Roundabout

Dear Islanders:

My younger brother works with an Islander in an office in downtown Buffalo. She’s a great lady, with quite a sense of humor. Every couple of days when my brother comes into work she says to him some version of the following, “Tell your brother that roundabout still looks like crud. It’s been three weeks!”

It’s funny. But I get the point. I’m here to solve problems. And I’m working on it. Here’s how.

One of the first things I did as Supervisor was speak with State Assemblymen John Ceretto. He kindly asked what was on my agenda for the Island. We talked about many things, including the roundabout. And I told him, “Listen, John. That roundabout needs to change, and I need your help to get it changed.” And John, to his credit, had his office send me a draft letter to the Department of Transportation (DOT) the next day. Now that letter is in, and so is my second request to John: “If they don’t respond, you and I need to drive down to Albany!”

Why does the roundabout need to change?

If you’re thinking, “Wait Nate, that roundabout is way better than the old traffic light that used to back up cars for miles.” Well, you’re right. Roundabouts are often much more efficient at controlling traffic flow than stop lights. And from a traffic control perspective, our roundabout works!

Roundabouts can be confusing at first. Think of that that old Chevy Chase movie—European Vacation—where he drives around a roundabout in London all day trying to make a left turn out, and he keeps saying “there’s Big Ben!”  But once you get the hang of it, roundabouts are often safer, smoother, and better. A town hall employee recently quipped in a conversation with me, “I have spent less time waiting at the roundabout in all the years since it went in put together, than I did in a month waiting at that old traffic light.”

Our roundabout, however, has some issues.

It might have a design flaw. The DOT designed it to handle large tractor trailers that come through by guiding them up onto that beveled, stamped concrete, outside the landscaped area. Which begs the question, is that really a good design? Also, can that area be widened to avoid the drive up? It’s troubling to me to see how trucks plow through over that section and tilt.

But I’m no engineer. That design might be perfectly appropriate. And looking at the available space for the roundabout, I’m not sure how we could really fit much more in. And if you did make it wider, it might not serve the purposes of the roundabout. Roundabouts are typically intentionally small and tight to act as “traffic calmers.”

The real issue is aesthetics.

I still think it is necessary to take a look at that space to know for certain that the tilting trailer phenomenon is both safe and the best solution available. But we really need to address the look of the roundabout. Simply put, it's ugly! That is the front door to our town. And form is sometimes just as important as substance. Indeed, form can be substance. We would all live in shipping containers if all we cared about for our homes was keeping out the rain.

You might disagree. And there are those who think the form of the roundabout is just fine because the brush planted there is a beautiful, local plant, and indeed it is. The problem is you can’t see across it in summer. I have described it as a giant weed "perm" blooming out during the golden months of June, July, and August.  And if you, like me, think it looks unreasonably overgrown and dangerous, you would not be alone. When I was knocking doors last summer during election season, person after person told me, “Fix the roundabout!,” much like my brother is told every other day at work.

I can’t fix it alone, I need the DOT.

If I could, I would contact some of my contractor buddies and start ripping up turf at the roundabout this weekend. But apparently I can’t. Again, the DOT controls it. They will need to give us the green light on any proposed redesign.

I want them to understand the issue. So I am collecting pictures of better designed roundabouts locally and I have begun gathering ideas about how to improve our roundabout. I’ve also reached out to some artists and architects to hopefully work up a few images. I want something that is safe, reflects the history of the island, and lets people know they have arrived in a special place that deserves their attention and respect.

There is more to come on this, folks. I just wanted you to know that I am pushing this agenda item forward. I only ask for your patience. Nah, I take that back. You can keep the pressure on me. It’s my job.

With best regards,

Nate