Attorney Robert Erwin pruned ivy on a tree outside his house Sunday afternoon as cars rolled through Baltimore City’s new roundabout at 39th Street and Canterbury Road.
So, he was asked, is the traffic-calming device a good thing or a bad thing?
“It’s a bad thing,” Erwin declared. “It doesn’t seem to be slowing down traffic, especially early in the morning during rush hour. And B, I think it’s ugly.”
But four days earlier, as a month of construction work wound down on the controversial traffic circle, 25 residents came together at the finished site July 10 for a group photo that also served as a show of solidarity and support, at least until the novelty wears off.
“We're trying to be positive about it,” said Kenna Forsyth, a 37-year resident. She chairs the Tuscany-Canterbury Neighborhood Association's Gardening Committee, which oversees three small perennial gardens, including one right by the roundabout.
Debate over the roundabout has roiled Tuscany-Canterbury in recent years. Now, say residents on both sides of the issue, only time will tell if the traffic circle is effective in reducing speeding.
“It's up and running,” said Jackie MacMillan, who chairs the association's traffic committee. “There's been mixed feelings leading up to it,” she admitted, but added that most people in the neighborhood think the city held up its end in planning and building the roundabout and sounding out the community about it.
A year ago this week, it was clear the community was still grappling with the roundabout issue, as more than 40 people gathered at First English Lutheran Church in Guilford for a public meeting led by City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, a longtime Tuscany-Canterbury resident, to discuss the city's plans.
Many residents at the meeting sought other options for reducing speeding and asked city transportation officials for speed bumps along West 39th Street in both directions and speed cameras, rather than a roundabout. Clarke said the city rejected other alternatives over the years, such as 4-way stop signs and more traffic signals.
Some dismissed the $100,000 roundabout as too dangerous for trucks, too small to slow traffic and too costly for taxpayers.
One resident said the so-called mountable mini-roundabout, which is built low to the ground and is designed to withstand a vehicle running over it, would amount to “a circular speed bump.”
But transportation officials said the roundabout would improve pedestrian safety, traffic flow and area aesthetics. And resident Tina Trapane reminded residents that the neighborhood association had voted “overwhelmingly” for a roundabout after a 2-year debate.
“We should give it a chance,” she said.
That's what community leaders are doing now.
“The process went well,” MacMillan said. “It looks nice. It's tasteful and attractive.”
“I think people are enjoying it,” Forsyth said.
“The completion of the roundabout represents a great achievement,” said Sue Talbot, president of the Tuscany-Canterbury Neighborhood Association. “The crew that has done the job is terrific — hard working and very, very congenial and friendly to the neighbors who have had to put up with noise, dust, etc.”
Talbot said the association is planning a special ceremony in coming weeks to celebrate the completion of the circle.
The jury is still out on how effective the roundabout will be. As recently as last month, Dino Zeytinoglu, owner of the restaurant La Famiglia near the intersection of 39th and Canterbury, panned the project as bad for business, possibly dangerous and unnecessary because it’s at a minor intersection.
“I don't think it's going to be effective,” he said. “The speeding is going to continue. You're just wasting taxpayer money.”
“I watched people tentatively approach the circle,” said Forsyth, who lives within sight of the roundabout. Bicycle riders tended to “go right over the circle,” and pedestrians walked over it, bypassing the designated crosswalk.
“They're lucky,” Forsyth said, noting that many Johns Hopkins University students live nearby during the school year. “Students are gone for the summer and traffic is light.”
But for the most part, “People are stopping for you,” Forsyth said. “It's wonderful. The people on Canterbury have always had trouble getting across the 39th Street intersection. Now, you can stick your nose out into the circle — and there's an actual U-turn.”
If the roundabout makes area traffic safer, “we’ll all be very happy,” Clarke said. “I think we’re kind of a pilot” for the city.
“Many of us have been out observing,” said MacMillan, who has lived in the neighborhood for nearly 20 years. “It seems to be slowing traffic through the intersection. It's still speedy coming out of the intersection. Mostly there is some confusion. Some people don't seem to want to yield to the person in the circle.”
And she said that as motorists pick up speed coming out of the circle westbound, it's a little dangerous because the block from the circle to University Parkway is curvy and other motorists are trying to parallel-park.
Man-on-the-street interviews Sunday revealed a continuing divide.
“I quite like it,” said Mary Mills, 33, coming home with a bag of groceries. She said she has noticed a slowdown — “and construction wasn’t bad at all.”
Alexander Alexiou, 27, of Mount Vernon, found the traffic circle “annoying” as he walked to One World Cafe with a friend. “There’s plenty of roadwork to be done in Baltimore. What are they doing with our tax dollars?”
“Obviously, it’s not slowing anybody down,” said Jennifer Tollifson, 42, of Tuscany-Canterbury, walking with her husband, Timothy, and their dog, Bowie.
Erwin claimed that the city promised landscaping that has not been done. And, he said, “It’ll be interesting to see what’ll happen when it snows and plows come.”
In hopes of avoiding confusion, Forsyth has compiled a list of tips on how to navigate the traffic circle safely and legally, including:
Obeying the yellow roundabout sign with an advisory speed limit of 5 miles per hour
Yielding to pedestrians in the crosswalk and traffic already in the roundabout
Looking for pedestrians and using your turn signal as you exit the roundabout.
Forsyth said traffic circles are often confusing at first.
She said in the case of the new one in Tuscany-Canterbury, “It occurred to me that that could be a problem once it was up and running.”
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