The roundabout, a traffic device common in Europe, may be coming to a busy Cape May County crossing where six roads lead to one intersection.
County Engineer Dale Foster said the planned road improvement is unlike the traffic circles New Jersey has been phasing out in recent years. The state once had 75 traffic circles but has reduced them to fewer than 25.
Like a traffic circle, a roundabout is a circle with entrances and exits to various roads, but it is much smaller, maybe one-tenth the size, and is used in areas of slow-moving traffic with different right-of-way rules.
Foster is proposing one for where Park Boulevard, West Perry Street and Myrtle Avenue meet mostly in West Cape May but touching on Cape May. The three roads would each have two access points to the circle, leading to what Foster called a “six-legged intersection.”
“They’ve been used in Europe for many, many years, and it has taken a while for America to jump on the concept. New Jersey has traffic circles, and it’s a free-for-all,” Foster said.
West Cape May Mayor Pam Kaithern supports the concept. She is convinced the roundabout will result in fewer accidents and better flow, because traffic won’t back up at lights.
She said motorists in New Jersey are “so conditioned to hate circles” that they have to learn the differences before accepting roundabouts.
“They slow traffic down. The primary objective is to increase the safety of that intersection,” Kaithern said.
The area not only has busy vehicular traffic, but heavy pedestrian and bicycle traffic as well. It is next to Wilbraham Park, which is the site of big events, such as the borough’s Lima Bean and Strawberry festivals. Park Boulevard has become a hub of small businesses in recent years.
Foster said one big difference is the driver with the right of way. Motorists can enter traffic circles without waiting for cars to exit. But motorists in roundabouts have the right-of-way; incoming motorists have to wait their turn to enter.
Foster said the average traffic signal cycle is 70 seconds, so there is often a lot of waiting involved when there is light traffic. Waiting at a roundabout is dependant on the level of traffic.
“You come in a roundabout at slow speed, and you’re able to merge. Crashes are lower speed and less severity, not like the right and left angles at signals. We won’t have a lot of crashes, because motorists are going so slow,” Foster said.
Kaithern said the maximum number of vehicles in the roundabout at any one time would be about four.
Foster brought preliminary designs to officials in Cape May and West Cape May this week. He showed them to the Board of Chosen Freeholders on Tuesday night.
He told the board that the county is pursuing the idea and may get a federal grant, possibly from the Federal Highway Administration.
Freeholder Will Morey said the idea appears to be a good solution and one other areas might want to try.
The center of the circle could be brick pavers or cobblestone, Foster said. Curbing would be designed so large trucks could ride over the curb without causing damage.
Cape May Mayor Ed Mahaney said the designs are being reviewed by the police and fire departments for recommendations before City Council studies the plans and comes up with a position.
West Perry Street is a major artery into the city, Mahaney said. The project touches on Cape May’s boundaries and directly affects some individual Cape May properties.
The mayor said there would be an “educational process,” but he expects motorists would understand it with continued use.
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