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By Amy Cavataio
August 22, 2007
A group of Oakland County residents is suing the Road Commission for Oakland County (RCOC) over the installation of a new roundabout in their neighborhood, claiming discrimination against disabled people.
Garret Gersin, 18, who is completely blind; Jason Turkish, 20; who is legally blind; and Michael Harris, who is confined to a wheelchair, are hoping their lawsuit will make roundabouts safer for pedestrians.
The road commission expects to construct roundabouts at several county intersections in the near future.
There are currently four roundabouts in operation, four under construction and eight total planned as part of the Northwestern Connector project in the lakes area.
Work on the Northwestern Connector's first roundabout is finishing up at Maple and Drake roads in West Bloomfield Township, according to RCOC Spokesman Craig Bryson. That roundabout is expected to open before Labor Day.
"The safety benefits of a roundabout are very worthwhile," Bryson said. "They are being built all over the country because of the traffic flow and safety benefits they offer."
Disabled citizens in the area are concerned that roundabouts' safety benefits are related only to auto-to-auto accidents, and not to pedestrian-auto accidents, according to attorney Richard Bernstein.
"The county is so focused on the needs and concerns of autos that they aren't focused at all on the needs and concerns that pedestrians are going to have," said Bernstein, who is representing the plaintiffs in the suit against the RCOC.
Bryson said the road commission has done everything possible to make roundabouts safe for pedestrians to cross.
"The basic design of a roundabout forces traffic to slow down as it approaches, because you are narrowing the road," he said. "So at the point where the pedestrian crosses the crosswalk, the cars are already slowing down."
"They are changing the rules of the road," Bernstein said of the RCOC. "Cars have always had to yield to pedestrians, and now we are asking pedestrians to yield to cars (operating within a roundabout)."
Figures from the federal Highway Safety Administration indicate roundabouts reduce pedestrian injuries, as well as driver injuries, according to West Bloomfield Township Supervisor David Flaisher.
"We trust that the county has followed all the rules and regulations of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) to make (roundabouts) safe for everyone," Flaisher said.
Still, Bernstein, who is blind, said traffic must come to a complete stop in order for an intersection to be safe for pedestrians.
"We are just looking to make crossing the street is safe for the disabled ... because what is safe for the disabled is safe for everyone," he said. "They can install a pedestrian controlled stop light, a tunnel or a bridge so people can get around the intersection."
Roundabouts have been a public issue in Oakland County since 1996, but there has been little public protest against them so far, according to Flaisher.
"How come complaints didn't come up when they built the one in Orion Township? Why is all this coming up now, weeks before the first (Northwestern Connector roundabout) opens?" he asked. "The Rochester Hills School District has had no problems with the one in front their school, and a lot of those kids walk to school."
The lawsuit's plaintiffs were contacted but were unavailable for comment prior to press time.
The RCOC has 30 days to respond to the complaint. A court date can be set after 30 days.
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