The State Department of Transportation (DOT) is planning a new roundabout in Northampton at the intersection of Hatfield Street and North King. Planning is now at the 75% stage, with construction slated to start in 2020, and completion in 2021. The new roundabout will mean that Northampton will now have a roundabout at each of its major “gateway” intersections. There’ll be a two lane one at the foot of Coolidge Bridge linking Damon Road, Rte, Nine, and Rte. 91, the newly completed one at the south end of Pleasant Street, the original roundabout, by Look Park, and this one on North King.
Mayor David Narkowitz is an enthusiastic supporter of roundabouts, recalling to me the vehement objections that were made at the public hearing on the Look Park roundabout several years ago. Abuttors and neighbors predicted disaster. It could not be plowed, it would generate accidents, and so on. Now, he said, Northampton people have grown accustomed to them, and like them.
A couple weeks ago, he sat down with most of the businesses impacted by the construction of this new roundabout at Hatfield Street.. The $3.9? million dollar state project is planned to be funded by a mix of state and federal funds. I put a question mark by the cost, because I have heard that the price is up to around $5 million. Municipalities love DOT projects. Big money and local jobs, and there is no blow-back from local taxpayers.
Among the abutters to the project are realtor John Skibiski, Mark ’s Motors, Northampton Transmission, and U-Haul. I talked to the co-owner of Mark’s Motors, Bill LaChance, and he said it seemed to be a done deal. The money is there and planning started almost twenty years ago. The DOT wants to do the project, and the Mayor is all for it. LaChance said that roundabouts ,which are getting popular now in the U.S., are a concept that was pioneered in Europe, but are now falling into disrepute overseas. They are being dug up and some of them replaced with old fashioned signalized intersections. The problem seems to be that they are not pedestrian or bicycle friendly. In Holland and the U.K people are developing new roundabout designs that have entry “hooks” that sharply cut the vehicle speeds entering the roundabout, where pedestrians and bicycles and cars intersect.
I have intimate experience with the danger inherent in the Look Park design of a roundabout. Coming back to Northampton from the west, I was concentrating on avoiding oncoming vehicles coming around the ring from Bridge Road, and I didn’t see a bicyclist zooming across the right-of-way heading into Look Park. There are no stop or yield signs for bikes crossing the traffic lanes. I had to slow down rapidly to avoid him. Entry roads that curve going into merge points slow down traffic and increase visibility that facilitates motorists seeing bike riders and pedestrians..
I have a vested interest in this matter, being a member of River Valley Coop, which is going to be negatively affected by all this road work. The business growth of the River Valley facility has exacerbated the limitations of their site, which is shoehorned into the bottom of an old quarry. The big problem according to the manager, is that state and local governments do not pay impact fees, which are designed to compensate businesses for lost businesses during construction of public projects. The mayor assured the market that traffic would be kept flowing, and he said that the construction of roundabouts is less disruptive to traffic. Maybe, but I bet similar assurances were made to Atkins Market in Amherst when the state constructed a roandabout out in front of they facility, It seemed like construction dragged on for years, its manager told me.
The case for a roundabout on the North King Street/Hatfield Street intersection is not as convincing as other high-traffic intersections in the city. There’s not a lot of accidents at the intersection, although there is general agreement that its geometry make it a lousy intersection. Its problems might be solved by doing half the job: Just signalize the intersection, and bring Hatfield Street into the intersection at the angle specified by the DOT plan. It would be a lot cheaper: $2 million versus $5? million. Here is a picture of a Dutch-type roundabout. It is said to be safer for pedestrians and cyclists by forcing traffic to come almost to a halt before making the turn onto the roundabout.