Increasing traffic flow

On Jan. 25, a Region of Waterloo committee approved two roundabouts to replace intersections on Ottawa Street in Kitchener.

The trend of utilizing this traffic control plan was initiated in 2004 and has become a priority consideration when reviewing the layout of intersections.

“Locations in the United States were starting to look at them,” said Steve van De Keere, head of expansion programs and transportation engineering for the Region of Waterloo, about the inspiration for the project.

“Some of our staff attended information seminars and heard about roundabouts being considered and then that spawned interest.”
Although roundabouts are uncommon in Ontario, they have many benefits.

“They are the safest type of aggregated intersection you can have,” van De Keere explained.

Jeff Casello, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Waterloo’s school of planning, echoed this sentiment in stating, “The likelihood of having 90 degree angle collisions … is much smaller because the angle that the cars approach each other is much shallower.”

Roundabouts also eliminate the problem of waiting at red lights. “They tend to work better with less delay than signals do during peak rush hour times and even more so during the off peak because you’re never waiting at a red signal when there’s no traffic,” said van De Keere.

Less waiting also proves to be better for the environment.

“There is less idling so there’s less fuel used,” said van De Keere. “They are also better for aesthetics because we can put plant material in the intersections and make them look nicer than traffic signals.”

When a building project was proposed to develop the area around Ira Needles Boulevard in the west end of Kitchener and Waterloo, the region found the perfect opportunity to begin implementing the idea.

“From there we looked at a number of other locations and realized that we are getting that safety performance that we were expecting from them,” said van De Keere.

“Now it gives us more confidence to look at them at a lot more locations.”

While there is some concern about drivers being educated on how to approach a roundabout, the region has taken some steps to correct this issue and has found it successful overall.

“Drivers in general and even in the region here are still on the learning curve so to speak,” van De Keere admitted.

He went on to add, “We observe that at most of our roundabouts and the collision experience that we’re having with them shows us that most drivers get it.”

Although the trend remains most popular in Waterloo Region, it does have merit in other urban areas.

“I think in some ways the region is ahead of many other places,” said Casello.
Van De Keere noted that the ministry of transportation is considering this traffic plan.

However, he speculated, “They’re not going to be common in all Ontario cities for probably generations.”