Moving on from debate with no end

The Press Democrat, Editorial

The intersection of Healdsburg Avenue, Mill Street and Vine Street in Healdsburg.
The intersection of Healdsburg Avenue, Mill Street and Vine Street in Healdsburg.

All hail to Healdsburg — conquering hero of circular arguments. More precisely, the city is the latest champion for those seeking an end to the asymmetrical madness about roundabouts in Sonoma County.

“Roundabouts are confusing and dangerous,” a letter writer wrote last year in encouraging Healdsburg to reject plans for a roundabout at a five-way stop on Healdsburg Avenue in downtown.

Similar sentiments have been expressed about roundabouts recently built or still in the planning stages from Petaluma to Windsor to the Sonoma Valley. Opponents have referred to them as, at best, a waste of government money and, at worst, a deliberate attempt at making the lives of citizens more complicated and, possibly, more dangerous.

Call it Cirque de Silliness.

The opposition reached such absurd extremes that three years ago Cotati voters not only rejected a reasonable plan for calming traffic on Old Redwood Highway through the center of town with the help of a couple of roundabouts, they banned roundabouts completely.

The rejection cost the city more than $1 million in federal grant money that was targeted for the project and sent the city back to the drawing board, where, for the most part, it still sits.

But this week, the Healdsburg City Council struck a blow for rational thought.

After nearly 30 years of discussion about what to do with traffic patterns downtown and after getting five years of public feedback on possible plans, the council on Tuesday gave the green light to plans for a roundabout at the complicated five-way stop where Healdsburg Avenue, Mill and Vine streets all converge with the railroad tracks.

It’s hard to imagine a better candidate for such a traffic improvement.

The roundabout will make it safer for bicyclists, pedestrians and drivers to move about.

Studies show that roundabouts speed up traffic flow, cut down on idling and prevent major accidents. If and when collisions occur at roundabouts, they are more likely to be fender-benders — not T-bone accidents where lives are put at risk.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, the installation of roundabouts typically result in a 35 percent reduction in overall accidents. More important, they translate to a 90 percent reduction in fatal accidents and a 76 percent reduction in injuries from accidents.

The Healdsburg roundabout is expected to cost around $2.5 million with construction expected to get underway in the spring or summer of 2016. When completed, it will take about 18 months to complete.

Councilman Gary Plass summed it up well when he noted that the opposition to roundabouts, which has tapered off in recent months, is more the “fear of the unknown.”

Traffic circles aren’t the perfect solution to every intersection. But, as anyone who has driven in Europe or many countries around the world knows, they certainly are a cost-efficient and safe way to address the safety problems of many.

And the more residents can see them and use them for themselves, the less likely Sonoma County is to see this debate come around again. We hope.