If the citizens of Orléans, a community in the eastern 'quartier' of Ottawa, are lucky, this typical suburban crash-waiting-to-happen intersection:
...will be replaced by this brilliant concept:
These are shots of the intersection of Jeanne d'Arc and St-Joseph in Orléans, before (above, as it is now) and after (below, as it could be as early as November this year, presuming the planned roundabout construction gets the go-ahead).
I'm sorry the plan faces north. while I was aiming south when I took the 'above' picture. You get the idea.
I'm also sorry I couldn't afford to rent a helicopter to get an overhead shot of the 'before' so you could see how truly screwed up it is.
But then, it is identical to virtually every major suburban intersection on this continent, so you already know how truly screwed up it is.
30 - 40 cars at rush hour, sometimes in each of the four directions, all idling away for several minutes per traffic light signal cycle, wasting gasoline and polluting the atmosphere, just waiting for the chance to play the who-will-crash-into-me-today? lottery that such intersections represent.
Or, if you happen upon this (or any) intersection at night, sitting there by yourself for what always seems like an eternity without another car in sight.
No fewer than fifteen sets of traffic lights, eight pedestrian crossing signals and several pedestrian crossing push-buttons, all hugely expensive to buy, operate and maintain, are all apparently necessary to create even a modicum of order out of this chaos.
In its place will be a roundabout which, as regular readers already know, is the most advanced traffic management concept ever invented.
The Orléans project began as a 'street-scaping' project, designed to make this, one of four major entreés into the community, look more welcoming. Town planners realized that there was room for a proper roundabout, plans were made, council approval obtained, tenders called for and won - and much of it will even be paid for by the federal government under the 'stimulus infrastructure' program.
The current intersection is rated a 'D' on the town planners' traffic flow rating scale, and would need an extra lane added in each direction to get it up to a 'B'; as a roundabout it goes all the way to 'A', and growth projections indicate nothing more will need to be done to it for another 20 years.
And, it's largely paid for by the feds!
How many 'wins' in a row is that?
Interestingly, surprisingly - shockingly even - there are people in Orléans who don't want better safety, reduced fuel consumption, reduced emissions, and vastly improved traffic flow. They are opposed to this project.
They primarily cite concerns about safety.
True, there is a period of acclimatization.
But the British and French have these everywhere; are the critics saying Canadians aren't smart enough to figure this out?
I suspect most of the resistance stems simply from a reluctance to accept change.
I get that. I'm small-c conservative myself.
But everywhere roundabouts are installed - yes, even in Canada - traffic crashes drop precipitously, both in frequency and in severity.
After all, the most dangerous type of crash is a head-on, followed by a tee-bone. Both are effectively impossible in a roundabout - the worst that can happen is a side-swipe.
Pedestrians and cyclists only have to worry about traffic coming in one direction at a time, so they too are safer. My cyclist friends go on and on about how safe and efficient their chosen mode of transport is; cycling is vastly more popular in Europe where roundabouts, er, abound, so that can hardly be a problem.
Truckers? The ones I've talked to have no problem with roundabouts, provided they are large enough to accommodate their big rigs (which this one is). The toughest thing for a trucker is to accelerate from rest, and run up through all 13 / 18 / however many gears, wasting time and fuel, and slowing other traffic. If they can navigate through a roundabout at even a slow speed, as opposed to having to come to a complete stop, it improves their efficiency even more than for cars.
Some critics claim local businesses are opposed to this roundabout. But members of the 'Heart of Orléans' BIA (Business Improvement Area) I spoke with said the four businesses most affected - those at each corner of the current intersection - are fine with it. One of the two ramps at each gas station currently do not meet code anyway, tossing vehicles out into the flow of traffic which is moving too quickly for safety.
And one of the advantages of roundabouts is that it makes U-turns a snap - you just keep circling around until you get to where you want to go. This means you have easier access to businesses on both sides of the street, and what company would not want to improve its 'drive-by' business opportunities?
Once you really understand how well these things work, you become a zealot - as one Ottawa councillor who had initially opposed the Orléans proposal did.
One of the best analyses of roundabouts I've seen comes from our near-by neighbour, the Region of Waterloo, which has installed many of them over the past few years.
Visit: www.region.waterloo.on.ca/web/region.nsf/roundabout_index2.html for more details on their successes.
So, Orléans-ians, count your blessings.
And wish those of us who 'get it' here in the GTA the same kind of luck you're about to enjoy.
There are tentative steps in Toronto itself, and a local councillor told me a few days ago that even Milton is being dragged into the 20th century of traffic management.
(Note to Milton Town Planners - that century ended 10 years ago; could you pick up the pace a little, please?)