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Roundabout foe says it's not safe for the disabled
Green Bay Press Gazette
By Paul Srubas
February 17, 2009
A Michigan lawyer who is building a career out of fighting roundabouts says Green Bay is courting disaster by considering building a series of six roundabouts on Military Avenue.
Richard Bernstein, who is visually impaired and wages legal battles on behalf of the rights of the disabled, made the remarks Monday afternoon. He planned to speak later that day at the Green Bay City Council meeting.
The council, which began meeting at 7 p.m., was still discussing roundabouts late into the night. Check the Green Bay Press-Gazette's Web site at www.greenbaypressgazette .com for results of the council's consideration of roundabouts. Results also will be available in Wednesday's print edition.
Two weeks ago, the council voted 7-5 in favor of the series of roundabouts but put the issue back on the agenda when Alderman Tom Weber, who voted with the majority, requested reconsideration. The council spent much of Monday evening's meeting debating that move for reconsideration.
Bernstein's legal work forced a Michigan community to install manually activated traffic signals at the site of its roundabouts to aid the visually impaired in crossing. Bernstein, who is both a lawyer and a University of Michigan law professor, said it's been proven that roundabouts present an obstacle to the visually impaired.
"A blind person can't cross the street unless traffic comes to a complete stop," Bernstein said. "And guide dogs will not go as long as traffic continues to move."
Roundabouts are designed to slow but not stop traffic. As such, they do not permit blind people to cross the street, Bernstein said.
"I've done 10 marathons and one Ironman competition, but in Green Bay, I wouldn't be able even to cross the street," Bernstein said. "If that's the message Green Bay wants to send to the disabled, it's unfortunate."
Legal action has forced some communities to experiment with a traffic signal that would allow a pedestrian to halt traffic at roundabouts, Bernstein said. If those experiments fail, those communities could find themselves required by federal mandate to tear out their roundabouts, he said.
The proposal to install a series of six roundabouts on Military Avenue is "very cavalier," legally risky and insulting to the court process, Bernstein said.
The only reason communities in the U.S. even have roundabouts today is because they haven't been contested in court, he said.
Bernstein acknowledged that roundabouts may be safer than signaled intersections when it comes to vehicle crashes, but he dismissed statistics that claim they are safer for pedestrians. He said pedestrians who are too afraid to cross at roundabouts avoid the situation, which artificially reduces accident statistics.
Alderman Tony Theisen, a proponent of roundabouts, on Friday conducted a test at the request of the Press-Gazette in which he compared crossing streets at De Pere's two-lane roundabout with crossing at Military Avenue and West Mason Street.
He said he felt safer on the roundabout, and crossings at Military took about four times longer because of the time he had to wait for a "walk" light.
Editor's note: This story was published in Tuesday's Press-Gazette, which went to press before the Green Bay City Council voted on the roundabout issue.
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