, so that it can pursue and complete final design and begin construction by 2022.
Erdman Anthony is also pursuing three possible alternatives for a future roundabout at the intersection of Route 841 and Route 41 in the historic Village of Chatham, and is in the early, conceptual phases of designing a roundabout at the intersection of Route 41 and State Street in Avondale.
But that’s only half of the plan, because for drivers who navigate the highly-congested bottlenecks of traffic along Route 41, the news shared at a recent webinar laid out proposals for the development of more roundabouts along the thoroughfare, in an effort to further alleviate traffic stress that these drivers face along the route.
In an Oct. 26 presentation sponsored by S.A.V.E. (Safety, Agriculture, Villages & Environment), Mark T. Johnson of the Madison, Wisconsin-based MTJ Roundabout Engineering laid out new roundabout concept designs at three points along Route 41 that he believes will re-imagine southern Chester County’s most well-traveled two-lane highway as a well-functioning stretch of infrastructure:
· Roundabouts at the Route 41-Route 1 Intersections in Avondale
Johnson has designed two roundabouts on the north and south sides of Route 1, in attempting to a) meet the operational needs for long-range traffic; and b) minimize impacts to allow for vehicle access to businesses in the area – all in what Johnson called a design alternative to the Diverging Diamond format, in which the two directions of traffic on the non-highway road cross to the opposite side on both sides of the bridge at the highway.
· Roundabouts at the corner of Sunny Dell Road and near the former Mr. Mulch, both in Landenberg
Both roundabouts would be maintained as two-lane roads and would feature grassy medians and flared exit point that would connect drivers to residential communities. The one projected to be placed near Mr. Mulch would be able to connect drivers to Sheehan and Sharp roads, and eliminate the dangerous left-hand turn that currently requires drivers to cross opposing traffic on Route 41 to access these roads.
· Two roundabouts at the Limestone Road (Route 7) – Route 41 Interchange near the Delaware border
Johnson proposes to place roundabouts on both sides of Route 41 and include on-ramp terminals and auxiliary lanes. The two roundabout system preserves the existing bridge and allows the new traffic pattern to address entry into nearby residential drives.
Impact on planned development
While the roundabout at Route 41 and 926 in Londonderry Township is expected to break ground in a few years and the projects planned for the Village of Chatham and Avondale remain in the design phase, there is no solid timeline for any of the initiatives that Johnson presented on Oct. 26.
However, their introduction serves as the latest additions to a once blank tabula rasa that has now become an ink-stained canvas of ideas that calls for both input and direction from elected officials, engineers, business owners, residents and environmental agencies -- each of whom has a stake in how they want the corridor to look and how they want it to function.
Founded in 1997, S.A.V.E. has served as the unofficial watchdog for measured and reasonable growth in southern Chester County, as part of its vision to preserve the quality of life and community character of the area through Smart Growth principles.
Johnson’s presentation on roundabouts honed in on a key issue that is near the top of S.A.V.E.’s to-do list: The need to maintain uncongested scenic roads by efficient and effective infrastructure.
“From the time SAVE was founded, we have believed that Route 41 should remain a rural two-lane road, and that a lot of the intersection challenges that have arisen based on development and the growth of the population can be resolved by exploring roundabouts as intersections, based on the fact that roundabouts solve issues better than the alternatives,” said Dan Linderman, S.A.V.E.’s chairman. “If you have a well-designed roundabout for the particular scenario, that’s when you hit the grand slam home run.”
Outside of his duties for S.A.V.E., Linderman has been advocating for a roundabout to be placed at Sunny Dell Road and Route 41 in Landenberg. He has every reason to be concerned; Linderman lives with his family near the proposed White Clay Point development, which if approved, would occupy nearly 200 acres along Route 41 and stretch from Reynolds Road to the south, Sunny Dell Road to the west and Sharp Road to the north. The planned development, submitted by JP Morgan Chase, would include 356 residential units – 182 single-family homes, 60 townhouses and 114 apartments – as well as 95 lots that will be used as town homes and single-family homes. The town center would also feature include 222,000 square feet dedicated to commercial development and three mixed-use buildings that will be used for retail, offices and apartments. Two buildings, sized at 26,000 square feet, will include 42 apartment units each, and the third, sized at 18,000 square feet, will include 30 apartments.
At a presentation held at the New Garden Township Building last December that introduced the White Clay Point preliminary design to township residents, Linderman called for the project to include roundabouts, in an effort to anticipate – and reduce – potential traffic that a development of this kind will cause.
“It was a very high-level sketch design that immediately called for traffic signals, so I asked why they weren’t considering roundabouts,” he said. “Even without that project, a roundabout would make the Sunny Dell Road intersection exponentially safer.”
At the intersection of pros and cons
Ask anyone whose job it is to sell Americans on the idea of eschewing the traditional yellow-red-green, stop-and-go of signalized intersections in favor of a circular intersection with the round median in the middle, and they will all agree that the pitch is often a hard one.
In fairness to those reluctant to make the switch, roundabouts are counterintuitive to custom, commanding drivers to yield to any traffic already in the intersection. When traffic clears, it forces them to proceed in a counter-clockwise direction around a center median until they veer off in order to follow their chosen exit. For those drivers who wish to choose the last available turn-off exit, they are required to take a 270-degree trip, while also being required to be mindful of crossing pedestrians, safety strips, bicyclists and the confusion of their fellow drivers.
A flip to the other side of the equation, however, reveals study after study that supports the argument that roundabouts are a much safer alternative – momentary circles of calm against a backdrop of accident-inducing congestion. Since 2010, there has been a more than 90 percent reduction in fatalities and 76 percent reduction in injuries at roundabouts that previously had been used as traditional stops. Because they force cars to arrive at lower speeds, it correlates to better yielding rates, reduced vehicle stopping distance, and lower risk of collision injuries and fatalities.
Further, their geometric design creates 50 percent fewer pedestrian-vehicle conflict points than a comparable stop sign or signal-controlled intersection. Roundabouts have also proven to be safer for pedestrians and bicyclists because of shorter crossings and setback crossings.
Despite these generous stacks of evidence, Linderman is keen to the fact that for many Americans raised on the linear rigidity of traditional stop lights, being asked to adapt to a highway of roundabouts is akin to suddenly finding one’s self deep in the thicket of a foreign concept -- and country.
“One of the things we at S.A.V.E. look at is the need to do the right thing to solve the problems that have arisen,” Linderman said. “All too often, big projects come in with grand ideas and traffic studies that say that in order to support the project, that it requires the widening of roads.
“But when you start to introduce roundabouts into the equation as solutions for choke points, you begin to see that you don’t have to widen roads to accommodate volume. You just need to come up with a way to make traffic flow better.”
Conversion from the traditional to the new is a slow process, said Leonard. Pointing to several roundabout projects that Erdman Anthony has helped to design in Pennsylvania, he reflected that at first, each project was met with skepticism, but gradually turned into acceptance and praise.
“Many have an immediate knee-jerk reaction that says that they don’t like roundabouts,” he said. “They listen to us explain to them about the safety record of roundabouts, the efficiency of their performance and the fact that they can easily accommodate heavy tricks and farm equipment, and yet they are still reluctant.
“It is change, and change is hard for a lot of people, but we keep plugging away at the concept, and the more examples of successful roundabouts we can incorporate, the more that people realize that they are not as bad as originally anticipated, and that they actually work really well.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].