By Leslie Ballard
Allegan may soon join other Michigan communities that have adopted a roundabout system as the Allegan City Council is poised to vote on a resolution to support the design/construction of a roundabout at Hubbard Street during their February 14, 2022 meeting.
The Council has been discussing how to realign Hubbard Street at the M-40 (Jenner Drive)/M-89 intersection since September 2001, exploring a variety of options to improve the intersection for traffic and pedestrians. The City has purchased land in recent years in anticipation of finding a solution to this project. According to Doug Kadzbahn, Director of Public Works for Allegan, another goal of realigning was to make Hubbard Street a “gateway” entrance into the city from M89 that would improve connectivity to downtown. Councilman Roger Byrd agrees, “I think this will add an aesthetic, a perceived value of the cool things going on here and send the message that something big is happening in Allegan. The towns and cities that have roundabouts are those that are up and coming, and that would be the case with Allegan.”
In 2010 Dan Burden from the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute conducted a walkability assessment of Allegan and recommended looking at a roundabout as a way to make the intersection safer. “To achieve its full life and vitality, the City and town center of Allegan needs to be easier to get to, and to circulate within, especially by its own residents, and to do this by foot, as well as by bike and by car,” he noted.
When MDOT scheduled their asphalt resurfacing project on M-89 from M-222 (Monroe Street) to 29th Street for 2023, the logical step for the city was to incorporate the realignment with the resurfacing project. This means that the resurfacing will be pushed back to 2024 but combining “the M-89 resurfacing project and Hubbard Street intersection improvements provides an opportunity for cost savings and will reduce the impact to the public,” states Thomas Sabin, Projects & contracts Engineer for MDOT.
The proposed roundabout is the result of a partnership between the city and its engineer (Abonmarche) and MDOT that began in January 2020. MDOT conducted an operational analysis of the intersection, which led them to identifying a roundabout as the best alternative. As Sabin observes, “this is an important intersection, and we wanted to get it right. This is the best solution.” MDOT and the City spent 2021 investigating alternatives, conducting traffic modeling and working on cost estimates. By early December, MDOT made their preference for a roundabout clear and presented their operational analysis to the Council at the December 13, 2021 Study Session.
During that meeting, the Council members shared their concerns about the project, including cost and pedestrian safety as well as how commercial traffic and superloads would navigate the roundabout and what impact the roundabout would have on the Cutler/Cedar and Monroe/Cedar intersections. MDOT engineers considered these concerns, returning to the January 24, 2022 Study Session to present evidence and studies regarding the issues raised.
The initial cost of the roundabout was “prohibitive,” according to several Council members, but at last week’s City Council Study Session, MDOT presented cost breakdowns that makes the estimated $780,000 price tag for the city in line with the city’s budget, according to City Manager Joel Dye. The total future value estimate for the project is over $3.1 million, with MDOT paying for the majority. “MDOT believes this is such a strong candidate for this project that the state has sought additional funding to make it possible,” Sabin adds. The estimated figures budget for inflation over the next three years.
The roundabout will have five legs: Hubbard Street as it leads to downtown, Marshall St. (M-89 east), Jenner Street (including South Cedar), Ely Street (including west Hubbard Street) and Cedar Street. Each leg has a pedestrian refuge in the middle so that pedestrians cross half of the leg at a time, therefore crossing for shorter distances while needing to watch for traffic from one direction only. Cyclists can also take advantage of the pedestrian crossings. Currently, this intersection is considered dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists. “The flow will be better and so much easier for pedestrians and cyclists to navigate,” says Byrd, a recreational walker. Councilman Bill Morgan also thinks it is a “safer way for people to get in and out of Ely Street and the whole area will be safer.”
Nathan Schilling, MDOT Traffic Safety Engineer, stated that the roundabout concept presented is designed for larger commercial loads and will include a concrete truck apron. According to the MDOT website, “roundabouts can handle a high volume of traffic, including commercial trucks and large emergency vehicles.” Currently Michigan has 51 roundabouts in operation with another 8 under construction, and no problems with large commercial loads have been noted. Schilling said that during peak volume hours, 1600 vehicles can pass through a roundabout.
Shilling also addressed the concern about the proposed roundabout causing backups at the Cutler/Cedar intersection. “The current traffic model for Cutler Street/Cedar Street signal shows traffic queues do not extend beyond Trowbridge Street during peak hours. This is due to the existing detectors in the pavement that allows the northbound left and thru movements to clear. This detection would be replaced with the resurfacing and continue to operate with a roundabout.”
MDOT believes roundabouts have been proven to safely decrease traffic delays and congestion. According to the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officers, roundabouts have significantly reduced the severity of crashes resulting in disabling injuries and death by nearly 82% compared to conventional stop-controlled and signalized intersections. Roundabouts can also cost less than traditional signalized intersections. As Kadzbahn notes, “MDOT is concerned with the level of service, which means moving as much traffic safely through with minimal wait time.”
Byrd believes, that “some will struggle with the roundabout if they aren’t familiar with them, so we will need to education people.” MDOT and the City agree that educating the public about navigating the roundabout will be key, and MDOT has committed to providing a variety of resources. Morgan thinks it may be confusing at first for older drivers, but as they get used to it, he thinks they will find it easier. Information about roundabouts can be found at www.michigan.gove/mdot and youtube videos from MDOT are also available.
Passing the resolution at the next Council meeting is required for MDOT and Allegan City staff to proceed with implementing the roundabout intersection concept. “I really hope we can make this work,” said Byrd. Morgan agrees, “personally I think this is the way to go for pedestrians and drivers.”