Local View: There is another option to London Road roundabout
From the column: "In the right locations, roundabouts are very useful, but that does not mean they are always the best solution."
Last fall, I attended a public Minnesota Department of Transportation briefing at Glensheen on possible changes to London Road. The importance of this topic was evident by the overflowing attendance.
A current proposal, including three roundabouts, would maintain a steady traffic flow along London Road. One of the proposed roundabouts would be constructed at 60th Avenue East. Comments and a generally negative attitude from the public clearly indicate this roundabout suggestion is not popular. Several valid concerns — such as the loss of public gardens, the limited ability for left turns into Glensheen or other properties, and issues in the pedestrian use of roundabouts — have been clearly expressed.
MnDOT representatives told the crowd that the rationale for the roundabout at 60th Avenue East was to slow down traffic using the Lester River bridge. The proposed roundabout may achieve that laudable objective for traffic heading up the North Shore. However, this goal would not be fully realized for traffic coming down the shore and onto London Road. Downshore traffic would continue to approach the bridge from the north at relatively high speeds because the current Highway 61 design funnels the traffic from the 65 mph highway onto one-lane Congdon Boulevard.
I propose another option to the 60th Avenue East roundabout to slow traffic onto the Lester River bridge while also addressing concerns expressed at the public meeting.
This proposal has several components that would be mutually supportive. Consider building a roundabout on Highway 61 where Superior Street crosses the highway. In addition, install stoplights at 60th Avenue East with a crosswalk that can be initiated by pedestrians. Two sets of rumble strips would also be installed: one on the shore side of London Road approaching 60th Avenue East and the other on the land side just before the Lester River bridge.
This combination of traffic operational improvements may have several advantages:
- The danger of a high-speed T-bone accident from Superior Street traffic crossing Highway 61 would be eliminated.
- Traffic coming onto Congdon Boulevard from up the shore would be slowed down by the Highway 61/Superior Street roundabout.
- Citybound traffic would be slowed down approaching the active North Shore Scenic Railroad crossing.
- Pedestrians would be able to safely reach the shore side of London Road by using the crosswalks at the stoplighted 60th Avenue East.
- Traffic approaching the Lester River bridge from either direction would be slowed down when alerted by the rumble strips.
- And public gardens and parkland would remain intact.
I have the highest regard for the hard-working individuals at MnDOT who are reaching out for the ideas and concerns of the public they serve. No solution is perfect, and this suggested proposal would not result in steady traffic flow. A cost comparison would require engineering studies.
In the right locations, roundabouts are very useful, but that does not mean they are always the best solution. Historically, highways have both improved and spoiled the beauty and social fabric of communities. Taking the time to fully explore all options is worth the effort.
Richard D. Stewart of Duluth is a professor emeritus of transportation and logistics management at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. His views expressed here are his alone.