Traffic signal is the best solution

We appreciate that the Camas City Council is considering a solution to the dangerous traffic situation that exists at the intersection of Northwest Sixth Avenue and Norwood Street.

We live on the river side of Prune Hill, off Norwood Street, so we use this intersection several times daily. We are well aware of the dangers to drivers, cyclists and pedestrians that exist there.

We are writing now to agree whole-heartedly with our neighbor, Belva Baz, who wrote to your paper a few weeks ago saying that a traffic light is needed at this intersection, rather than a roundabout.

We also read with interest this past week’s article in the Post-Record about the proposed traffic revision, which seemed to say that the Council is leaning slightly toward a round-about.

To our mind, there are four important reasons that a traffic light should be installed here: first, the speed and flow of traffic entering and exiting state Route 14 at Exit 12 in Camas; the volume of traffic coming from all sides of the intersection; the safety of cyclists using the intersection; and the need to provide a safe crossing for pedestrians.

First, it is our experience that people coming from downtown Camas have accelerated above the 35 mph speed limit on Northwest Sixth Avenue long before they reach the SR-14 on-ramp; many are almost at highway speed (60 mph). The same is true when they are exiting SR-14. The speed limit on the curving off-ramp (which hides the intersection until upon it) is 35 mph, but most drivers maintain close to their highway speed well into the Northwest Sixth/Norwood intersection, only decelerating in the 25 mph zone entering downtown.

While it is true that a roundabout can calm traffic patterns, we anticipate that drivers will still enter any roundabout at speeds above “calm” in their urgency to either enter or exit the highway.

In addition to the problem of speed is the problem of traffic flow in a roundabout due to uncertainty and/or disregard as to who has the right of way – those in the circle (yes) or those entering (no). There are now several roundabouts in Camas and in the area, yet we regularly witness inexperienced drivers needlessly coming to a complete stop and/or hesitating prior to entering the circle, as well as reckless drivers barreling into the circle with complete disregard for cars already there. Both cause disruptions in traffic flow; worse, both can cause accidents.

Secondly, there are currently two lanes coming from each direction on Northwest Sixth Avenue, three with the turning lanes at the Northwest Sixth/Norwood intersection. Norwood Street, going north-south, contains one lane plus a turning lane each. The proposal that we read about in the March 17 Camas-Washougal Post-Record article described and priced a “one-lane” roundabout. Even at non-rush hour periods, we cannot imagine how funneling four-plus lanes of east-west traffic, plus more north-south lanes into a single, one-lane round-about could be considered feasible or safe. At rush hour, we envision traffic backed very far back in all directions, as far or farther than with a traffic light.

In addition, we believe a roundabout at this intersection has more potential for causing dangerous situations than a traffic light, regardless of the generic statistics quoted in the Post-Record article.

Drivers may not like a traffic light, but they know that there is a set cycle that will give them a green light. Getting through a roundabout, however, is dependent upon much less certain conditions – the volume of traffic and the ability of drivers to navigate the circle. We predict that drivers stuck in two lanes of traffic moving at a snail’s pace into a single-lane circle and stuck behind someone with little confidence or skill to enter that circle will experience a level of aggravation that will bubble over into impatient and reckless maneuvers, possibly resulting in accidents and injuries to drivers and, potentially, pedestrians and cyclists.

Third, a roundabout, especially one without an adequate and designated bike lane, exposes cyclists to a highly dangerous situation as they try to navigate a narrow space amongst cars which are moving uneasily or speedily through the circle. The potential for a serious accident in such a scenario is extremely high.

Finally, there is no safe way, at the present time, for anyone to cross from Prune Hill to the Shell service center on the south side of Northwest Sixth Avenue which contains several handy shops, including a convenience mart with a U.S. Post Office, a bank, a coffee shop, a retail merchant, as well as the gas station and car wash. A traffic circle does not promise a safer crossing to/from these stores. A traffic light, on the other hand, with a button to trigger a crossing light as needed and a well-defined crosswalk, would provide residents with a safe way to access the Shell service center.

We are not, in principle, opposed to roundabouts. We find them useful at intersections that have moderate traffic and where a traffic light would truly not be necessary. We acknowledge that roundabouts can save gasoline by reducing overly long idling of vehicle motors. The potential for delays, accidents, and/or injuries that exists if a roundabout is installed at this specific intersection, however, outweighs these advantages.

A traffic light at Northwest Sixth Avenue and Norwood in Camas, with on-demand pedestrian crossing light, is the safest and most efficient solution for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists alike.