Roundabout's makeover serves dual purpose

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By Carol A. Clark

One of the greatest roundabouts ever built in the U.S. is in Clearwater Beach, Fla. It carries up to 58,000 vehicles and 8,000 pedestrians per day. Palm trees sprout from the roundabout’s midsection, replacing a towering fountain deemed too distracting – and the cause of many a fender bender. Frequent wind gusts showering water onto passing cars and drenching pedestrians further contributed to the fountain’s demise.

The roundabout at the intersection of Diamond Drive and San Ildefonso Road carries up to 11,000 vehicles and less than 50 pedestrians daily. While clearly not as grand as Clearwater Beach, it is looking lusher than ever since Los Alamos County gave it a makeover.

Parks Division Manager Dick McIntyre designed the circular space now laced with varying types of shrubbery and a sprinkling of violet flowers that provide ground cover and frame three young Spruce trees.

Parks staff installed the landscaping and large tan boulders, which add another dimension to the design and stand ready to set off a bronze sculpture selected by the Art in Public Places Advisory Board.

The sculpture, titled, “Canyon Watch,” was approved by County Council in February not to exceed $60,000, including delivery and installation.

Artist Kent Ullberg fabricated the 6-foot-tall sculpture, which depicts a mountain lion gazing over a canyon’s edge. The piece is scheduled to be erected soon.

Public Works Department Director Kyle Zimmerman explained that the beautification of the roundabout is part of the Diamond Drive Project and will actually serve to enhance vehicle safety as the pine trees grow taller.

“On approach, drivers should be looking left to yield to oncoming vehicles and also looking straight ahead,” Zimmerman said. “Landscaping that blocks the view through the roundabout actually makes it a lot safer. Studies in the U.S. find that landscaped roundabouts are safer because drivers do slow down – and being able to see vehicles in every direction just causes a distraction.”

Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center (TFHRC), a federally owned and operated research facility in McLean, Va., and the home of the Federal Highway Administration’s Office of Research, Development and Technology, states that modern roundabouts are the safest and most attractive form of traffic control available for traffic calming and cost savings, and all-in-all, the most versatile and fastest growing form of traffic control in America.

According to Roundabouts U.S.A., roundabouts provide space to accommodate trees nearer the source of pollution from passing vehicles and actually benefit from having vertical elements such as trees because they discourage users from proceeding in the wrong direction.

When built as part of new road construction, the Roundabouts U.S.A. website states, roundabouts are cheaper to build than signalized intersections.

If used instead of traffic signals, they save money because maintenance cost is almost zero; they require no electricity, regular tune-ups or annual replacement parts; they suffer no blackouts; and they cannot be blown away.

For information, call the Parks Division at 662-8159 662-8150 or access www.losalamosnm.us.