It’s not a roundabout

Roundabout panic may have swept through Oak Harbor Tuesday only to be allayed by the news that it was a traffic circle — not a roundabout — being installed at SE Ely and SE 8th streets.

The city’s plan for roundabout intersections has caused widespread comment, both for and against, so concerns were no doubt plentiful when motorists saw city workers begin installing a circular curb in the center of the intersection Tuesday morning.

But this is not a European-style roundabout. City engineer Eric Johnson was careful to describe it as “a traffic circle — smaller and much different than a roundabout.” The intent is to “calm” traffic on Ely, a busy alternative to Highway 20.

Stop signs at the two 8th Street corners of the intersection will not be removed for the traffic circle, as they would be for a roundabout. And the traffic circle at 20 to 25 feet in diameter is much smaller than a roundabout with a diameter of 100 to 125 feet, Johnson said.

Some history was made, however, as the work marked the first traffic circle to be installed in Oak Harbor. Johnson said the circle at SE Ely and SE 8th is considered temporary. It is bare looking, with just a bright yellow asphalt curb and signs in the center. But if traffic engineers determine it’s effective at calming traffic, it will be upgraded to include some foliage in the center.

“It’s an experiment,” Johnson said. “If it’s successful there will be decorative landscaping.”

Later in the day Tuesday, motorists approached the newly designed intersection with caution. Through traffic on Ely Street slowed to round the circle, while those traveling down 8th apparently wondered if they still had to stop.

Connie Ross, a News-Times production employee, said her car was nearly clipped by one rounding the circle when she was stopped at the 8th Street stop sign.

Ross, for one, is no fan of the new design. “It’s horrible,” she said. “She (the other driver) stopped and I had to back up.” She said she’ll use an alternate route in the future.

This is the first step of a new traffic calming effort approved by the City Council. Johnson said $50,000 was budgeted this year.

The same busy intersection has been calmed in recent weeks by a portable speed bump placed across Ely Street. That bump was removed as the traffic circle was installed. Johnson said the bump will be relocated to SE 6th and Pasek streets.

As for roundabouts, Johnson said nothing is imminent. He expects the first one to be installed next year. The site has yet to be determined, but he said Oak Harbor Street and NE 7th Avenue “looks promising.” Eventually, there could be a roundabout at the city’s southern entrance at Swantown and Highway 20.

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