Engineer: Main Street roundabout may have “more cons than pros”
A potential roundabout design at the intersection of Main street and Pleasant street in downtown Concord was put forth by the city of Concord in mid January.
Engineers are still analyzing a potential roundabout design at Main and Pleasant streets in Concord, but its drawbacks could outweigh its benefits, they told downtown merchants at a meeting yesterday.
The steep slope on the Pleasant Street Extension and the amount of space available in the intersection might make the roundabout design infeasible, according to City Engineer Ed Roberge.
“We don’t want to get to a point where we’re simply squeezing in a solution, it just doesn’t work that way,” Roberge said. “But we wanted to also give it a fair shot.”
The consideration of a roundabout is part of the city’s Main Street redesign project. Concord received a $4.71 million federal grant last year to reconstruct 12 blocks of Main Street, from Storrs and South Main streets to Storrs and North Main streets.
It’s city policy to consider every alternative during a road construction project, Roberge said. Federal funding for the project also requires an analysis of traffic options, he said. Engineers found a roundabout could function at Pleasant and Main streets, and presented a draft design at a public meeting about the project earlier this month.
“As we presented at the Jan. 15 meeting, the roundabout has some challenges,” Roberge said. “And quite frankly, right now in my opinion, there may be more cons than pros with respect to a roundabout.”
But the roundabout plan hasn’t been ruled out yet. Roberge said he is still gathering public input and will eventually make a recommendation to the Concord City Council, which must approve all project designs.
The small group of downtown business owners gathered yesterday morning had questions about roundabouts: Would its pedestrian crossings without signals slow traffic? Would trucks move through the roundabout? Is there a cost difference between the two designs?
Gene McCarthy of the engineering firm McFarland Johnson told merchants that the roundabout would eliminate long waits for both motorists and pedestrians.
“It’s slow and steady, unlike a signal where it’s very up and down.”
Roberge said the intersection would improve traffic flow and pedestrian safety. Main street could remain two lanes at the intersection, while traffic signals could require turning lanes.
Potential problems include the amount of space available to construct the roundabout, he said. Roundabouts typically have landscaping or extra space to keep pedestrians away from where trucks might run onto the curb and hit someone.
“In some cases where you get an urban condition like this where you can’t have that landscape separation, you’ve got to put bollards up or something to keep people away in the event that the occasional truck tracks over that,” he said. “We just don’t have a lot of room right there.”
McCarthy said those tight corners with a roundabout design are “not desirable.”
Emergency vehicles and most trucks could navigate through the roundabout, Roberge said. Long, large trucks could move through the roundabout and take left turns, but would have to rotate around the entire roundabout before taking a right turn.
“And that’s not uncommon . . . it’s not ideal,” he said.
With a roundabout design, crosswalks would be set back about 25 feet from the vehicle entrance to the roundabout, and would not require signals to cross the street. Motorists would yield for pedestrians.
But a crosswalk could become a problem at the Pleasant Street Extension, Roberge said, where the street slopes sharply downhill from the intersection. It could be difficult to make that crosswalk handicapped accessible, he said.
The roundabout design would be less expensive than purchasing new traffic signals for the intersection, Roberge said.
If traffic signals are used at the intersection, Roberge said they would operate differently than today. Currently, pedestrians can only cross when all cars are stopped. New traffic signals would allow pedestrians to cross at different times depending on the flow of traffic. Diagonal crosswalks through the intersection would be eliminated.
Also at yesterday’s meeting, merchants weighed in on the latest version of the design for Main Street. The design would reduce traffic to two lanes with a six-foot-wide median that could be used as a turning or passing lane.
The plan would widen sidewalks, making room for trees, landscaping and public art. Under the most recent draft of the design, North Main Street would have parallel parking on the west side of the street, with angled parking spaces on the east side. Angled parking would remain in front of the State House plaza.
Construction is scheduled to begin in September and finish by 2015.
Business owners complimented the design, but voiced concern over long-term maintenance after the project is complete.
Roberge said the establishment of a business improvement district, under which property owners would pay an annual maintenance fee, could cover the expense.
“I think a lot of these things are really nice and it’s going to take a lot of time and effort, and that means money to maintain them, and that’s a reality,” he said.
Laura Miller, owner of Imagination Village on North Main Street, said she worries that the fee could become too expensive and that property owners would charge their tenants.
Sue McCoo, owner of The Capitol Craftsman & Romance Jewelers, suggested landscaping with bushes and low-maintenance plants. When she has flowers outside her store, she said they are usually trashed by pedestrians.
“Ideally, I would love all beautiful flower barrels, I really would,” she said. “But trying to be realistic, it really means that you do need function as well as beauty.”
The city council would need to vote to establish a business improvement district, which would be governed by a seven-member board. Gerry Carrier, owner of Little River Oriental Rugs on North Main Street, reminded other merchants that no decision has been made.
“Well, they were told to be bold, so this is their proposal so far,” Carrier said of the designs. “We’ll see how it works.”
The next meeting about the Main Street project will be held Monday at 7 p.m. at the Grappone Conference Center. The public feedback event will be hosted by New Hampshire Listens, an initiative of the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute.
The city council will hold a public hearing about the project at its Feb. 11 meeting.