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Observer & Eccentric Newspapers
By Sara Callender, Staff Writer
August 16, 2007
Oakland County has no plans to stop construction of roundabouts despite a lawsuit filed Tuesday by three disabled citizens.
"The bottom line is they save people's lives," said Craig Bryson, spokesperson for the Road Commission for Oakland County. "Safety for pedestrians and drivers is the single biggest benefit of roundabouts."
Farmington Hills Attorney Richard Bernstein filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Detroit, seeking an end to what he claims is a failure to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Bernstein said the roundabouts under construction in West Bloomfield as part of the Northwestern Connector lack a safe mechanism for blind and disabled pedestrians to cross local roads.
"It is physically impossible for a blind person to get across the street at a roundabout," said Bernstein, who is blind.
"The way I cross the street now is to listen to traffic. When the parallel traffic stops, I know it's my turn to go.
But traffic comes to a complete stop and that doesn't happen in roundabouts.
Basically, a disabled person can't live or do commerce in West Bloomfield."
The three plaintiffs filing the lawsuit are: Garret Gersin, 18, of Oak Park; Jason Turkish, 20, of Huntington Woods and Westland resident Michael Harris, a military veteran who uses a wheelchair and is deeply concerned about the proliferation of "roundabouts" across Michigan and the nation.
"There are going to be a bunch (of roundabouts) built here," Turkish said. "We are trying to be proactive and set a precedent. We want these to be accessible to everyone."
The lawsuit seeks an injunction to improve the design to include safe mechanisms for the disabled to cross at roundabouts. The suit was filed just weeks before the first roundabout is set to open.
"It's very difficult to get injunctive relief on plans," Bernstein said.
Three design possibilities suggested by Bernstein are:
Bernstein added that he is not opposed to traffic circles that include traffic lights.
Bryson said the roundabouts were designed according to requirements of the Federal Highway Administration. The design standards dictate proper location and angles for crosswalks and the RCOC complied with those requirements, said Bryson.
According to the FHA roundabouts reduce pedestrian fatalities by 90 percent.
The roundabout at Maple and Drake is expected to open sometime during the week of Labor Day. Then construction of the second roundabout at Maple and Farmington will begin.
"We're going to keep working until the judge tells us to stop," said Bryson.
According to the FHA, there are an estimated 40,000 modern roundabouts worldwide, and more than 200 have been built in the United States. Most of these have been added within the last 5 years.
A roundabout was built several years ago between Stoney Creek High School and Hart Middle School in the Rochester School District. District spokeswoman Debra Hartman said there have been no incidents with pedestrians since the roundabout at Teinken and Sheldon roads opened.
"(The roundabout) was built to alleviate traffic in that area because it was quite congested," Hartman said. "And it has worked. With anything new, there's a learning curve but we didn't have any problems."
A typical modern roundabout is an unsignalized intersection with a circular central island and a circulatory roadway around the island. Vehicles entering the roundabout yield to vehicles already on the circulatory roadway.
Motorists are also required to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. But opponents of the roundabouts say it will still be difficult for pedestrians to cross without a signal.
"The best way to get a car to stop is to have a signal," plaintiff Michael Harris said. "In these roundabouts, there isn't that communication with drivers. Am I just supposed to roll my wheelchair out into traffic and cross my fingers?"
A stoplight that could be activated by a pedestrian pushing a button, suggested Harris, might be one solution.
However, Bryson feared that all pedestrians would use the buttons, defeating the continual flow of traffic.
Bernstein said a majority of the pedestrians using the roundabout at Maple and Drake are teens going to the Jewish Community Center or members of the nearby Congregation B'nai Moshe. Orthodox Jews do not drive on the Sabbath.
"If you're a parent, you'd really have to think about letting your kid cross that to go to the JCC," Bernstein said.
Bryson said that the RCOC conducted several informational meetings with subdivision associations and other groups.
Guide dogs at Leader Dogs for the Blind school in Rochester are not trained to maneuver roundabout intersections, said Rod Haneline, chief operating officer for the organization.
"Currently, there's no great solution for sighted or disabled people to safely navigate roundabouts," Haneline said. "Signals defeat the purpose and bridges or tunnels are expensive."
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