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Editorial: Main Street roundabout? Not so crazy!

Now that Concord has decided to go forward with a redesign of Main Street, it shouldn’t be like a homeowner who paints two sides of the house and leaves the rest for another year. It should do the whole job and be bold about it. That’s why, if a few big questions can be answered, we support the replacement of the traffic lights at the intersection of Main and Pleasant streets with a roundabout.

The roundabouts at Franklin and North State streets and the one adjacent to Dewey School are safer, faster and more attractive than the four- and five-way intersections with stop signs they replaced. The same would be true of a roundabout at Main and Pleasant.

The intersection now allows plenty of time for daydreaming and reflection – or steering wheel and forehead pounding. The wait, when pedestrian traffic is heavy, can be interminable. Violations of the intersection’s “no right turn on red” rules are routine.

The walk for pedestrians is long and, for the disabled and elderly, anxiety-producing.

The accident rate at roundabouts is 80 percent lower than at signaled intersections, and the accidents that do occur are less serious because speeds are low.

A roundabout would keep the thousands of cars trapped and idling at the intersection each day moving, reducing pollution. It would tie the North and South Main street districts together and reduce the bowling-lane look of a long, straight Main Street. Landscaping would make it visually appealing. But we have two big concerns.

The first is cost. The redesign has been budgeted at $7.85 million, with 60 percent of the funding or $4.71 million, coming from a federal Department of Transportation grant. So far, no estimate has been given for the cost of creating the downtown roundabout, but it would be nearly identical in size to the one at Dewey School. That one cost a bit more than a half-million dollars in 2008. The larger roundabout under consideration for McKee Square in the South End is estimated to cost just under $1 million.

Assuming the cost for the downtown roundabout falls somewhere between those two figures, where would the money come from? Would other elements of the redesign have to be sacrificed to make the roundabout possible?

Our other concern is one shared by merchants.

Smaller truck and fire engines would be able to navigate the downtown roundabout just as they pass through the Dewey School roundabout – by going over the apron. Very long trucks could negotiate the gentle turns required to go straight but could not turn right or left.

Could the delivery needs of merchants be met economically if those trucks were rerouted? Are there better ways to deal with the delivery problem than parking 50-foot trucks on Main Street?

While it would have been better if the roundabout been proposed earlier in the process, no good idea should be rejected because it was a late entry. Assuming solutions to these problems can be found, a roundabout should get the go-ahead.

Pleasant Street Extension (the piece leading from Main Street down to Storrs Street) is very steep, and visibility is poor as you drive up the hill: adding a roundabout to what is already a tricky intersection is asking for trouble.

Worked for Keene. We love them. Yes, there is a learning curve. But they work. One then city-councilor even demanded a slip lane be put in the exiting intersection (Main and Winchester) before we made the big leap to a roundabout. We called it Randy's Slip Lane for the councilor. When it failed, we moved forward.

Want to change traffic flow downtown? How about the following at Pleasant and Main? * Remove walk signals and move pedestrian crosswalks a few car lengths back from intersection, so that a busy times of day a continuous flow of pedestrians will keep traffic from entering or leaving the intersection * Change speed limit to 10 mph so that even when traffic flows well it will take cars longer to clear the intersection * Build up the middle of the intersection so that left-turning vehicles can't turn in front of each other but instead must go past and turn behind so lines of left-turning traffic will conflict - what the NSC defensive driving course calls a tangle turn * Remove "NO RIGHT TURN ON RED" signs, in fact remove all traffic signals and replace them with yield signs such that the first vehicle to enter the intersection has the right-of-way * Oh yes, package all these ideas together and spend $500,000 to call it a roundabout

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