Local View: Let new roundabout calm traffic, mark London Road neighborhood
From the column: "The scope of this proposed project was developed over the past year with significant public input."
The proposed roundabout at London Road and 60th Avenue East has raised questions about whether pedestrians will be able to cross safely and whether it will negatively impact the adjacent park and historic UMD limnology lab. These are good questions, but they should be addressed in the context of the entire London Road corridor.
I have lived on or within a half block of London Road for more than 20 years, and I drive or bike on it multiple times every day. As a former city planner for Duluth, I can’t help but closely study the traffic. I also remember London Road in the 1970s when it was covered by a cathedral of mature elm trees, making it a beautiful residential neighborhood and a major asset to the city.
With the removal of the elms, increasing traffic volumes, and higher traffic speeds, the neighborhood is suffering today — not just visually but, more importantly, in terms of safety. The traffic volume is very high, similar to Central Entrance. But London Road is a residential neighborhood, not a commercial one like Central Entrance. Kids and elderly people, among others, should be able to cross the street safely. I know people who will not even attempt to cross it during normal hours when traffic is present.
Speed surveys show that in the 30 mph zone of London Road, 85% of traffic is traveling up to 40 mph and 15% faster than 40 mph. That’s more than one of every eight vehicles going more than 10 mph over the speed limit. Driving more than 10 mph over the speed limit wouldn’t be tolerated even on Interstate 35. The high volume of traffic, including many heavy commercial trucks, combined with these speeds is very dangerous.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation’s vision for our trunk highways is “to develop a balanced system that integrates all modes and uses (and) integrated planning and design to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and bus riders of all ages and abilities.” Following this vision, MnDOT’s proposed plan for London Road features new pedestrian crosswalks, sidewalks, and bike lanes. Also, three roundabouts at 26th, 40th and 60th avenues east are proposed as major traffic-calming features.
Since we know that vehicles today travel over 40 mph there, what effect would the roundabouts have? Well, you’re not going to drive through a roundabout at 40 mph. By slowing down to 20 mph to 25 mph, traffic can be prepared to stop for pedestrians. MnDOT has demonstration videos of actual roundabouts in Minnesota showing that traffic will stop for pedestrians.
The alternative of installing a traffic signal at 60th Avenue East would completely stop traffic on a cycle but would not calm traffic. Further, it would cause traffic backups and frustrated motorists, making it an unacceptable solution. You only have to look at the current backups at the 40th Avenue East traffic signal to see this result.
A roundabout at 60th Avenue East would create an eastern gateway into the London Road residential neighborhood. A gateway is a demarcation for traffic coming from the high-speed freeway up the North Shore into a 30 mph residential area. Signage before the roundabout would notify drivers of the upcoming transition.
Since a roundabout is not a structure, but a space, it can be landscaped to further mark it as an entry to the London Road neighborhood. In that respect, it would create a positive impact on the adjacent park and University of Minnesota Duluth limnology lab with landscaping and green space in the center island.
The scope of this proposed project was developed over the past year with significant public input. Survey responses from more than 2,000 people, five public meetings, five special-interest meetings, and a notification list of nearly 2,000 names resulted in input from people throughout the corridor. Five community advisory committee meetings were open to everyone interested. This input has resulted in a plan to calm traffic for the entire corridor, making it a safer and better neighborhood in which to live.
The roundabout at 60th Avenue East is an integral feature of this plan and should remain as a gateway for the east end of the corridor.
Tom Cotruvo lives in Duluth near London Road, was a Duluth city planner from 1976 to 1983, and then was in business development until 2009.