Local roundabouts bring about safety concerns

At a new, three-lane roundabout constructed in August at Homer Watson Boulevard and Block Line Road, the Waterloo Region Record reports 26 collisions have taken place, including one this past Saturday. An incident in early October, which led to a St. Mary’s High School student being hit by a bus at the roundabout, has raised additional concerns about implications for pedestrian safety.

“Students have felt rather unsafe crossing there,” said Joan Grundy, a vice principal at St. Mary’s High School.

Grundy has noticed that the size and complexity of the roundabout, which differs from other one or two lane roundabouts that populate the region, has caused some confusion for drivers. She said, “[The drivers are] fairly occupied with going through it safely as a vehicle and so some of the observations I’ve made is that at times they’re so focused on that, that they’re not as in tune with the fact that people could also be crossing at the crosswalk part of that.”

Kathy Kocevar, who is a yard duty supervisor at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Elementary School, claimed, “I don’t feel very safe going through.”

Kocevar added, “I think it does pose a danger because I don’t think drivers take the roundabout seriously and they don’t know how to particularly drive through the roundabout, even though there’s been so much education shown on how to drive.”
The Region of Waterloo has already evaluated some measures to increase safety in the roundabout, including reducing the speed limit, providing additional education and moving the location of roundabout signs.

Thomas Schmidt, the Region of Waterloo commissioner of public transportation and environmental services, attributed some of the issues so far to a “learning curve.” Schmidt said, “People do take some time to get used to where it is, the location of it and how to drive through it, and we’ve seen that in others.”

Despite the high level of collisions that have taken place so far, he explained, “One of the things about roundabouts, they are actually inherently safer than signalized intersections and that’s what I think a lot of people aren’t getting.” Collisions at large signalized intersections, he said, tend to be more severe and occur more commonly than in roundabouts.

However, this isn’t satisfying many parents and students who remain concerned about their ability to cross safely. A protest organized by St. Mary’s students on Oct. 17 called for an overhead walkway to be put into place.

Schmidt anticipated, “The cost is high, it’s probably around two million dollars to put an overhead walkway in.”

He also acknowledged that it could potentially create a more dangerous situation for pedestrians, if some should choose not to use the walkway. “You’ve now created a situation where drivers no longer expect anyone to cross at that point, because they’re all using the overhead pass, and then someone doesn’t,” Schmidt said.

“I think we … know, that realistically, yes, some people will use the pathways, and after awhile some won’t.”

Grundy believes that an overhead walkway would in fact be well-used by students. She commented, “My sense is that we’ve got great kids here. I wouldn’t be so quick to say our students wouldn’t use it, quite honestly.”
Regional Council meets on Wednesday night to discuss the future of the roundabout and potential ideas for increased safety.

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