Transportation expert weighs in on roundabout safety following collision in Kitchener
Ask people driving and walking in the area of the Erb St. West and Ira Needles Blvd. roundabout, and it’s not hard to find someone with concerns or the story of a close call.
Josh Hart, who lives in the area, had more than a close call; he says he was hit by a car while crossing several years ago.
“I was walking across very early in the morning. The driver wasn’t paying attention,” Hart says. Adding he also missed seeing the car because of its dark colour.
The roundabout is a busy area surrounded by stores and restaurants.
“It’s always packed with cars throughout the day. It’s never slow,” says Manant Rajput, who crosses the intersection on foot every day.
On Tuesday, a 21-year-old male pedestrian was airlifted to hospital after being hit by a pickup truck while crossing the roundabout. Waterloo regional police described his injuries as serious but non-life threatening.
The investigation into that crash continues, and there’s no word yet on any charges.
Jeff Casello, a professor of transportation planning and engineering at the University of Waterloo, says it does seem that drivers and pedestrians in the region are generally safe in roundabouts, notwithstanding Tuesday’s crash. However, Casello points out there is an information gap.
“We don’t get data on near misses, so we don’t know how often there are potential conflicts that we don’t know about.”
Casello notes that the Erb and Ira Needles roundabout is well used by both drivers and pedestrians and says it may be worth looking at ways to slow cars down there.
One option Casello suggests is raising the pedestrian crossing to sidewalk height, creating an effect on the road that’s similar to a speed hump.
“Then the car comes, and it feels that vertical change as it’s entering into it, that’s a message to the drivers that you should slow down,” Casello says.
While some have mused about whether the pedestrian crossing should be moved outside the roundabout to make it safer, Casello isn’t convinced such a change would actually be effective.
“If you’re a pedestrian, you tend to travel in the most direct path, and if you’re asking pedestrians to go a longer distance, it has to be clear there’s a really big benefit for pedestrians, or else they won’t do it.”
Casello suggests adding a camera to record the intersection to get a better sense if changes are needed.
He’s also reminding drivers to look both ways before entering the roundabout, something that’s easy to forget when they are looking to the left, waiting for a gap to enter.
Pedestrians are encouraged to approach crossings slowly, lean out, extend their arm, try to make eye contact with any waiting drivers and make it clear the pedestrian intends to cross.
Those familiar with the area says patience goes a long way to staying safe.
“It’s just a really busy intersection now,” says Chelsey Hart, a nearby resident. “All you can do is watch the other drivers, and if you’re walking make sure you stop and wait for the car to stop.”
A spokesperson for the Region of Waterloo says they are not looking at making any changes to the roundabout at this time.
Staff will be presenting collision data for regional roads to councillors at a meeting on September 6.
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