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As city experiments, neighbors differ on best way to slow down traffic

This experimental small roundabout is at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Lake Street. It is designed to slow down traffic but some drivers use them incorrectly. (Alexis Habberstad | Echo Press)1 / 2
Drivers or area residents with questions or concerns about the recent projects are encouraged to contact their local city council member or city communications coordinator Sara Stadherr. (Lowell Anderson | Echo Press)2 / 2

This "garden in the street" may have been made to slow traffic, but not all agree on the way the city is experimenting with getting drivers to proceed with caution.

As a result of growing residential concerns over traffic safety, two temporary traffic projects were installed along Fifth Avenue in Alexandria last week. Residents believe the issue is rooted in the fact that commuters often speed down Fifth Avenue to avoid the stop lights and controlled intersections of nearby routes.

"Our goal is to slow traffic down and protect the safety of our neighborhoods and local streets," said Sara Stadtherr, communications coordinator of the city. "The projects will be temporary and help us plot out the next steps in our safety efforts."

The project as a whole consists of a small roundabout at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Lake Street and a set of speedbumps on all sides of the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Maple Street.

Both fixtures have informational signs and will use the technology of a Minnesota Department of Transportation trailer to keep drivers aware of their speed. The trailer also will collect data, including the number of vehicles that pass the intersection, their speed and the time of day certain traffic patterns occur.

The project will be in place until at least July 19, Stadtherr said.

The effectiveness of the temporary structures will be analyzed later this month to determine if more permanent solutions will be put in place.

The temporary traffic circle, made up of a few potted plants surrounded by wood chip mulch and enclosed by a mesh-covered straw curb, has raised recent controversy among residents.

"I don't think a roundabout belongs in the the middle of a block in a neighborhood," said Diana Burnett, a resident of Lake Street. "We don't have a lot of traffic, and it looks like a garden in the street," she said with a laugh.

Burnett also expressed concern about fire trucks and emergency vehicles getting through. "We have to get other vehicles through here besides just cars."

Her adult son Josh Burnett shared the same concern.

"How are they going to plow the street in winter?" he asked.

They both preferred the speed bumps or stop signs over the roundabout.

"Education about roundabouts is a big problem nowadays," Josh Burnett said. "Stop signs are more effective because they can actually be enforced. It's easy to go through a roundabout wrong, but the word 'stop' is universal. The only reason the roundabout has been supposedly 'working' is because people avoid the street now and go a different route."

Other families have been praising the newly implemented roundabout - especially those with young children.

Tami Sik lives on the corner of the roundabout intersection with her husband. "It has slowed the traffic down and made things safer," she said.

Sik said her 5-year-old grandson was almost hit last week.

"He looked both ways but by the time he stepped out there was a car coming," she said. "If he wouldn't have jumped back or been paying attention, he would have gotten clipped."

The Sik's said they believe the roundabout is more effective than unpatrolled stop signs.

"We know there's going to be positives and negatives. People know that we're behind this, and they have targets on our backs. They've driven by and screamed profanities at us and threatened us. But this isn't just our neighborhood, it's everybody's," said Sik, motioning around the block.

"There's going to be people that don't like it," she said. "But these children feel safer and so do the moms."

The city has received strong feedback about the traffic circles. The city’s Facebook page on the topic was viewed by 2,454 people, received 31 comments, 50 likes and 50 “not likes,” according to City Administrator Marty Schultz who briefed the city council Monday night.

Schultz said the the city also received 14 calls, eight in support of the structures, four opposed and two who reported issues such as the stakes coming out of the speed bumps.

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