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Vision 2013: North Cowichan going in circles

North Cowichan director of engineering John Mackay said the roundabout at Beverly Street and Lakes Road has significantly improved traffic safety and operations. - Ashley Degraaf
North Cowichan director of engineering John Mackay said the roundabout at Beverly Street and Lakes Road has significantly improved traffic safety and operations.
— image credit: Ashley Degraaf

Around and around we go.

That may be the feeling drivers in Cowichan experience if they’re cruising through North Cowichan’s 13 roundabouts.

But it also works as a subtle hint from muni staffers there are more traffic circles to come.

“The district is one of the largest B.C. municipalities geographically and has over 300 kilometres of road with many intersections,” explained North Cowichan director of engineering and operations John Mackay.

“The district’s transportation study identified a number of intersections within North Cowichan for future upgrading and we have found that roundabouts provide for a very safe intersection versus signalized intersections and so have favoured building them.”

So much its 14th traffic circle located at Maple Bay’s Kingsview and Donnay intersection is due for completion by the end of August.

Of the 13 roundabouts built prior, 10 of those were constructed by North Cowichan and the remaining three by developers.

The last traffic circle of the 13 tally was completed at the Chemainus/Victoria/Oak Street intersection in 2012 at a cost of $362,000.

Costs can vary, depending on property acquisition, utility upgrading, rock excavation, landscaping, street lighting, and the amount of grade required to provide a relatively flat circle.

But they typically range from $360,000 to $540,000.

They also help the municipality move ahead with its environmental goals.

“Roundabouts also produce substantially less greenhouse gas than a conventional signalized intersection which supports the district’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas production,” Mackay explained.

And the added safety at intersections is priceless, well almost.

“ICBC has provided grant funds for almost all our roundabouts from their intersection safety program,” Mackay said. “ICBC funds the roundabouts as they greatly reduce accidents and particularly the severity of accidents.”

The muni’s most improved intersection from traffic circle installation, according to Mackay, was the Beverly Street and Lakes Road project.

“Vehicles would come down the Lakes Road intersection doing in excess of 70 km/hour. Now they have to slow down to 30 km/hour to negotiate the circle,” he said. “The severity of accidents is greatly reduced.”

The Beverly/Lakes roundabout as well as the Chemainus/Henry circle were the muni’s first, built in 2005.

Many factors are pondered when planning for a new roundabout.

“The district looks at intersections which need traffic control improvement, where speeding and accidents may be a problem and has been favouring roundabouts as opposed to traffic signals,” Mackay explained.

Advantages include: speed reduction, speed consistency, greater capacity, right turn movements and safe and quick U-turns.

Added bonuses also include the circles not requiring signal equipment which, in turn, requires constant power, periodic light bulb and detection maintenance or regular timing updates. Roundabouts also have a longer service life (25 years) compared to a signal (10 years), as well as an opportunity to provide an attractive entry or centrepiece for a community or neighbourhood.

The district has retained a traffic engineer to design the circle’s concept and construction plans. They take traffic and pedestrian volume, speed of approaching vehicles, approaching grades, street lighting, landscaping features and detour routes as factors.

Although roundabouts encourage folks to slow down, the municipality isn’t pumping the brakes in its mission for more roundabout construction.

“We are planning roundabouts at the Chemainus/River Road intersection in 2013, the Drinkwater/Lane intersection in 2014 and the Chemainus/Victoria Street intersection (by the Chemainus Theatre) in 2015 or 2016,” Mackay outlined.

And North Cowichan isn’t the only community on the roundabout wagon either.

Ladysmith was the valley’s first community to install one, while Lake Cowichan is putting the finishing touches on its second, smack in the middle of town.

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