John MacKay won’t deny his love for roundabouts.
But North Cowichan’s director of engineering and operations maintains his enthusiasm for traffic circles isn’t personal.
In fact, he said the installation of two new roundabouts planned for Chemainus in addition to the two already installed in Mural Town, is largely a result of road improvement and safety issues.
North Cowichan’s Chemainus Revitalization Plan calls for the installation of one Chemainus Road roundabout at River Road this summer, and eventually another at Victoria Street near the Chemainus Theatre.
There are currently already traffic circles at Henry Road and Oak Street/Victoria Road.
“With Chemainus Road, we did [the Chemainus Active Transportation Plan] a number of years ago that identified intersections that needed to be upgraded, and River Road was one of them, and when you go to upgrade an intersection, you look at whether it should be signalized, or a roundabout or other means,” said MacKay.
“For River Road, and we decided this on a lot of the intersections, a roundabout was a better option for safety reasons than a traffic signal.”
But Saltair resident Pat Mulcahy isn’t buying it. Although Mulcahy lives in Saltair, not Chemainus, he drives through the town every day.
And he’s concerned there are too many roundabouts planned in such a short span, including three within 800 metres and four in 1.6 kilometres.
He’s also not convinced with the data shown to justify what he says is one of the most expensive options.
Roundabouts typically cost about $500,000, dependent on a number of factors.
ICBC chips in about $60,000 and taxpayers pay the rest through the municipality’s road improvement budget.
“It’s absolutely insane,” Mulcahy said. “It’s quite clear someone at North Cowichan likes their roundabouts.
“Surely funds of such magnitude could be better put towards other Chemainus Plan projects that are withering on the vine.”
Mulcahy highlighted data from a traffic report resulting from a count completed in June 12 and 13, 2012. It saw 712 vehicles pass through the Chemainus/River roads intersection at the peak hour of 3 p.m. The total traffic in a day was 8,059 vehicles.
“The River Road intersection is T-shaped with River Road butting into Chemainus Road from the west and, from my viewpoint — I use both the Chemainus and River roads frequently — is a rather quiet, even lazy, sort of intersection.
“The data and their analysis do not suggest any degree of concern regarding traffic congestion at the River Road intersection.
“Further, ICBC stats, which reveal an average of just over one accident per year at this intersection (2008-12 data, including a four-accident spike in 2010) do not appear to warrant a traffic circle due to accident frequency.”
However, MacKay insists reasoning for the roundabout there is reducing traffic speeds and crashes at that intersection, as well as to improve the visual aspects of it.
“Chemainus residents have been requesting improvements to the Chemainus/River Road intersection for many years,” he said. “There have been eight crashes at this intersection between 2008 and 2012.
“[Roundabouts] are proven to reduce speed to 30 km/hr at the intersection thus improving safety. RCMP patrols, speeds signs etc. cannot produce this result.”
Right now, North Cowichan is home to 14 roundabouts overall.