Painful Lessons Learned from Traffic Roundabouts
Some studies say that suburban sprawl is cancelling out all of the carbon-footprint saving initiatives being made by surrounding cities. Although there are plenty of innovative solutions to the problem, the bad news is that there are some big obstacles to carrying them out. The biggest obstacles are our own fears.
How can we overcome our individual fears and the resulting political and regulatory obstacles to improve our suburbs and the environment?
These are the People in Your Neighborhood
We may all know at least one disgruntled homeowner, who having watched their taxes go up – Every. Single. Year. – is so jaded that they will oppose any proposal that might raise their taxes by as little as a fraction of a cent higher, regardless of a plethora of benefits.
I’ve seen many outspoken residents and business owners that seem to be waiting on the sidelines, ready to leap in and protest the latest community proposal or innovation, whatever it may be. Typically, they’re worried most about additional tax increases and/or lowered property values.
Indeed, every one of us enters that zone of fear at some point in time; afraid of change that may affect our current lifestyle (or bank account.) But the reality is – the status quo isn’t working. To demonstrate my point, let’s take a look at the debate that many communities often face about traffic roundabouts.
Are you one who is against traffic roundabouts?
Traffic roundabouts have been proven time and again to be significantly better at reducing accidents, and are more efficient at moving traffic than signalized intersections. They have lower long-term operational costs, and they reduce idling vehicle greenhouse gas emissions. The space inside the roundabout circle even presents a great opportunity for unique landscaping and/or other aesthetic improvements that can enhance a city’s appeal.
But in spite of the benefits, the wealth of data, research, and even this episode of Mythbusters supporting the overwhelming evidence that roundabouts are indeed better, there’s always a very loud crowd of opposition that seems to automatically spring up at the mere mention of them.
In most of the roundabout battles I’ve witnessed over the years, those opposed tend to randomly spew out intelligent-sounding, but totally bogus information about what they think is wrong with roundabouts and why the costs aren’t justified. Clearly, they haven’t done the proper research.
What’s worse is that those opposed are usually loud and influential enough to actually convince their community leaders and decision makers to give up on the roundabout altogether. And so, the city will just ditch the idea and continue to endure the high rate of fatal accidents, while continuing to research other solutions to cure the ills of a dangerous and often congested intersection.
This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things…
The debate surrounding traffic roundabouts makes me think that people are terrific at being able to ignore better solutions, especially when they’re staring us right in the face.
Seeing how a simple traffic roundabout can pit neighbor against neighbor in a community, it’s no wonder why suburban neighborhoods haven’t yet implemented more complex sustainability solutions.
What are the chances for our suburban communities of actually making reasonable progress towards sustainability, when our own trepidations about change continue to get in the way?
Overcoming the Obstacles to Change
Blog author, Zach Vanderkooy, discusses how much he enjoys protected bike lanes in Copenhagen, Denmark. He also recounts the struggles it took to get them built. During the 1960’s, Copenhagen, like the U.S., was once dominated by cars. It took 40+ years of incremental changes for Copenhagen to become the bicycle and people-friendly city that it is today.
There’s no shortage of viable solutions that would lower the environmental impact of our nation’s suburbs while also improving the quality of life for the people who live in them. Just check out the LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) recommendations. The real challenge is in overcoming the fear of taking the first steps towards a more sustainable future.
The best advice – always do your research to know (not speculate) as much as you can about the costs, benefits and possible risks involved with any project that requires a community referendum. Be ready to share your information with your friends and acquaintances, and encourage them to do the same with theirs. People don’t know how much something is needed until they can really see and understand it on their own.
What is your community doing to change? What are the challenges?