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Tiffin’s first roundabout coming soon

Construction planned for spring 2019

TIFFIN– Looking to keep up with the demands of being the fastest growing city in the state, Tiffin is preparing to start development of its first roundabout.
To be constructed at the intersection of Marengo Street/Highway 6 and Park Road, the roundabout anticipates the new elementary school currently under construction, to be ready for classes August 2019, as well as growth at the adjacent Tiffin Elementary School.
Construction for the roundabout will go out for bid January 2019, to begin construction in spring. City Administrator Doug Boldt said Tiffin hopes to have it virtually completed by late 2019, before construction on I-380/I-80 interchange becomes a traffic burden, to allow traffic a smooth alternative route during the heavy construction period.
The city has been preparing ahead for such expansion, hiring Hart-Frederick Consultants P.C. in June 2016 to engineer the roundabout. The Traffic Safety Improvement Program (TSIP) grant was obtained in July, the same year, as well as the Iowa Communities Assurance Pool (ICAP) grant in November. Each grant provided $500,000, with the city making up the remaining half for an estimated total of $2 million for the project.
In a stance that persisted throughout the year, and a scenario not uncommon in the Corridor, some Tiffin residents and council members have expressed hesitance at opting for a roundabout over a traditional traffic light-based intersection. While the consensus has concluded roundabouts are safer for motor vehicles, questions have lingered as to whether it’s safer for pedestrians. Referring to her experience with the 12th Avenue/Forevergreen Road roundabout, Tiffin resident Lindsey Harshman questioned the council on the amount of data supporting roundabouts versus stoplights.
“Seeing the amount of people who don’t know how to drive on the roundabout, and the approximate chaos that nearly ensues, especially in the evening with high-volume traffic... does make me a little bit nervous,” Harshman remarked.
Council member Eric Schnedler admitted initial concerns but said he was eventually persuaded a roundabout would be the best option for Tiffin’s intersection.
“After lots of discussion, reading lots of information about other cities that have done it, and when the engineers were here, we had a special meeting... I am all for a roundabout at that location. I wasn’t. I will say, I was completely against it,” he confessed. “The pedestrian thing is questionable,” Schnedler added. “But it does at least break up that crossing with the little island in the middle.”
“Many cities are going to roundabouts now,” council member Al Havens noted in support of the decision, citing a new roundabout in Davenport that has been well received.
“Roundabouts actually put in a physical barrier for speed, whereas traffic lights tend to cause excessive speed when it’s changing,” he explained. “So they’ve got to go slower, or they’re not going to make the roundabout.”
Havens also noted Tiffin’s roundabout will incorporate flashing LED lights at the cross walk, which will be at eye level and activated by a button. A crosswalk is also planned to run across Park Road, north of Highway 6, for the new intersection.
Council member Peggy Upton remained skeptical throughout the approval process. “Most of the data and the studies are fairly old. I don’t think there’s anything newer than 2013,” she remarked. “The data we’ve seen doesn’t compare volume of crashes; it just makes kind of a blanket conclusion that roundabouts are safer because they slow the traffic.”
Ultimately, Upton relinquished to the council’s decision to approve construction.
“I really think the stoplight is going to be better; however, since there is no data to support that opinion regarding pedestrians, we’re going to have to try one and see,” she concluded.
Tiffin Mayor Steve Berner cited the five meetings discussing safety of roundabouts leading up to the final decision, and was satisfied with their conclusion.
“I’m with Eric; I fully support a roundabout out there. I think they’re ideal; I don’t think anything could possibly work better,” he insisted, pointing to research and his discussion with engineers.
Ultimately, the council approved unanimously, authorizing acquisition of the property necessary to construct the roundabout.
According to the website of the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC), funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), given a properly designed single-lane roundabout, motorist and pedestrian safety is almost always improved when compared to conventional intersections, while results regarding cyclist safety are somewhat mixed. Roundabouts have fewer conflict points and lower speeds compared to conventional intersections, the website states, resulting in a significant overall reduction in the severity of crashes for all users; although, the frequency of some crashes may increase. Multi-lane roundabouts present some challenges to pedestrians, thus reducing the safety effects that roundabouts provide, according to the PBIC.
The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) resoundingly states roundabouts are pedestrian friendly, citing the use of splitter islands and only needing to cross one direction of traffic at a time. Pedestrian crosswalks are set at least one full car length back from the yield line. That way pedestrians do not have to cross in front of drivers looking for their gap in traffic. Experience has shown the stopped vehicle one car length back from the yield line is more aware of pedestrians, the Iowa DOT website explains.
With a City of Tiffin monument currently located at the southwest corner of the intersection, the upcoming roundabout may also provide an opportunity for a fresh welcome to those heading into town. Tiffin City Administrator Doug Boldt said a subcommittee between the city engineer and two councilors are currently fleshing out the design of the roundabout island.
“They’re working on something decorative, whether it be a City of Tiffin sign with some shrubbery or something like that, but that’s generally speaking what we’ve been talking about,” he confirmed.
Meanwhile, the city continues to make progress on two traffic light intersections. Roberts Ferry Road/Highway 6 has been bid and is awaiting materials for construction.
A smaller-scale approach at the Deer View/Highway 6 intersection received approval from the Iowa DOT following traffic studies, and is awaiting bid. This will see lights strung on wooden poles and cables as opposed to higher-scale steel mast arms.