January 19, 2011

Elgin plans for largest roundabout

Published Jan. 19, 2011
By Ted Schnell • BocaJump
Dundee-Summit-01192011The city is moving ahead with plans to build Elgin's largest roundabout to ease East-Side traffic congestion at Summit Street and Dundee Avenue, despite criticism raised before the City Council on Jan. 12.
Some questioned the safety of the project and its impact on surrounding businesses when the council met that evening.

City Manager Sean Stegall said last week that the Illinois Department of Transportation first fingered the intersection for improvements in 2001-02, when a more traditional approach was outlined.

But Elgin Public Services Director David Lawry said Wednesday that initial engineering study recommended changes that would have had a significant impact on Summit Street businesses to the immediate east of the intersection. The roundabout proposal, he said, actually arose over the concerns raised from that initial study.

The roundabout, with backing from the council, was targeted as the solution for the intersection in 2006, Stegall said. He added that the overwhelming majority of the funding for the cost will be covered by the state. On Jan. 12, the City Council acted to pursue additional federal funding to offset the city's 20 percent share of the project's $3.7 million cost.

Still, questions remain.

One point raised Jan. 12 is the impact the roundabout will have on children heading to Larsen Middle School, just north of the site, since roundabouts are designed to continuous vehicle traffic, no pedestrian traffic.

The City Council has supported the use of smaller, single-lane versions of roundabouts before, called traffic circles, but they have been used as “traffic-calming devices” in residential neighborhoods, where they act to slow traffic.

But even then, they were not without some controversy, particularly over concerns whether or not firetrucks and similar vehicles would be able to negotiate the traffic circles.

By contrast, Lawry said, the Dundee-Summit roundabout would be a two-lane circle about 200 feet in diameter that could accommodate emergency vehicles.

Another question raised Jan. 12 was whether a roundabout would work at the intersection, give the amount of traffic there.

A roundabout of this scale has not been used before in Elgin – at least not at such a busy intersection, although Lawry pointed to three large roundabouts on Longmeadow Parkway on Elgin's west side as evidence that they can work, and work well.

“There has not been widespread opposition to (the Dundee-Summit roundabout) … but there has been a lot of trepidation that I think is due to unfamiliarity” with the idea of navigating through such an intersection, said Lawry, adding that roundabouts are still fairly uncommon in Illinois and throughout the Midwest. But their use is growing, he said.

“There typically is about a 90-day acclimation process” for drivers to get used to driving through roundabouts, Lawry said, adding that the devices are well-known for reducing accidents and overall congestion. And they have worked well, he said, at larger intersections such as the three on Longmeadow Parkway.

At Dundee and Summit, seven pieces of property will be affected by the proposed roundabout. Stegall said the city already has purchased one of those – the former Dunkin' Donuts site on the northeast corner of the intersection.

Also sought is the entire Elgin Cleaners property at 451 Dundee Ave., on the the southeast corner of the intersection.

In addition, Lawry said, the city wants to acquire just portions of:
  • the site owned by KFC at 465 Dundee Ave., immediately south of Elgin Cleaners.
  • the land immediately south of the KFC.
  • the McDonald’s property at 401 Summit St., just east of Elgin Cleaners and KFC;
  • the the BP AmPm site at 470 Dundee Ave. on the southwest corner;
  • the CVS Pharmacy site at 500 Dundee Ave. on the northwest corner.
According to Stegall, the roundabout is intended to improve safety at the intersection as well as to improve the flow of traffic through it, since vehicles no longer have to wait at a stop light. That will happen, he said, because traffic will move through the roundabout without stopping, reducing both the wait typical of stopping for a stop sign or red light. That, he added, is in line with the city's green and sustainability initiatives, because vehicles will not be stopped, idling. That means cars will not be on the road as long, cutting vehicle emissions.

In regard to that latter point, Mayor Ed Schock on Jan. 12 pointed to studies indicating that roundabouts generally each save about 200,000 gallons of gasoline a year.

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