15 Sep 2014
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Lake Bluff Drivers May Go Round and Round

Traffic circles believed to be safer and more efficient may be on the way

Lake Bluff Drivers May Go Round and Round

In the days before the GPS,  MapQuest or  Google Maps, it was really easy to start driving in circles in a figurative sense. It might become literally true in Lake Bluff one day.

The tricky intersection of Routes 41 and 176 has been under review since 1998 and the Village is considering changing what is now a fairly conventional traffic diagram into a “ roundabout,” which is a very large traffic circle. This is being done as there is a new wave of thinking that that type of design is faster and safer.

At Monday’s Village Board meeting, trustees were briefed by a local engineering firm hired by Lake Bluff on the two remaining options for giving intersection of Highways 41 and 176 a facelift. Several other alternatives have been eliminated for various reasons.

The village is hoping to have a decision made on the design by spring 2013. But the public can start offering their feedback on at a meeting from 5 to 8 p.m. Sept. 20 at Lake Bluff Elementary School.

Once the design is selected by a combination of several government entities including Lake Bluff,  IDOT and  Shields Township, the Village will then have to lobby the federal and state government for the $28 to $30 million required for construction and land acquisition costs. Therefore, it could be several years before the traffic is altered.

Another aspect impacting the decision will be that Route 41 may have to be widened one day. There are no plans to do that right now, but population shifts might make that move necessary in the future.

All that being said, if Lake Bluff does select the roundabout plan, it will fall in line with many other Midwestern communities that are opting to go this way for the traffic calming device that is popular in Europe, but has only gained steam in the U.S. in recent years.

There are three recently constructed roundabouts in Lake County, including one at the intersection of Hunt Club and Wadsworth Roads. Village Administrator Drew Irvin noted roundabouts are now the default standard in Wisconsin.

“States are quickly grabbing hold of them as a traffic management device because of the safety benefits and they are relatively less expensive than traditional signalized intersections,” Irvin said. “They improve flow and get more cars through the intersection.”

One expert on traffic engineering said roundabouts reduce vehicle collisions by up to 70 percent.

“That’s because they eliminate several of the conflicts that regular intersections have” John Hourdos, the director of the  Minnesota Traffic Observatory at the University of Minnesota, said. “A typical intersection has 16 to 24 conflict points and a roundabout has eight.”

The engineering firm conducting the project for the Village said 90 percent of fatalities are reduced with roundabouts.

However, there is a downside, especially when the American driver is not used to maneuvering roundabouts.

“It is a new geometry for the United States and depending on the type of the roundabout, each one has specific rules for the design to work,” Hourdos said. “Some of these things have proven to be confusing to people and the learning curve is rather long.”

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